Watch the Demolition of a Historic Movie Theater Turned Church

Here’s video of workers demolishing the building on the corner of Avenue B and East 12th Street that held the Elim Pentecostal Church and before that, a theater that was a locus of 1960s counterculture.

A 40-unit, seven-story condo will be built at 193 Avenue B, with the church returning to the ground floor and basement. Earlier today, the walls of the Bijou (later the Charles) Theater were being demolished brick by brick.

The Bijou was opened in 1926 by Charles Steiner, a “pioneer motion picture exhibitor” who opened his first theater in 1906 (when “motion pictures were scarce,” per the Times obit) and died in 1946. According to the book “Selling The Lower East Side,” the Charles (as it was renamed) showed underground and experimental movies in the 1950s (think Edward G. Ulmer) and then became a “favored site for the nascent hippie community” in the early ’60s.

stairsDaniel Maurer A stairway to nowhere.

In his memoir “Fug You,” Ed Sanders recalled founding his influential literary journal after seeing Jonas Mekas’s “Guns of the Trees” there in 1962; later he met Tuli Kupferberg, his future bandmate in the Fugs, outside of the theater after a screening of Ron Rice’s “The Flower Thief.” At the time, Mekas showed what he called “Baudelarian Cinema” at the theater and lived nearby; Avenue B from 10th to 12th Streets was then known as the Sacred Via, since it was also home to bohemian hangouts the Annex and Stanley’s Bar.

In “Mailer: A Biography,” Mary V. Dearborn notes that Norman Mailer was a regular at the theater along with Warhol, Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg. At one point, Salvador Dali stopped in with artists Christo, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.

In 1962, Sun Ra performed an “Outer Space Jazz Concert” as part of the “Jazz & Java” series that offered music, coffee, and a movie for $2. It resulted in the jazzman’s first Times review.

Ward Nine took stunning photos of the theater long after it was damaged by a fire that displaced the pentacostal church in 2006. After the Final Curtain also took photos, and offered up more history.

The theater apparently had a retractable roof. As you can see in our videos above and below, the roof has now been opened for good. Look closely and you’ll see that characteristics of the building still remain, including a “World Peace” mural and a stairway with lovely plaster trim.

IMG 0343 from The Local East Village on Vimeo.