In the beginning, there were two theaters in town – the Parkway and the Manor. The oldest was the Parkway Open Air Theater, which operated around 1912 and showed “nothing but the better grade photo plays.”
The Parkway showed movies outdoors when the weather was good, and moved inside when it rained.
The Manor Theater opened in August 1912 and boasted 500 seats upholstered with Spanish leather and ivory-and-tan decorations throughout. The Manor advertised that it had the same ventilating system as the famed Shubert Theater in Manhattan.
The Parkway was not only Woodhaven’s first theater, it was the first theater to close, shutting its doors in 1914 when the modern Forest Park Theater opened a block away.
In later years, the location of the Parkway would become a garage, a storage warehouse for Lewis’ of Woodhaven and, today, it is a Duane Reade(right off 85th and Jamaica.
The Manor Theater lasted a little longer, but also fell victim to the opening of a modern theater, closing its doors in the early 1920s when the Willard Theater opened on the very next corner, just a few steps away.
The Willard quadrupled the Manor’s capacity, with over 2,200 seats and an “air cooling” system to make patrons comfortable on warm and humid evenings.
The other large theater in Woodhaven was the Roosevelt, which also had a capacity approaching 2,000. For the next 40 years, Woodhaven residents had these three theaters to choose from: the Willard, Roosevelt and Forest Park Theater.
The Forest Park Theater was quite fancy, with an orchestra pit, dressing rooms for the men and ladies, and hat racks and foot rests on every seat. Unfortunately, the Forest Park Theater only sat 600 people and soon hit financial trouble and closed.
However, it would later reopen as the Haven Theater, and it ended up being Woodhaven’s last standing theater, operating well into the 1980s.
The Roosevelt lasted until the late 1950s before being purchased by St. Thomas the Apostle and converted into a gymnasium, today known as Monsignor Mulz Hall, at 88th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
And the Willard lasted into the early 1960s when it was converted into the catering hall Le Cordon Bleu. A few years ago, it underwent a renovation and today it is known as Woodhaven Manor, located at the corner of 96th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
And it is at Woodhaven Manor that the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be hosting a launch party for the Museum of Woodhaven History on Thursday, May 3, from 4 to 8 p.m.
There will be hundreds of pictures on display, covering everything from Woodhaven’s origins to some of today’s old-time favorites, like the Carousel and Neir’s Tavern and Schmidt’s Candy. Attendance is free.
The Museum of Woodhaven History was created through funding through the City Council, a grant from the Citizen's Committee for New York City, and through donations from local residents.
Residents of Woodhaven enjoy the history of their community. What’s more, they love talking about it and reminiscing. This exhibit is designed for lovers of local history to share the experience with other, like-minded folks.
In addition to the regular exhibit, there will be a few little surprises and special guests. In all, this will be a fun event for those who love looking at old pictures of Woodhaven and sharing their memories.