Neighborhood movie theaters — those distinctively individual venues located in the heart of a community’s business district — began disappearing in the 1980s as film exhibition trends shifted away from the comfy confines of smaller main street environments into the larger multiplexes that were often placed in shopping malls.
Mamaroneck’s Playhouse Theatre was one of the last of the great Westchester County neighborhood theaters. Located in the heart of Mamaroneck Avenue, one of the town’s main thoroughfares, it opened on Dec. 5, 1925, when it doubled as a vaudeville house and a silent movie showcase. The vaudeville aspect of the theater faded during the Great Depression, but the stage and dressing rooms used by the live performers of yesteryear remained.
Movies became the preoccupation of the theater, with the playhouse remaining as a single-screen site until 1980 when its then-owner, United Artists, divided the theater into quarters with two downstairs auditoriums and two upstairs in what had been the balcony.
The playhouse changed hands several times and was closed when Bow Tie Cinemas, which acquired the theater in 2013 from Clearview Cinemas, closed it on April 17, 2014. Occasional plans would be floated to revive or reimagine the space, but these came to naught — until now.
The new Mamaroneck Cinemas is part of a family of independently run establishments that has revived the neighborhood movie theater concept in New York City. The Cobble Hill Cinemas and Williamsburg Cinemas in Brooklyn and the Kew Gardens Cinemas in Queens are part of this mini-chain.
Noah Elgart, general manager of the Mamaroneck Cinemas, says the new theaters are ready for the summer movie season.
“We’re going to show all the top hits,” Elgart says, noting the theater will be open seven days a week. The programming will also be shaped with audience input.
“We’re going to be dynamic in our approach and listen to our customers and our guests and see how they respond in order to give the neighborhood exactly what they want,” Elgart adds.
For him, the movies are an integral part of the American experience and the absence of a theater unique to the heart of Mamaroneck was a mistake that required correction.
“Cinema is important. It’s an incredible art form,” he says. “The neighborhood is underserved, and it’ll be my pleasure to host (moviegoing’s) return.”
The newly restored theater has eight auditoriums, each featuring luxury reclining loungers, state-of-the-art laser projection and Dolby Digital 7.1 sound. The largest venue — the one that once hosted the vaudeville shows — has been dubbed the Dolby Atmos Auditorium and features 4K laser projection and Dolby Atmos sound for 360 degrees of total immersive sound.
“It’s the most incredible experience when it comes to cinemagoing,” Elgart says. “I can’t believe that sound and picture. It is beautiful, truly state of the art. As for the seats, we’ll have luxury recliners that have double armrests, which offer a true appreciation of cinema.”
Because the Covid-19 pandemic devastated the film exhibition industry for most of 2020 and into 2021, Elgart is not taking any chances on a reprise. The Mamaroneck Cinemas has specially filtered air conditions to remove particles that contribute to communicable viruses. However, he says there will not be a mask mandate except if “the government imposes one.”
The Covid pandemic saw a new spike in audience interest in streaming services, including Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max. But for Elgart, watching a film at home — no matter how big the TV screen — is never as emotionally encompassing as the moviegoing experience.
“This will be a great addition to the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s not only for kids to go after school, but first dates and weekly routines that happen in the cinema. It’s also good for commerce. People go for drinks afterwards or have a sandwich. The streets are going to be just as active as the inside of the auditoriums.”
Elgart points out that two new retail locations outside of the theater will also be opening, and he plans to have art shows at the theater featuring local talent.
“I think when you put on a show, like we’re going to do, people will come back. You don’t have to explain it,” he says. “It’s a sensation. It’s a connection to your community and also a little bit into your past. A lot of us have memories there, and I think it’s important to grow them and share them.”
Mamaroneck Cinemas is at 243 Mamaroneck Ave. For more, visit mamaroneckcinemas.com.