In 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated 40 individual landmarks. Twenty-six of them came from its 95-item backlog. The final site designated was the former Loew’s 175th Street Theater in Washington Heights. However, its fate as a landmark was up in the air until Wednesday afternoon.
While the building has been a landmark since the LPC’s vote on December 13, the City Council can vote to overturn the decision, and the full council usually follows the lead of the representative for the site’s district.
The theater, now the United Palace, sits at 4140 Broadway, in Washington Heights. The district’s representative is Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who said last month that he wasn’t ready to back ratification of the LPC vote, citing the neglect of other worthy neighborhood sites, DNAinfo reported.
However, on Wednesday, in the theater’s lobby, he announced he would support ratification of the designation. “As all of us can see, the United Palace is a gem. It is a treasure worthy of preservation for generations to come,” he said. “This is not my victory. This is our victory.”
United Palace had also objected to the designation, but Rodriguez said its only reason was fear that maintenance costs would rise. He said he will work to direct more funds to its upkeep, from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
Designed by Thomas Lamb and built between 1928 and 1929, the theater was one of five Wonder Theaters and seated 3,600 moviegoers when it opened. Eventually, Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, much better known simply as Rev. Ike, saw a movie there and loved the place so much that he bought it and made it his church. Currently, it is known as the United Palace, a venue for both church services and cultural performances.
Rodriguez called it “a treasure for the whole nation.”
“I am so excited to be here,” said LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasn.
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“The Commission was proud to designate the United Palace as a New York City Landmark,” Srinivasan said in a statement. “We’re pleased that, thanks to the support of [Council Member] Rodriguez, this historic masterpiece will finally be recognized for its cultural and architectural significance. The church has been an excellent steward of this property, and we look forward to supporting them in the preservation of this outstanding building. I urge all New Yorkers to visit the United Palace and be transported in time by this lavish Indo-Persian Theater in the heart of Washington Heights.”
“History is coming full circle,” she said at the landmark site, noting that the theater is once again hosting film screenings, making it the only cinema north of 125th Street. Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (the “final cut”) will be screened on April 2, which is perfect timing with the sequel, “Blade Runner 2049” due out this fall. That will be followed by the 1984 adaptation of “1984” on April 4 and “The Sound of Music” on May 7.
More than that, United Palace Executive Director Mike Fitelson said two new dance studios are being constructed in the facility.
Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said the building “inspires people going by.” Tara Kelly, vice president for policy and programs at the Municipal Art Society, called it the “crown jewel.”
Rodriguez said the City Council vote should take place on March 29, 2017.
Photo credit: 1) The former Loew’s 175th Street Theater, now United Palace, at 4140 Broadway. Credit: LPC.. 2) The former Loew’s 175th Street Theater, now United Palace, at 4140 Broadway. Credit: LPC.