Though my usual movie theater growing up in Bay Ridge was the Dyker on 86th Street and Gelston Avenue, as a kid I had four theaters to choose from: the Dyker (where I saw a double feature of Trog and one of the Christopher Lee Draculas), the Harbor on 4th Avenue and 93rd Street (where I saw Beneath the Planet of the Apes), the Alpine on 5th Avenue and Bay Ridge Avenue (or 69th Street, as Bay Ridgeites insisted, where I saw Yellow Submarine) and the Fortway at Fort Hamilton Parkway and 68th Street, where I recall seeing the world premiere of Hey There It’s Yogi Bear. As a kid, I wasn’t into highbrow fare, let’s say. But then, I never was and still am not a big moviegoer. The last one I saw was Interstellar and that was in late 2014.
However, in the days before cable TV, you had a lot of theater choices. Pay TV heralded the end of multiple neighborhood theaters and indeed, the Dyker prominently displayed this message on its marquee in the early 1970s: “Stop Pay TV!” Pay TV wasn’t stopped, and the Dyker gave up the ghost by the mid-70s, with one of the last features being Willard. (Today, pay TV is on several tiers and the most popular flicks never get onto HBO or Cinemax — they go to a different pay tier such as Epix.) I prefer the days when you could pick and choose from neighborhood theaters.
The Fortway, at least, still looks like it was a theater. It opened on October 21, 1927 for movies and vaudeville acts and was a one-film theater for most of its existence, but as other theaters closed, the Fortway became a triplex in the 1970s and expanded to 6 screens in the 1980s. Eventually though, it succumbed in 2005 and became a supermarket in 2007.
One of the long-lost aspects of neighborhood theaters in the 1970s is that they were often turned into rock concert venues. The Grateful Dead played midweek matinee shows at the 46th Street Rock Palace in that era, and Jethro Tull, the Kinks and many other classic acts performed at the Ritz in Staten Island. The Fortway was not to be outdone. Chuck Berry appeared here in 1972 touring behind his only #1 hit: “My Ding-A-Ling.”