Loew's 175th Street Theatre
between West 175th and West 176th Streets
Washington Heights, Manhattan
New York City
|Owner||United Christian Evangelistic Association|
|Capacity||1930: 3,444 or 3,661;|
|Current use||church; live music venue|
|Architect||Thomas W. Lamb|
The United Palace is a church and non-profit cultural and performing arts center located at 4140 Broadway between West 175th and 176th Streets in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. A full-block building, it is bounded on the east by Wadsworth Avenue.
Built in 1930 as Loew's 175th Street Theatre, the venue was originally a movie palace designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, who designed over 300 theatres in his career, including the Cort Theatre, as well as other buildings with eclectic designs such as the Pythian Temple. The theatre's lavishly eclectic interior decor was supervised by Harold Rambusch, who also designed the interior of the Roxy Theatre and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
The theatre, which was the first in Washington Heights built specifically to show films, although it also presented live vaudeville, was one of five deluxe "Wonder Theatres" built by Loew's in the New York City area. The theater operated continuously until it was closed by Loew's in 1969. That same year it was purchased for over a half million dollars by the television evangelist Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, better known as Reverend Ike. The theater became the headquarters of his United Church Science of Living Institute and was renamed the Palace Cathedral, sometimes also called "Reverend Ike's Prayer Tower". It was completely restored and still continues to be maintained by the church.
The building was designated a New York City landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on December 13, 2016. The church attempted to have the designation overturned, but later withdrew their objections.
As of 2018, the church is called the United Palace of Spiritual Arts, and offers performing arts events through the United Palace of Cultural Arts. Its Spiritual Leader and CEO is Rev. Heather Shea.
The architectural style of the terra-cotta-faced theater has been described as "Byzantine-Romanesque-Indo-Hindu-Sino-Moorish-Persian-Eclectic-Rococo-Deco" by David W. Dunlap of the New York Times, who wrote later that Lamb borrowed from "the Alhambra in Spain, the Kailasa rock-cut shrine in India, and the Wat Phra Keo temple in Thailand, adding Buddhas, bodhisattvas, elephants, and honeycomb stonework in an Islamic pattern known as muqarnas." The AIA Guide to New York City calls it "Cambodian neo-Classical" and invites a comparison to Lamb's Loew's Pitkin Theatre in Brownsville, Brooklyn, while New York Times reporter Nathaniel Adams called it simply a "kitchen-sink masterpiece." Lamb himself wrote that "Exotic ornaments, colors and scenes are particularly effective in creating an atmosphere in which the mind is free to frolic and becomes receptive to entertainment."
The interior of the building features a "palatial" staircase. and reflects the western obsession with exotic lands and cultures that was fashionable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The interior is decorated with filigreed walls and ceilings, illuminated with indirect, recessed lighting from within and behind the walls. The rich decor is enhanced by the addition of authentic Louis XV and XVI furnishings and a collection of other works of art.
The theater still looks very much as it did when it first opened; the only major change that Rev. Ike made was adding in the 1970s a cuppola or prayer tower on the building's northeast corner, at Wadsworth Avenue and West 176th Street, topped by a "Miracle Star of Faith," visible from the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey. In early 2017 the building exterior was nominated for city Landmark status. The owners opposed the Landmark designation citing the added cost and time to do any work on the building, use restrictions, and their fifty-year history of preserving the theater entirely with private funds.
Loews 175th Street Theatre was built as one of the Loew's Wonder Theatres, the company's five extravagant and spacious flagships throughout the New York City area. The other four theaters are Loew's Jersey in Jersey City (1929) and Loew's Kings in Brooklyn (1929), both now used as performing arts centers; and Loew's Paradise in the Bronx (1929) and Loew's Valencia in Queens (1929), both now used as churches.
All five theaters featured identical "Wonder Morton" theatre pipe organs manufactured by the Robert Morton Organ Company of Van Nuys, California. Each organ featured a four-manual console and 23 ranks of pipes. The organ in the United Palace was restored c.1970 after almost 25 years of disuse, and was utilized by the church in its services. It remains in the theater but is not currently functioning due to water damage. Events featuring "Live Organ" accompaniment used an electronic organ. In October 2016 the New York Theater Organ Society began a full restoration of the organ. which is one of the few surviving instruments that are still in their original venues.
The 175th Street Theatre seated over 3,000 people and opened on February 22, 1930. The first program included the MGM film Their Own Desire. starring Norma Shearer, and Pearls, a live musical stage revue starring vaudevillians Shaw and Lee (Al Shaw and Sam Lee). Hollywood stars who appeared at the theatre to host films included Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Eleanor Powell,and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Loew's closed the theater in March 1969, 39 years after it opened, with a showing of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In 1969, as the era of grand movie palaces was coming to an end, the theatre was purchased by televangelist Rev. Ike, who renamed the building the United Palace. As a successful "prosperity preacher," Rev. Ike was able to restore the theatre as his congregation grew through syndicated radio and television shows, which sometimes originated from the stage of the United Palace.
The name of the church was changed to The United Palace House of Inspiration, and it became an all-inclusive, non-denominational spiritual community. After Rev. Ike died, the church was led by Xavier Eikerenkoetter, his son, who renamed the congregation to UPHI. In 2017, the Eikerenkoetter family "retired from all [United Palace] and [United Palace of Cultural Arts] operations" As of 2018, the church is named the United Palace of Spiritual Arts, and Rev. Heather Shea is its Spiritual Director as well as CEO of United Palace overall.
A series of rock concerts presented at the United Palace were produced by Andy Feltz, formerly of the Beacon Theatre. Musical performers since 2007 include Vampire Weekend, Eddie Vedder, Neil Young, Sonic Youth, Bloc Party, Bob Dylan, Adele, The Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Sigur Rós, Jackson Browne, Alex Campos, Björk, Allman Brothers Band, Iggy and the Stooges, Modest Mouse, The Black Crowes, Arcade Fire and Kraftwerk. The United Palace also presents concerts by Latino artists.
In 2007, Sir Simon Rattle appeared at the theater conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring danced by public school students and choreographed by Royston Maldoom. The following year, a performance of Leonard Bernstein's Mass was given as part of the celebration of the 90th anniversary of that composer's birth. In addition, recitals, classes and lectures have also been presented at the theatre, and the TV show Smash has used the theatre to film its fictional Broadway production Bombshell.
The non-profit United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA) was founded by Eikerenkoetter in 2012 and functions as a community arts center. It presents performing arts events and screenings of classic movies, which began in 2013. As of 2001, the projection booth still had three six-foot tall Simplex projectors with Peerless arclight housings. In 2013 money was raised to install digital projection in the theatre. The first film presented in the new format was the 1941 Warner Bros classic Casablanca.
The United Palace has served as a location in film and television, including the NBC TV series Smash, the Netflix series Luke Cage episode "Blowin' Up the Spot", and the HBO series Crashing episode 2.4 "Porter Got HBO".
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