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Uptown Residents Fight to Convert Defunct Coliseum Theater into Arts Space

By Carla Zanoni | January 10, 2012 1:25pm
The Coliseum Theater during the 1940s.
The Coliseum Theater during the 1940s.
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Facebook/Save the Coliseum

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — When the Coliseum Theater, Manhattan’s oldest operating movie theater, silently closed its doors at the end of 2011, rumors of big box and drugstores replacing the 92-year-old space began to swirl uptown. 

Fear that the theater would soon become a J. C. Penny’s — a rumor that turned out to be false, local leaders said — ignited interest in turning the theater into an uptown arts space for the countless artists that call Upper Manhattan home, but have few options to show their work. 

Sources said the 3,500-seat movie theater built in 1920 closed because of financial problems. The historic movie palace had most recently closed down in 2002, but reopened in 2004.

With the theater's history in mind, “Save the Coliseum” movement by a group now tentatively called the Washington Heights Arts & Movies (WHAM) formed in late December, and has now grown to more than 300 since its Dec. 21, 2011 launch. 

"Let's find a way to save and restore this faded treasure. Or make it into something even MORE wonderful. Hey, it can't be as hard as saving The High Line,” Washington Heights dad Jeff Hoppa wrote on a Facebook page he created for residents to discuss the future of the site. 

Within days the site was popping with ideas from residents on what the site could become. Now the group plans to meet to discuss how to make it a reality on Thurs., Jan. 12, at 8 p.m. at Le Cheile,  839 W. 181st St. 

Uptown writer and Washington Heights resident Melissa Fendell Moschitto, 31, was the first to post about the closure on local blog Hudson Heights Gazette when she lamented the closure of the only movie theater above 125th Street in Manhattan.

She said she hoped to see the space reopen as a cultural meeting place for the countless uptown artistic treasures she has come to know in the more than seven years she has lived near the Coliseum. 

"We’re at a unique time where there have been a lot of performances uptown and the community is responding to it," she said. 

“We want our own BAM,” she later added referring to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is billed as “the home for adventurous artists, audiences, and ideas.”