RIP Pavilion: Paying tribute to the best worst theater in Brooklyn on its final day

RIP Pavilion: Paying tribute to the best worst theater in Brooklyn on its final day

An appropriate memorial made of literal trash . Photos by Tim Donnelly/Brokelyn.

A funeral should be a somber occasion meant to pay respect to the dead, and not, say, poke around inside the corpse to catalog all the places where it had fallen apart before its passing. But the farewell to the Pavilion Theater in Park Slope last night was definitely more of a party, as visitors paid their respects to the sorta-beloved, much-reviled old moviehouse by picking apart its still-warm body (literally: I saw someone walk away with what looked like sconces they took off the wall). A DJ station was set up on the second floor arcade, so people were literally dancing on its grave; a brass band outside gave it the feel of a New Orleans funeral. Theaters ran a few black and white movies to entertain guests, who watched from cracked leather seats on floors still crackling with stickiness. The whole building was open for exploration, like a body in a medical theater, showing us how bad it got before the major surgery begins.

The Pavilion, opened in 1996 in an existing old cinema, showed its last movie six days ago. It’s the rare closing of a neighborhood institution that was actually welcomed with open arms. That’s because it did something incredibly rare: Instead of developing the property into condos, the fate of so many old buildings in the city these days, the theater is being taken over by Williamsburg’s Nitehawk Cinema, an art house known for dine-in theaters and themed events. It’s hard to find anyone who has a problem with this.

“What they wanted to do here, demolishing, putting towers, was the wrong thing to do,” said Orlando Lopes, 60, a theater buff who lives in Ditmas Park and has been coming to the theater since he was about 10 years old. “You can’t get rid of all these theaters.”

We got one last look at the Pavilion last night before it gets a major makeover. While we didn’t see any of its infamous bed bugs or rats, we did see what could set this theater apart as it goes into competition with the new Alamo Drafthouse and other dine-in cinemas in flashy new buildings: No amount of refurbishment can completely scrub the long history from these walls. 

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The box office, still hawking premier leather seating, became a shrine of tribute last night.

The theater was originally a single-screen cinema called the Sanders that opened in 1928. The $10 million renovations are already underway, which will take about a year to complete.

In writing a farewell to the theater that was more excoriation than epithet, ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer gathered up the best/worst one-star reviews for the theater on Yelp, with complaints about the lack of heat in the winter, no air conditioning in the summer, rats running across the floor, projections skipping like an old DVD player and clerks just straight up refusing to sell tickets to customers for no apparent reason.

“If there is a hell, the Pavilion is now serving customers there,” he wrote. “They won’t even have to get the air conditioner serviced.”

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Light a candle for the Pavilion (and also to keep the bed bugs away).

Light a candle for the Pavilion (and also to keep the bed bugs away).

This may be overly harsh (if entirely accurate), as the theater was often full of kids and parents from Park Slope. They relied on the theater as the only one in the neighborhood, where the classic film house exterior and proximity to the edge of Prospect Park and the strip of businesses in Windsor Terrace gave it an old-world Brooklyn feel you don’t find at the multiplex.

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The final marquee of the Pavilion.

True to itself right to the end: The final marquee of the Pavilion misspelled the word “middle.”

Nitehawk is going to redo the theater, add a bar and make use of the theater’s upstairs atrium space, a third-floor enclave open to the public last night. This is one of the oddest spots in the whole theater: Lopes said the room once served as a projection room before the building was carved up into smaller theaters. It was adorned with animal-print carpet and chairs, billowy ceilings and windows that looked out onto Prospect Park. Here’s what that space looks like:

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A stained glass window leading up to the atrium.

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This painting covers up an old projector box in the wall of the atrium.

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Did you know there was a painting of a drunk burlesque mermaid upstairs?

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#tbt to indoor smoking sections!

#tbt to indoor smoking sections!

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The odd loungey atrium will be turned into a bar (see rendering below).

The odd loungey atrium will be turned into a bar (see rendering below).

The new space will look like this, according to a rendering provided by Nitehawk:

A rendering of the new atrium bar. Via Nitehawk.

A rendering of the new atrium bar. Via Nitehawk.

The Pavilion had a rundown charm to it that some people loved, the way you dote on a mangy alley cat who’s just looking for a scrap of food in the Dumpster. Like much of Brooklyn, it was in disrepair, constantly trying to reinvent itself and struggling against larger and flashier competitors. It touted new leather seats and an expanded cafe menu in recent years, though none seemed to help its image. Here are some of the the old touches that will go away:

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The Nitehawk logo on popcorn boxes.

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The crest in the lobby, the crust on the floor.

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Farewell, gross “spa on the go” massage chairs in the hallway.

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Keepin’ it real to the very end.

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Local youth Sam Corbin tries her hand at the claw machine. It's unclear if the arcade games will survive into the new iteration.

Local youth Sam Corbin tries her hand at the claw machine. It’s unclear if the arcade games will survive into the new iteration.

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“Euthanasia is illegal in this country,” Singer wrote of the theater. “But I tell you this, my friends: Seeing what became of our Pavilion, I wished it wasn’t. Someone needed to put this poor suffering creature out of its misery.”

This will become Nitehawk’s second location, and it’s still unclear what kind of programming they will bring to the new theater. Its Williamsburg location, which opened in 2011, offers themed brunches, classic Simpsons nights, Saturday morning cartoon parties and midnight movies in addition to first-run and art house movies.

The upgrades include adding elevators, refurbishing the public areas, bathrooms and adding new theater seats. The finished product will have seven theaters (instead of the current nine) with 650 seats, two kitchens and two bar areas.

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Koozies to mark the transition from Pavilion to Nitehawk. They’ll come in handy when the new theater starts serving beer.

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Lopes remembers first coming to the theater as a child. His family had a habit of walking up Lincoln Road to sit in Prospect Park, and by age 10 he was getting bored of it.

“We were annoyed, we wanted to do other things like come to the movies,” he said. He made his family keep walking one day until he came across the building, which was the Sanders at the time.

“I said, oh my god, there’s a theater over there!” he recalled, and was hooked. He said the developers need to “hire the cleaners” to come in and fix the building up, but he was happy Nitehawk was taking over the space, so future generations of cinephiles and indoor kids can have the same experience.

“I think it’s a good space for them,” he said. “They can expand here and breathe here, and they don’t have the construction of the building” to worry about, he said.

They don’t make theaters like this any more, and Nitehawk is lucky they got their hands on one. Let’s hope the A/C works.

The new Nitehawk is expected to open in 2017 but no exact date has been set yet. Visit its website for info about the Williamsburg location.

Follow Tim, who will not miss the sewage smell from the Pavilion bathrooms: @timdonnelly.

One Comment

  • “The Pavilion had a rundown charm to it that some people loved…”

    Uh, no.