The photo captured an old, cinder-block wall stripped of decoration, purpose and history. The façade had been eradicated and only the bones remained. It was a tall wall, at least fifty feet in height. On three levels there were rectangles of recessed empty spaces – doorways without doors. The wall was part of an abandoned theatre. The photo revealed where ornate box seats once hung. Vestiges of the wall's beauty – faded by age, ruined by water – were hard to find.
When new, these box seats held celebrities, producers, high society, ladies in fine evening clothes and jewels. Seating in these boxes assured that anyone who was anyone would be seen. Enter a private door, pass through a luxurious curtain and be seated by a uniformed, gloved attendant. From red-plush cushioned seats, the theatre is revealed resplendent in its carved, gilded and reflective surfaces. A polished brass railing secures you in this elevated site with unobstructed vision of the stage; but more importantly, the railing does not obstruct the rest of the audience from seeing you.
The movie theatres of the twenties and thirties were palaces of exotic fantasies and opulence, where glorious adventures unfolded each day. Xanadu and Shangri-La came to life, if only for a little while. These theatres were twentieth-century cathedrals where people came to abandon worldly reality and indulge in a cine aesthetic. Even today these movie palaces are our Rheims and Chartres Cathedrals. The ruins are reminiscent of the ravages of war; but in our country, they are the result of cultural, urban and economic neglect.
The facade, once covered in exotic woods and marble, adorned with plaster murals and carved images, burnished or gilded in gold and silver leaf, draped in plush brocaded velvets, has been stripped bare. The boxes have been sheared of their adornments. Broken segments of a Palladian Arch surround three levels of private portals. At the foot of the wall rubble abounds – fragments of history abandoned.
I joined Writers Bloc, a group of writers from Monmouth County, NJ, whose styles are as diverse as their backgrounds and interests. Here are some of my writings from our meetings.