Landmarks Considers Designating Former Loew’s 175th Street Theater, Washington Heights

unitedpalace-777x617If you’ve been reading YIMBY regularly for the past month or so, you’ve read about the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s backlog of 95 items calendared prior to 2010. Rounding out our coverage of their first step in clearing that backlog is a property in Washington Heights, near the George Washington Bridge. The property in question: the former Loew’s 175th Street Theater at 4140 Broadway.

An LPC staff hearing statement from 1980 called it one of the “finest and most exuberant examples of the movie palaces.” According to the Historic Districts Council (HDC), it was one of the five Loew’s Wonder Theaters. The others are the Loew’s Kings Theater in Brooklyn, the Loew’s Paradise Theater in the Bronx, the Loew’s Valencia Theater in Queens, and the Loew’s Jersey Theater in Jersey City, N.J.

The 175th Street Theater was one of three Wonder Theaters designed by Thomas W. Lamb and opened in 1930 with seating for approximately 3,600 people. It occupies the entire block. Its architectural style is, well, a bit of a mix. The New York Times’ David W. Dunlap described it as “Byzantine-Romanesque-Indo-Hindu-Sino-Moorish-Persian-Eclectic-Rococo-Deco.”

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It closed in 1969 and was then purchased by the United Christian Evangelistic Association and converted into a house of worship. It was the church of Rev. Frederick Eikerenkoetter, better known as Rev. Ike. It is currently the United Palace. In addition to being a church, it is also a live music venue.

The battle over the structure was fairly typical, with the church fighting designation and preservationists and at least one elected official supporting it. A public hearing was held on Thursday, November 12.

“It should be granted the protection it so rightfully deserves in order to ensure that it may continue to arouse and inspire the imaginations of present and future New Yorkers,” said HDC’s Allison Greenberg.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Community Board 12, the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Andrea Goldman, and Explore New York all also supported designation.

From this point, the commission will hold public meetings, at which time it will consider either prioritizing designation for some items by December 2016, removing items from the calendar by voting not to designate, or removing items from the calendar by issuing a no action letter.

Photo credit: The lobby of United Palace Theater in Washington Heights as seen on June 1st, 2011. The theater was formerly Loew’s 175th Street opened in 1929, but is now owned by a church. CREDIT: Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal
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