WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The United Palace of Cultural Arts became a five-star hit with uptowners when it started showing films again last year. Now, the 84-year-old church and theater is hoping its moviegoers can help it enhance its film capabilities.
Since then, thousands of moviegoers have flocked to screenings at the United Palace for films ranging from "Casablanca" to "It's a Wonderful Life" to "Ghostbusters," as well as other films selected by Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda.
While the initial campaign was a resounding success, UPCA Executive Director Mike Fitelson said that Palace officials discovered last summer that, even with cleaning, they could not salvage the screen, which is made of a special fabric embedded with silver materials — giving rise to the Hollywood nickname "silver screen."
Silver screens were used during the 3D movie craze in the 1960s and '80s and are still used for 3D and RealD projections today.
"The thing had really just been stored up in the rafters for over 40 years," Fitelson said. "Over that time it had been bumped and punctured and gathered dust, and we didn’t really realize that."
The screen's flaws are readily apparent during black-and-white films. They cause discolorations or rough portions of the screen, Fitelson said.
Howard Freedman of Gallery 17 Interiors, a company that provides screens to movie chains AMC Theaters, Regal Entertainment Group and Clearview Cinemas, said the Palace's screen had faded, most likely from repeated washings over the years.
The UPCA is looking to replace it with a white screen that's used in most theaters today.
To spur donations, the Palace is offering perks to those who help out, ranging from free tickets to reserved seats. Four donors that give more than $1,250 will even be eligible for a private screening of any film on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Fitelson hopes to have the new screen in place by the April 27 screening of "King Kong."
"I think 'King Kong' will be happier and he will treat us more kindly if we've got the screen," he joked.
The new screen isn't the only improvement the Palace is eyeing. Fitelson said that the UPCA is in discussions with sponsors and is looking to purchase industry-standard film projectors and audio equipment. The upgrades would allow the United Palace to play host to movie industry film premiers.
All of the upgrades are happening much faster than Fitelson or anyone at the UPCA expected when they launched their campaign last year.
"When we did the campaign we were trying to get something started," Fitelson said.
"We did it in a way so that we could see what it looked like. Now we’re trying to take all of the right steps to move forward."