Sunshine Cinema on Houston Street may have seemed like one of those places that's always been there, but it only opened in 2001. When it was announced in 2018 that the theater would close, it was a punch in the gut, not just because the theater would shutter, but because the building would be demolished. And that building has been around forever.
The 600-seat Sunshine Theatre opened in 1917, according to Cinema Treasures, which notes that it was operated by Chas Steiner and Jack Schwartz, and was renamed Chopin Theatre in the 1930, before closing in 1945. (Theaters were having trouble staying open around then, which is how we got movie popcorn!) It wasn't until the 1990s that folks started looking to reopen the space at 143 E. Houston Street as a theater. The project took a few years to get off the ground, but by 2001, it reopened as the Sunshine Cinema we all knew.
William Murray was one of the managers who helped open the doors; he recently re-entered the shuttered cinema and shared some photos of the gutted interiors—click through for a last glimpse of the place where we once challenged a strict outside beverage policy alongside Whit Stillman and Michael Wolff.
Upon opening, the Village Voice ticked off the roles the building played over the years:
In its storied life, the building (between Eldridge and Forsyth streets, or First and Second avenues, depending on where you stand) has been a church, an immigrant meeting hall, a boxing venue, a nickelodeon, a Yiddish vaudeville house, a hardware warehouse, a graffiti showcase, and an indie-rock playroom; it has stood at the center of daily life for each generation of Lower East Side newcomers.
Murray tells us that he was one of the four managers that opened the theater in 2001, recalling, "It was such a bright spot (pun intended) on a then, tattered block of stores and a bar or two." At the time, he says, the Angelika was their main competition, with Film Forum not far behind. But Sunshine's $12 million renovation and the fact that (as the Voice put it) it was "column-free and subway-silent," made it an appealing contender.
During those glory days, Murray told Gothamist, "New York City media was new in the mix for me and we were constantly being inundated with cross promotion items and offers as the new guy in town." Undoubtedly, some of those items were still tucked away in the theater upon closing, along with other posters and furnishing. What's going to happen to all that stuff? He tells us, "Most of the furnishings in the lobby were tossed. The large framed posters, I believe, were sent back to the Landmark Offices and will surely be used elsewhere in the chain."
The theater it was housed in, and that Tony Pleskow designed interior (Japanese rock gardens and all), however, will soon become dust... and then this bullshit will rise from it:
Rendering of the office building that will replace Sunshine Cinema.
As for when it's being demolished, back in March the Commercial Observer interviewed Gregory Kraut, a managing partner at K Property Group (the new owners), who suggested that they'd be tearing it all down in May:
CO: So no theater there.
GK: No theater. Zero. We’re demolishing it in two months.
CO: You don’t feel bad?
GK: No, not at all.