One of the strangest-looking buildings in the neighborhood stands at 419 Seventh Avenue, on the northeast corner of Fourteenth Street. It has a facade of uneven brick, an exposed beam, and a completely incongruous two-story addition slapped on top. The two storefronts inside have been vacant for years.
The building has a long history, though, and it's nearly impossible to tell by looking at it that it was once home to a theater.
First opened in 1912 as the Palace, it was later renamed The Armory and in 1941 it became The Minerva, which it remained until closing in the 1950s. No old photos of the theater remain, unfortunately (if you find one let me know; I'm dying to see what this place looked like in its prime).
I recently had the incredible opportunity to sit down for a conversation with journalist Pete Hamill, Park Slope native and author of one of the finest memoirs ever written, A Drinking Life. We discussed his experience growing up in the neighborhood during and after World War II, as well as his thoughts about the changes Park Slope has gone through. Our chat will be published on this site in a series, starting next week. Here's a little teaser, about the Minerva:
"One thing that's not in Park Slope now--something that happened after The War--was the youth gang culture. The south side of Ninth Street was the territory of The Tigers, who hung around the front of what was then the Minerva Theater. The building is more or less still there, but that was one of the first casualties of television.
"It played some of the worst movies in the history of the world. They had a version of King of Kings, which is about Jesus, that was a silent movie with some kind of crazy soundtrack. They had a copy of it that didn't even have titles at the beginning! I don't know where it was from; today they're probably selling it on Canal Street.
"It was full of all kind of rowdies. The Tigers one time in the place, they went in to watch some movie. They were all sitting together in the orchestra, and they brought screwdrivers with them and unscrewed the whole aisle. And at the break they went out onto Seventh Avenue with the whole aisle! And the owner was a guy named Seymour, he knew that if he called the cops they'd probably burn the joint down in retaliation. And they dropped it over by The Factory and had a big laugh, and they never replaced it! So there were four or five rows, then an empty space, and then another six rows to the back of the theater.
"But it was a lot of fun. It was the kind of movie house where the kids talked when the actors talked, and when the action came on they were all quiet. You know, when the cowboys were shooting people."