Roll Film no more in Theaters of the Bronx

By Michael Balbuena

American Movie Theater located in Parkchester. (Photo by Michael Balbuena)

American Movie Theater located in Parkchester. (Photo by Michael Balbuena)

Parkchester’s vibrant and wholesome community provides a multitude of experiences for residents who have spent their entire lives in the Bronx. To some the sights and sounds of all the local shops and eateries come as a surprise. With green gardens, tall trees, clear fountains, and many clothing stores, Parkchester is very different from what outsiders might expect to see in a Bronx neighborhood.

One of Parkchester’s longest lasting establishments, the American movie theatre, was built in 1939 and is still standing tall today, serving residents and visitors who are eager to see the latest blockbuster released in the cinemas. Unlike other theatres, the American movie theatre has kept its timeless style and vintage interior giving guests a look into the past. Thanks to its reasonable prices, larger parties prefer this theatre to extravagantly priced theatres elsewhere, said some teenagers exiting the theatre.

Though well established, the American has been through obstacles and economic scares, which have led to rumors of a possible closing or downsizing, said Elizabeth Valdez an employee at the theatre.

Before it was renovated two years ago, the American was in poor conditions. Wherever one looked there were problems, including broken floors, cracked walls, and broken chairs. The lack of revenue caused the establishment to consider the thought of closing or either selling, but after the business picked up slightly, and enough revenue was made, the renovations created much more to look forward to.

“The pay is okay and the hours are reasonable,” said Elizabeth when asked about her job. Elizabeth, who makes minimum wage and works only a few days a week, says she is content with what she gets to do, but plans to change careers in the near future. Usually working behind the register selling tickets she explained that the theatre gets “average business,” slow on most weekdays since most families are either working, or taking care of their children. “The theatre gets most of its revenue during Friday nights, and the weekend,” she said. When asked if she had heard any rumors on the closing of the establishment, she shared that she had but was not certain, since she had only been on the job for a few months.

This cinema has had such a long lasting run that if it were ever to close those in the area would have a few words to share on how the establishment has been a part of their lives. Its end would not be appreciated since there are no longer any nearby alternatives. The American theatre is a landmark to Parkchester, and a cherished memory for those who have been visiting it since they were children.

“Movies remove me from real life, and take me to places where everything is possible and nothing is out of bounds,” said seventeen year-old high school student Chelsea Cates. Cates, who has a passion for fashion and marketing, was born and raised in the Bronx and has had a passion for movies ever since she can remember. Being an older sister Cates has always had the responsibility of making certain that she sets a rather positive example for her younger sister, which includes watching positive films.

“Parkchester has a few cool places, but I only mostly go there when I’m with my relatives,” said Cates. She thinks that that anyone checking out the area should not miss the American theatre. In addition to her studies and babysitting her sister, Cates said she has a job, which allows her to buy movie tickets. Kimberly Ortiz interested in becoming a medical technician goes to the movies whenever she gets a chance. “The summer is when I get to catch up on missed events and movies that are coming out.” Ortiz thinks that movie theatres are slowly being pulled out of the Bronx.

Whitestone cinema, a neighborhood establishment for over 30 years was recently shut down, and the land sold to a company, which plans to bring a Woodbury Commons-styled outlet to the lot. “Malls are a good idea, but how many malls are too many?” said Ortiz.  

She then added “people are afraid of muggings, and other crimes that are advertised here,” explaining that stereotypes about the Bronx may lead many to overlook little gems like the American.

After the Whitestone closure, one of the only alternatives in the Bronx besides the American in Parkchester is the Concourse Plaza Multiplex, which is located on 214 East 161 street. Being open for multiple years this Cinemax has prospered because of the many stores that surround the theatre, such as Payless, Rainbows, CVS Pharmacy, and various. But this establishment has also gone through its struggles. Recently, the lots surrounding the theatre, where the kiosks stood, were sold to a company, which plans to create offices there. With these closures there are a limited amount of areas to visit.

“Movies are a timeless hobby, and no matter the age of a person all can appreciate a good story,” said Kathy Camilo, who has lived in the Parkchester area for nearly twelve years. In these years she has experienced the revitalization of the community. On the weekend, Kathy says she visits the American with her 12 year-old son.

“The inside being kept the same is an interesting idea,” she said when asked about her thoughts on the vintage interior design. She then questions why some other companies do not consider doing the same to other locations with their interior.

American Movie Theater located in Parkchester. (Photo by Michael Balbuena)

American Movie Theater located in Parkchester. (Photo by Michael Balbuena)

Kathy also praised the attitude of the staff at the American. “They are always helpful whenever I need to find something”, she said.

“I feel like I, and everyone who lives in Parkchester who visits this place is connected” said Valdez. The fact that in a small place like this where people who come from different backgrounds and undergo difficult issues in life are all able to join together in a room, and embark on an adventure together is amazing she said. There is not an abundance of occasions or theatres left in New York in which this gets to occur, but here in the American it does. If Parkchester were to lose this establishment then where would locals go?


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