The site, 83-12 Broadway, which held Elmhurst’s first moving picture theater remains in limbo; still sitting dormant two years after the last businesses; a phone shop, massage parlor, and voluminous furniture outlet shuttered, paving the way for imminent demolition. According to Kenny Li, of YouYork Management LLC, whose sign is posted on the property, the partners ran into problems, and the site is up for sale again. 83-12 was owned by the Haider Family Trust for decades before selling to 83 Broadway LLC-Li Wu in 2019. The Haider trust had filed plans in 2018 to demolish for a seven story tower, which fell through. It’s now expected that the new buyer would proceed with development.
Undoubtedly, most residents are unaware of the location’s history; short lived and lost in time. Postings on the website Cinema Treasures, cite the Newtown Register mentioning the ‘Elmhurst Theater’ in 1913. By 1916, it had become the ‘Acme Theater,’ and by 1918 or so, it was out of operation. It is noted to be on Broadway, off Dongan Avenue, then known as Paris Boulevard at the time.
“It’s important because it’s the first form of a cultural entertainment center for the modern era during the birth of cinema,” said Jennifer Ochoa of the Elmhurst History and Cemeteries Preservation Society.
In fact, as early ads show, the theater featured a singer and piano accompaniment, also supporting the American Red Cross, which had a space on Broadway, making the Acme appear as one of the centers of Elmhurst life at the time. Although no known photo exists, a 1940 photo shows the theater site as an auto parts and repair business, which it was for decades. In 1913, one can imagine looking directly across Broadway at the sloping grass lawn of Claremont Terrace, and the four stately homes of Samuel Lord’s four daughters, replete with peach, fig, and apricot trees. A third generation neighbor resident shared from family lore that the theater space included an arcade of nickelodeon machines to view, in addition to the one screen Airdome Theater. A back staircase at the closed furniture store, led to a loft space, which is said to have been part of the theater.
Tom McKenzie, President of the Newtown Civic Association, offered to help fund a plaque to affix to the property years ago, but at the time was rebuffed by ownership. McKenzie said of the early theater, “A fellow named Bichette, an early Knights of Columbus founder in Elmhurst had access to motion pictures, and showed early silent one-reelers, even by candlelight.”
In Vincent Seyfried’s book Elmhurst: From Town to Mega-Suburb the theater space is mentioned as a seasonal “Summer Theater,” with the first real theater being the Victoria in 1916. Why the Acme closed is debatable; the advent of WW1, competition, or funding could be the causes. The Victoria at 90-11 Corona Ave later became the Newtown Theater, closed in the early 1950’s; became Temple El-Emmanuel, and is now an evangelist church. The Queensboro Theater, later the Elmwood at 57-02 Hoffman Drive, opened in 1928, closed in 2002, and is now the Rock Church, while the Jackson Theater, at 40-31 82nd Street, opened in 1924, lasted into 2014, and was demoed for a mixed retail complex. As much of long ago Elmhurst disappears before our eyes, it’s more important than ever to document what once was, even when the traces of the past become layers of dust.