Graffiti Artists Restore the Lost Splendor of One of NYC’s Oldest Abandoned Theaters

March 11, 2015 | Aymann Ismail

On a snowy night in February, two graffiti writers used the cloak of winter to gain access into the Loew’s Canal Theatre — not to bomb it with aerosol — but to restore its former glory. Rather than desecrating the monument, they paid respects to it.

“The project was just a random idea that came to life immediately after seeing yet another beautiful NYC landmark and architectural masterpiece being neglected and left for dead,” said 2ESAE of collective UR New York. “Hence why we decided to create a homage to the space.”

(Photo: @jen.yc)

Together, he and SKI created Art Deco-inspired custom posters that featured 20s-era figures appreciating the theater in its heyday. They wheat-pasted the site-specific work in giant frames that used to display old movie advertisements. “That’s like me breaking into your house, bro,” joked 2ESAE, “and then like painting you and your family on the wall.” All the art referenced the Loew’s Canal Theatre.

The posters recaptured the original dreams of the theater, once destined for great things. It was founded in 1927, the same year that the Yankees swept the Pittsburgh Pirates and aviator Charles Lindbergh made the first solo cross-Atlantic flight. Loew’s Inc. hired Thomas W. Lamb — a noted architect responsible for building some of the city’ s most striking venues — to design the magnificent 2,314-seat auditorium located on Canal between Ludlow and Essex Streets. Although the neighborhood was bustling with movie houses catering to the rise of motion picture and the neighborhood’s dense immigrant population, this theater was particularly grandiose. The building’s ornate four-story, terra cotta facade was festooned with mythical creatures and eagles. Its palatial interior was highlighted by lavish chandeliers, flamboyant carvings and decked out in Baroque style. Lamb had set out to create a lasting masterpiece.

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Sadly, that didn’t happen. Almost a century later, it sits abandoned and forgotten, save for the occasional urban explorers, many of whom are shocked by the well-preserved elegance and charm.

Although the theater survived the Great Depression and a rapidly changing demographic in decades to follow, it was shuttered in the 1950s and sold in the 1960s. It is in this era that the demise of the theater became official. It eventually was transformed into a appliance store/repair shop, but that reportedly closed in the late 2000s. Remarkably, despite all the years of neglect and misuse, the theater decayed rather beautifully. Although it would need a full renovation, the space was still in relatively good condition; the architectural embellishments that made it so unique were still very apparent.

In 2010, the lobby portion of the theatre was designated a landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and a study was done by a local group to try and restore the location into a performing arts center. That never happened, and, like so many abandoned buildings, it seemed fated to turn into condos. But the NYC Department of Buildings blocked that move, and since then, the auditorium space has been used a warehouse. The lobby remains empty.

__macgyver-mar11-image1(Photo: @__macgyver)

“It would be wonderful if it were converted back into a theatre or a community outreach or youth center which gives back to the community rather than lay dormant,” said the writers. “Keep the arts alive. Save Old New York!”

(Top photo/Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)