Thanks to all of you who filled out my “SoHo Survey” over the past two years (those of you who have not yet filled one out, click on the “Your SoHo Profile” link to the right). It’s been great to read about all of your memories of old SoHo. I thought I’d share some of them here anonymously. Although I received a wide variety of responses to each of the questions, I feel that I can somehow relate to all of them because my memories of SoHo, like yours, are so varied, bitter and sweet, dark and light, foul and fond.
Posts Tagged ‘Bleecker Street Cinema’
The other day I was sitting at the Silver Towers apartment complex watching my daughter ride her new scooter when I realized just how large a presence that Picasso statue is in my personal landscape. The Silver Towers was (and still is) a world away from SoHo, with it’s unadorned, uniform buildings guarded by doormen set around a large open public space with manicured lawns and “keep off the grass” signs (those signs have since disappeared). Yet it was just across Houston Street, on my way to the supermarket, on my way home from the school bus stop, and the closest open-air plaza to my house. It was the first place I ever rode a bike outdoors (after learning how to actually ride in my living room). It was the first place I ever built a snowman. It was the first place I ever went trick-or-treating. It was where many of my friends from P.S.3 lived. In the winter, the buildings form the fiercest wind tunnel imaginable, but it is also the shortest way to get home from the Village, so I brave it anyway and always swear to myself I’ll never do it again. During summer, because there is almost no shade there, it gets so hot it makes me want to weep (I’m a wimp when it comes to heat).
Completed in 1966, the three towers, designed by James Ingo Freed and I.M. Pei, are part of a 5 1/2 acre complex that was part of Robert Moses’ ambitious “urban renewal” program. The tower that faces LaGuardia Place is a Mitchell-Lama middle-income cooperative building for area residents while the other two, owned by NYU, are faculty and graduate student residences. The large concrete abstract bust in the center of the plaza sculpted by Carl Nesjar was inspired by Pablo Picasso’s small metal sculpture “A Portrait of Sylvette,” and built in consultation with Picasso himself.
In the early-1970’s Christo and Jeanne-Claude wanted to wrap the Sylvette sculpture in brown fabric, but this never happened. In the early-1980’s, the towers were cited as part of I.M. Pei’s accomplishments to date when he was awarded the Pritzker Prize. In 2008, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the complex, including the sculpture, a landmark.
I never understood why they were called “silver” when they were really a drab beige color. I guess The Drab Beige Towers just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Actually, I think they were named for Julius Silver, a major NYU donor, but I’m not 100% sure. What I do know is that I used to think the Silver Towers were just about the ugliest buildings around. Why would anyone build anything, not to mention a whole residential complex, in concrete, I would wonder. But sitting there the other day, I realized that I actually dug it. The beige. The concrete. All of it. I love it. There is a soothing, earthy quality to the blandness that pervades the entire “superblock,” especially in stark contrast to all of the shiny glass and metal used to build the towering towers of today. Is it nostalgia? Longing for childhood? Maybe. Will I feel this way in forty years about the Time Warner Center? Oh boy, I hope not.
SoHo had three local movie theaters in the 1970’s (the ur-Angelikas): Cinematheque, which became the Anthology Film Archives in 1974 and moved to the East Village in 1980, Film Forum, formerly on Watts Street, now on West Houston, and The Bleecker Street Cinema on Bleecker near LaGuardia, none of which ever screened first-run Hollywood films. Perhaps this was a contributing factor to my poor knowledge of Disney characters, about whom I am learning only now that I have a 3-year-old daughter.
Of the three venues listed above, the only one I frequented as a tween/teen was The Bleecker Street Cinema, which opened in 1962 and closed in 1990. The Bleecker showed mostly independent films (a term that actually meant something back then) and revivals of (mostly) American and European classics. Although the theater was not actually in SoHo, it served the SoHo community. Supposedly François Truffaut referred to it as ” the American Cinématheque.” It was one of the only cinemas within walking distance from SoHo, and it was also one of the only cinemas that showed films that many in the community wanted to see.
The last film I remember seeing at the Bleecker Street Cinema was Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan. The last scene of the film takes place in the Cinema, and I remember thinking how cool and self-referrential it was to be watching a film in which Madonna and Rosanna Arquette were watching a film in the same theater where I was sitting. That was ca. 1987.
The authors of a 1979 guide to SoHo write:
…the Bleecker Street Cinema continues to show some of the best film programs anywhere. They constantly screen foreign and domestic works that one always meant to see but didn’t, that one is dying to see again, or that surfaced only here, like Jean Marie Straub’s Fortini Cani. Retrospectives of the work of young directors like Martin Scorcese and Brian DePalma were held recently, with both directors appearing in person. Each yer, the Bleecker does a series of films selected by the editors of Cahiers du Cinema at which the staff of the noted film journal are present for discussions. Samurai and sci-fi cultists are not forgotten, nor is any film genre, for that matter.
(from Anderson & Archer’s SoHo: The Essential Guide to Art and Life in Lower Manhattan, Simon and Schuster, 1979, page 69)
I was not old enough to fully appreciate the huge contribution the Bleecker made to our community’s culture until its later years. I attended film screenings there for my film class at Stuyvesant in the mid-1980’s, a course that really opened my eyes to the wonders and beauty of film and taught me how to be an active rather than a merely passive participant in the cinematic experience, and because of that, the Bleecker will always be a place for me that is remembered fondly and sorely missed.