The dismantling of the historic United Artists movie theater on Merrick Road began on Monday, kicking off an anticipated 18-month reconstruction process that, according to officials, will give the village a new downtown attraction in 2017.
“I’m looking forward to the new movie house,” Lynbrook Mayor Bill Hendrick said. “It really will invigorate the downtown area and give the residents a nice place to go.”
The interior of the theater has been gutted, and the demolition is expected to take six to eight weeks, Hendrick said. Construction of a new theater, owned by Regal Entertainment, is slated to begin immediately afterward, and will take 14 to 16 months. On days of heavier construction, Hendrick added, a lane of Merrick Road may be closed to accommodate large cranes.
The project, funded by Regal, will cost an estimated $25 million. The new theater will feature luxury reclining seats in all screening rooms, along with surround sound and bright 2D and 3D images. The U-shaped structure will wrap around the Cuzco Peru restaurant, and the municipal parking lot on the west side of the theater will no longer exist. A total of 51 parking spaces will be lost, but there will be 171 fewer seats in the new theater — a total of 1,434.
Buildings Superintendent Brian Stanton previously told the Herald that parking regulations on Atlantic Avenue and the surrounding area could be amended to accommodate peak movie hours.
The United Artists Theater closed its doors for good on Jan. 10, and both the Lynbrook Fire Department and the Historical Society took advantage of the temporarily vacated space. The Fire Department, Hendrick said, asked to use the empty structure to conduct mock fire rescues and other training.
A rich history
The Historical Society of East Rockaway and Lynbrook toured the theater in April to take one last look around.
“Movies change, as does the audience,” said Pat Sympson, its corresponding secretary. “I can remember, as a youngster 70 years ago, going to see the ubiquitous musicals of the day, and then going next door to the Five Corners Sweet Shop for ice cream.”
The theater once had a vaudeville stage, and hosted plays as well as films. Lynbrook’s first movie house, the Lyceum Building, built in 1892, stood two blocks to the south, across from where Lynbrook High School is today. It burned down in 1913, and the new theater was built 10 years later. Advertisements of the time stated, “Lynbrook Theater opens at Five Corners for vaudeville, plays and motion pictures,” according to Art Mattson, the village historian.
“The theater was built by Lynbrook resident Gustav Kehr, who called it the finest amusement place outside New York City,” Mattson said.
Some of the earliest films screened there were silent, according to Mattson, but the growing popularity of “talkies” eventually meant the end of live shows on the theater’s stage.