The Loew’s Canal Theatre opened on September 8, 1927 in the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York City. The Loew’s Corporation contracted Thomas W. Lamb, one of the foremost theater architects of the 20th century, to design the 2,314 seat theater. Lamb designed the interior of the theater in the Spanish Baroque style of architecture with ornate terracotta ornamentation and grand chandeliers. The contracting firm of M. Shapiro & Son began construction of the theater in the fall of 1926. Even though it was the second largest motion picture theater in Manhattan when it opened, it mostly showed “B” movies and serials. Loew’s sold the theater to the Greater M&S Circuit a little over a year after it opened, and bought it back when they went bankrupt in 1929.
On the morning of September 10, 1932, an explosion rocked the front of the Loew’s Canal, throwing the ticket booth into the street and shattering windows on several neighboring buildings. No one was injured in the blast, but it threw Edward Brown, the theater’s night watchman, down a flight of stairs. A similar explosion destroyed the entrance of the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre an hour earlier, and they found 21 sticks of dynamite in the projection room of the Loew’s Paradise Theatre. Police suspected both bombings were connected to the Motion Picture Operators’ Union Local 306, who were on strike at the time and protesting in front of both theaters, but nothing was ever proven and no suspects were arrested.
According to an article in the New York Post, Comedian Jerry Stiller grew up going to the theater. Stiller says, “we used to go on Saturday morning at the Loew’s Canal. At nine in the morning, they’d show things like the Fitzpatrick Travel talk, cartoons and serials like Flash Gordon. By the time you got to 10:30, they’d get to the double-header, two pictures in a row. What happened was, your mother or father would drop you off at nine, and they didn’t have to pick you up until three. That’s where we got our education.”
Eddie Cantor, who also grew up in the Lower East Side, had the world premiere of his film, “Forty Little Mothers” at the Loew’s Canal in April 1940. The Canal was occasionally mentioned in the local press for minor incidents such as projector fires or neighborhood premieres, but it was rarely, if ever, featured in the New York Times listings of show times. It closed in the late 1950s, and by the early 1960s the lobby was converted to retail space, while the auditorium was used as a warehouse. The last occupant of the lobby space was an appliance store and repair shop that closed in the late 2000s.
The Landmarks Preservation Committee designated the terracotta facade of the theater a New York City Landmark in 2010. Later that year, the Committee to Revitalize and Enrich the Arts and Tomorrow’s Economy (CREATE) teamed up with the building’s owners to conduct a feasibility study to convert the space into a performing arts center. They received a $150,000 grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., but ultimately, the project never came to fruition. The building’s owners planned on converting the space into an 11-story condo complex, but the NYC Department of Buildings rejected the plan.Currently, the building sits empty, waiting for someone to restore it to its former glory.
Matt Lambros NY New York Jan 31, 2022 Architecture