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The Paris Theater, Manhattan's Last Single-Screen Cinema, Closes After 71 Years

The Paris Theater
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The Paris Theater, 2015 David Swift

The Paris Theater, the last single screen movie theater in Manhattan that opened 71 years ago, has closed.

The 581-seat venue, which was located on 58th Street and Fifth Avenue, posted a sign in its window yesterday making the announcement, to the surprise of people who had come to buy tickets to Ron Howard's documentary Pavarotti, which had been playing there recently. The note reads: “Unfortunately, our lease has ended and the Paris Theatre is now closed. We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to all of our guests over the years. Thank you for your patronage and we regret that we cannot continue to serve you."

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A New York Icon is closed ☺️

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Deadline had reported earlier this summer that the theater, which is owned by Sheldon Solow, would close by the end of August "unless something dramatic" happened. They speculated that the theater's prime location, next to the Plaza Hotel and Berdorf Goodman, could draw higher rents from changing to retail or housing. As the Times wrote in 2008, "Because of its enviable location, and the onslaught of the multiplex, the theater’s ability to survive is one of the great mysteries of New York life."

The theater opened on September 13th, 1948, with Marlene Dietrich as the one to cut the ribbon (in the presence of the Ambassador to France) at the new institution. It originally specialized in showing French movies. It was one of the oldest art-house theaters in the entire country, and was known for being one of the few remaining theaters in the city showing first-run arthouse and foreign films.

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The legendary Paris Theater, Manhattan’s last single-screen moviehouse, closed on Wednesday after 71 years. A simple sign on the glass front door and the ticket booth delivered the news that was the subject of rumors for months. I stood on the sidewalk for several minutes today as one person after another stopped by, noticing the papered-over doors and examining the farewell note, which I included in my photo gallery. One woman, disappointed by the news, asked me what’s coming next. I don’t know. I can speculate, as can you, about the usual suspects -- condos, office towers -- but I’d like to hold out hope -- perhaps foolishly -- that the theater may reopen. We’ve been here before. The theater closed once before, in 1990, but roared back to life under new management. It’s hard to think of this corner of New York without the swank elegance of the Paris, with its jaunty signage and its sophisticated air. It so beautifully complements its iconic neighbors, like the Plaza Hotel, Grand Army Plaza and Central Park. I love watching old movies filmed in Manhattan and seeing that marquee. It’s been a reassuring touchtone in a city that’s constantly changing. The manager, City Cinemas, also shuttered another Manhattan small theater, the Beekman 1 & 2, on the same day. Both properties are owned by real-estate mogul Sheldon Solow. We’ll see what the next act is for these important parts of New York’s culture. The Paris was opened in 1948, with Marlene Dietrich cutting the ribbon. It focused for years on French films, as well as other foreign movies. It’s fitting, perhaps, that a movie about Pavarotti was the last one screened -- the apparent end of such an institution is certainly a dramatic affair fit for an opera. #retrologist #paristheater

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For those looking for any sort of hopeful sign, the venue closed down once before only to reopen. Per the Times: "In the early 1990s, when [original operator] Pathé lost its lease and was replaced by Loews, the Paris briefly underwent a name change. At the time, it was feared that the landlord would convert the theater to retail space. But Loews cleared out in 1994, and when the new owner, Sheldon Solow, assumed control, the conversion didn’t materialize."

However, Jeremiah Moss reports that the Beekman Theater, also owned by Solow on the Upper East Side, has also closed. They have a similar goodbye note up today as well.

In the past two years, the city has seen a bunch of classic arthouse cinemas shutter, including the Ziegfeld, Lincoln Plaza, Landmark Sunshine, and City Cinemas 86th Street. (It's not all bad: a bright spot for cineastes has been the reopening of the Quad Cinema, now owned by real estate developer Charles Cohen, as well as the arrival of Metrograph in 2016.)

At least Cathy is happy.

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