Developer Says He Does Not Feel Bad About Demolishing Sunshine Cinema

The Sunshine's last days. Photo courtesy of Faust.

The Sunshine’s last days. Photo courtesy of Faust.

One of the developers who purchased the former Sunshine Cinema building says he has no qualms about demolishing the historic Lower East Side theater.

Gregory Kraut of the K Property Group spoke with Commercial Observer about his plans for the site at 141 East Houston St., among other Manhattan real estate ventures. As previously reported, the Sunshine will be knocked down to make way for a 9-story glassy office tower.

Asked if he feels bad about tearing down the Sunshine, Kraut said, “No, not at all.” The Landmark Theatre chain operated the independent film venue from 2001 until this past January. Kraut said of the Landmark team, “they were trying for years to make money and they couldn’t. The area has changed, and quite frankly, the business model didn’t, and so we gave them options to renew. They had several opportunities to buy the building.”

K Property Group and East End Capital bought the building for $30.5 million last year. They’re planning a “boutique office building” with ground floor retail. The new complex will be about 63,000 square feet, roughly twice the size of the current building. Kraut said he’s bullish on the Lower East Side retail market. The partners have been watching commercial activity in the area, and believe companies are ready to plant roots in the neighborhood.

Demolition was originally supposed to occur this month. Kraut says he now expects it to begin in a couple of months. This means you have a while longer to check out FAUST’s “Sunset” mural on the East Houston Street facade.

Portions of the theater building reportedly date to 1838, when the German evangelical mission was based there. It then became the Houston Athletic Center (1908) and the Houston Hippodrome (1909), a venue for Yiddish vaudeville acts. In 1917, it was renamed the Sunshine, before becoming the Chopein Theatre in the 1930s.

 

Rendering of office/retail complex replacing Sunshine Cinema at 141 East Houston St. Image by Real Estate Arts.

Rendering of office/retail complex replacing Sunshine Cinema at 141 East Houston St. Image by Real Estate Arts.

FAUST Tells the Story Behind His Sunshine Cinema Mural

Photo courtesy of Faust.

Photo courtesy of Faust.

If you have walked by the shuttered Sunshine Cinema lately, you probably noticed the “sunset” mural painted on the roll-down gate. As EV Grieve first noted on Feb. 22, it’s the work of street artist FAUST.

Now FAUST is making the rounds with a video (shot by Joshua Geyer) documenting the work in progress and a personal essay. Have a look:

Every time I approach a new work, I try to find a word or phrase that would be clever, poignant, and site-specific. Oftentimes, that could take weeks of research and brainstorming, but on Houston Street that wasn’t the case. With so many memories inside of those walls, this mural on the shuttered facade of the Sunshine Cinema felt much more personal than most of my previous projects. The first time I saw the gate down and learned of the theater’s demise, I instantly knew I wanted to paint it in homage to the historic site. And the following day it came to me, a poetic sendoff to both celebrate and mourn the final days of the Sunshine Cinema. Sunset.

I confess, as a teenager I became well-acquainted with the back door to the Sunshine Cinema which granted me free access to other worlds on the big screen. Growing up in New York City, a significant part of my adolescence was spent at that Lower East Side movie theater which focused on independent and foreign films. I snuck into the critically-acclaimed 2002 Brazilian feature City of God so many times that I started to believe I knew Portuguese because I had memorized the subtitles. But my favorite time to go to the Sunshine was for their midnight movie. Each weekend they screened a different cult classic on Friday and Saturday nights. I spent my 19th birthday catching a sold out screening of The Warriors, my first time seeing the 1979 film that depicts a New York that no longer exists–gritty, overrun by street gangs, and covered in graffiti.

My career as an artist is deeply rooted in my upbringing as a graffiti writer. The style of my work derives from a contemporary history of writing on walls and subways that spans nearly 50-years. Anytime I paint abroad, I feel like a cultural ambassador bringing my distinctly “New York” aesthetic across the globe. But New York is always home–and always will be. At home the work takes on a different meaning; carrying on the tradition of a wide-spread (albeit illicit) art movement that has risen up from the streets and making a statement that hopefully resonates with my friends and neighbors who see it.

The 30,000 square-foot building on Houston Street has a long history of entertainment in the Lower East Side. Sections of the building date back to 1844, when it first opened as a church, before being converted into the Houston Athletic Club, a prize fight club, in the early 1900’s. Shortly after, the building was purchased and converted into the Houston Hippodrome, which offered moving picture shows and Yiddish vaudeville acts to the growing Jewish immigrant community in the neighborhood. In 1917 the theater was converted into a nickelodeon and renamed the Sunshine Theater. The theater closed in 1945 and was used as storage up until the 1990s. For a brief period, from 1994 to 1998 the space was rented out for concerts and events before being leased to Landmark Theaters. After undergoing a $12 million renovation, the Sunshine Cinema as I know it opened on December 21, 2001.

The Sunshine Cinema isn’t even the latest in a string of closures of historic NYC theaters including the Ziegfeld Theater in 2016 and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas which just closed it’s doors on January 31st. When these cultural institutions have no chance of keeping their heads above water in the current real estate market is it officially time to say New York is dead? As early as 1927 author H. P. Lovecraft had declared “New York is dead, & the brilliancy which so impresses one from outside is the phosphorescence of a maggoty corpse.” But we all know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Each successive generation inevitably breathes new life into the city and finds inspiration in the hallowed concrete jungle.

I discussed my idea for the mural with filmmaker Charlie Ahearn and described my dismay when I found out about the closure. I was surprised that he didn’t share my sentiment. Rather, he said he always thought of the Sunshine as a new theater. I suppose if I had lived though the New York art world of the 70s, 80s, and 90s as he had, I’d likely feel the same way. “Have you been to the Metrograph? Now that’s a great theater!” he told me about the new cinema that opened in the Lower East Side in 2016 and recently hosted a sold out screening of his cult classic film Wild Style.

It’s engrained in us all as New Yorkers to gripe every time a local landmark shutters, be it a cultural institution in a historic building or a corner bodega that can no longer compete with the new Whole Foods that opened down the block. It’s part of our DNA to wax poetic about the New York City we grew up in, whichever era that was. But it’s safe to say that more prescient than the idea that New York is dead is another old adage, the only constant is change.

FAUST – SUNSET from Joshua Geyer on Vimeo.

Here’s the Glassy Tower Set to Replace the Historic Sunshine Cinema

Rendering of office/retail complex replacing Sunshine Cinema at 141 East Houston St. Image by Real Estate Arts.

Rendering of office/retail complex replacing Sunshine Cinema at 141 East Houston St. Image by Real Estate Arts.

Locals and independent film buffs from across the city flocked to the Sunshine Cinema over the weekend for one last visit before the theater closed for good last night. Now this morning in the New York Times we’re greeted by a rendering of the glassy tower that will replace the historic 1898 building on East Houston Street.

The developers, East End Capital and K Property Group, describe their new project as a 9-story boutique office building for small to midsize firms with ground floor retail. East End Capital’s Jonathan Yormak is preparing to wipe away an important piece of Lower East Side history (the Sunshine was a venue for Yiddish vaudeville acts in the early 1900s). But he tells the Times, “We’re big fans of the Lower East Side… It really needs more 9-to-5 activity and it tends to be very active, obviously, on a night life basis. We believe there is a real demand for office space and for people to work there during the day.”

The 65,000 square foot project is being designed by Roger Ferris. The Sunshine will be demolished starting in March. Construction is expected to be completed at the end of 2019.

In 1994, gallery owner and entrepreneur Tim Nye partnered with Landmark Theaters for a $12 million renovation of the historic property, which was being used as a warehouse. Nye said the Sunshine was, “doing incredible” financially, but that Landmark was only paying $8,000/month for a 30,000 square foot space. The rent would have gone astronomically higher at the end of the lease (Jan. 2018), even if developers hadn’t purchased it last year for $31.5 million. “We cannot pay market rent,” said Nye. “But we knew this day was coming from day one. It was a good run.”

In 2016, Landmark Theatres CEO Ted Mundorff told IndieWire that the annual rent at the Sunshine was around $200,000. He said it was, “pretty shortsighted” of Community Board 3 to have rejected Landmark’s application for a liquor permit in 2012. As we reported following that community board discussion six years ago, Landmark executives said that adding in-theater dining and drinking offered the only hope of keeping the Sunshine open long-term.

Among those quoted in today’s Times story is Brett Leitner, a local preservationist who helped lead an effort to landmark the Sunshine. The Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected the application because the building had been substantially altered over the years.

 

☀️…And then, suddenly, there was no sunshine☀️Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Singin’ In The Rain. The Wizard of Oz. Taxi Driver. Blue Velvet. Desperately Seeking Susan. Edward Scissorhands. Back To The Future. The Warriors. Halloween. A Clockwork Orange. Annie Hall. Manhattan. So many more to name, too many to remember. For 12 years, I would bask in the glow of Sunshine at Midnight, practically skipping the short distance from my apartment down Houston Street. The curved brick marquee illuminated by the soft glow of canary colored lights spelling out S U N S H I N E waited patiently in the distance. The memories of the meet ups, the dates, the first dates, the last dates, and the solo escapes, flicker frame by frame, through my mind. Sunshine Cinema, you were a magical little place for so many. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything, and for allowing the sun to shine all night. ☀️☀️☀️#sunshinecinema #sunshineatmidnight #nostalgia #letsgotothemovies

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Sunshine Cinema Closes Jan 21

Sunshine Cinema, 139 East Houston St.

Sunshine Cinema, 139 East Houston St.

You only have a few more days to visit the Sunshine Cinema before the theater closes. Deadline confirmed with Landmark Theatres yesterday that the final day at 139 East Houston St. will be Sunday, Jan. 21.

As we first reported in November, demolition permits have been filed by the new property owners, East End Capital and K Property Group, to tear down the 1898 building. They plan to put up a mixed-use retail and office complex on the site. The Sunshine has been a Lower East Side mainstay since 2001.

Ted Mundorff, CEO of Landmark Theatres, told Deadline, “We’ve known it was coming.” There won’t be any special programming or fanfare on the final weekend because, as he put it, “there’s nothing to celebrate.” Landmark is now focusing on its new theater on West 57th Street.

Here’s the schedule at the Sunshine if you want to plan your final trip.

Demolition Application Filed For Sunshine Cinema Building

Sunshine Cinema, 139 East Houston St.

Sunshine Cinema, 139 East Houston St.

The new owners of the building housing the Sunshine Cinema have just filed for demolition of the three story structure, parts of which date back 180 years.

In May, it became known that East End Capital and K Property Group purchased the property from Steven Goldman for $31.5 million. At the time, they talked about booting the theater and renovating/enlarging the building. The developers envisioned ground floor retail with offices on the upper floors.

A demolition application was filed with the Department of Buildings yesterday. It’s a pre-application, calling for “a full demolition of a 3-story commercial building.” The owner representative listed is Adam Pogoda of East End Capital. This is what the company says about the project on it website:

Currently home to the Sunshine Theater, whose lease expires in early 2018, East End is planning to re-develop the building into a mixed-use retail and office project.  While pursuing tenants interested in utilizing the structure in its current form, work is also underway for a new, best-in-class office building with retail at the base – a first in the rapidly evolving Lower East Side.  139 East Houston will offer cutting-edge design from Roger Ferris Architecture, huge windows with expansive views, high ceilings and column-free efficient space – all on top of a subway stop in a unique and exciting location.  Ground breaking is expected in the second quarter of 2018.

The current building is about 30,000 square feet and there are an additional 20,000 square feet of development rights.

The art house cinema, in an historic 1898 building, was opened in 2001 by the Landmark Theatre chain. Portions of the structure reportedly date to 1838, when the German evangelical mission was based there. It then became the Houston Athletic Center (1908) and the Houston Hippodrome (1909). Landmark Theatres spent $12 million on the 2001 restoration.

The Hippodrome was a venue for Yiddish vaudeville acts. According to Cinema Treasures, the property changed hands in 1917 and it was renamed the Sunshine, before becoming the Chopein Theatre in the 1930s. After closing in 1945, the building was used for storage.

The building is not protected as a city landmark because it has been so significantly altered over time.

 

Sunshine Cinema Building Sold For $31.5 Million; Theater to Close in January 2018

(Rendering) Sunshine Cinema redevelopment scheme.

(Rendering) Sunshine Cinema redevelopment scheme.

It’s an announcement we’ve been expecting for a few years and one that many neighborhood residents have been dreading. The New York Post reported this afternoon that the building housing the Sunshine Cinema has been sold. The theater will close in January of next year.

The building at 139 East Houston St. is being snatched up by East End Capital and K Property Group for $31.5 million. After booting the theater, they’ll renovate the historic building to accommodate ground floor retail and offices upstairs. The building currently covers 30,000 square feet and there are 20,000 square feet in unused development rights. More from Lois Weiss’s story:

East End’s Jonathon Yormak and David Peretz are very bullish on the Lower East Side – even if they aren’t bullish on movie theaters. “We see the transition from bar and nightlife area to a live/work environment,” Yormak explained of their purchase.Added Rod Kritsberg of K Property, “We are excited about adding to the neighborhood’s rich culture and bright future.”

Back in 2015, reports first surfaced that property owner Steven Goldman was trying to unload the building fore more than $35 million.

The art house cinema, in an historic 1898 building, was opened in 2001 by the Landmark Theatre chain. Portions of the structure reportedly date to 1838, when the German evangelical mission was based there. It then became the Houston Athletic Center (1908) and the Houston Hippodrome (1909). Landmark Theatres spent $12 million on the 2001 restoration.

The Hippodrome was a venue for Yiddish vaudeville acts. According to Cinema Treasures, the property changed hands in 1917 and it was renamed the Sunshine, before becoming the Chopein Theatre in the 1930s. After closing in 1945, the building was used for storage for decades.

The building is not protected as a city landmark.

 

Sunshine Cinema in No “Imminent Danger” of Closing, But Long-Term Future Still Bleak

Sunshine Cinema. Photo via: Cinema Treasures.

Sunshine Cinema. Photo via: Cinema Treasures.

Our hearts sank in 2015 when it became known that brokers were trying to sell the historic 1898 property currently housing the Sunshine Cinema. The building at 139-143 East Houston St. has not yet attracted a buyer. IndieWire has an update on the situation today, including an interview with Ted Mundorff, president and CEO of Landmark Theaters.

Property owner Steven Goldman reportedly wants $35 million for the development site (the lot could accommodate a 56,000 square foot residential building). Mundoroff said, “It would take years for anyone who’s going to pay the kind of money they’re looking for to demolish [the building] and construct something… At this point I don’t see any imminent danger of us leaving the property.”

Back in 2012, Community Board 3 rejected an application from Landmark Theaters for a liquor license at the Sunshine. The permit would have allowed the Sunshine to offer food and beverage service in the theaters, boosting revenue. Mundorff told IndieWire, “That was pretty shortsighted of folks… It’s not like theaters that have alcohol have people falling down [drunk].”

While the Sunshine appears to be safe for now, most industry insiders believe it’s just a matter of time before the property is sold and the independent cinema is forced from its Lower East Side home. The current lease expires in 2018.

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Sunshine Cinema Temporarily Closed Due to Flooding (Updated)

Sunshine Cinema. Photo via: Cinema Treasures.

Sunshine Cinema. Photo via: Cinema Treasures.

You may have seen the following message from the Sunshine Cinema this afternoon:

Managers at the Landmark movie theater at 143 East Houston St. tell us the closure is due to flooding. They hope to reopen this evening or, by the latest, tomorrow morning. Keep an eye on the Sunshine’s Twitter account for updates.

UPDATE 1/7: The Sunshine is back in business:

 

Report: Sunshine Theatre Building On the Market as Development Site

Springsteen Documentary Premiering at Sunshine Cinema

Look out for long black limousines and pink Cadillacs on East Houston Street this evening: Springsteen & I, a new documentary about the Boss, is making its U.S. debut at the Landmark Sunshine theater at 6 p.m.

Sunshine Cinema Returns to CB3 in Quest For Liquor License Next Month

The Sunshine Cinema is applying for a new liquor permit. Photo via: Cinema Treasures.

Community Board 3 just published the agenda for next month’s liquor license hearing.  There are several interesting items listed, including a return engagement by the management of the Sunshine Cinema, which is transforming the East Houston Street landmark into a “dinner/drinks/and a movie” venue. Back in December, CB3 turned the Sunshine team away, saying their application was incomplete.

Also on the agenda, a business dubbed the “Cow Theater” is seeking a wine and beer permit at 21 Clinton, Currently the home of the Living Theatre (the legendary theater company is moving out of the space after its current production ends).  The new applicant appears to be Tyler Maganzini, who runs the Black Mountain Winehouse in Brooklyn.

Click through for the full agenda.

Delicatessen Returns to the Midnight Movie at The Sunshine

A still from the 1991 film, Delicatessen, by Jeunet & Caro.

The fabulous French film Delicatessen will grace the screen at The Sunshine Cinema this weekend in the midnight time slot on Friday and Saturday.  The film was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro (creators of The City of Lost Children and Amélie) and is a funky version (in my opinion) of Sweeney Todd.  Told in a totally unique style, which they claim to be a tribute to Terry Gilliam — but nobody makes films like Juenet and Caro — the story is touted as a “wonderfully macabre comedy about an enterprising butcher’s solution to meat shortages” (and is set in a post-apocalyptic France of an ambiguous time period). It’s a timeless classic that I guarantee is even better when viewed on the big screen.

143 East Houston Street // midnight Jan. 11 & 12 // $10.

Sunshine Cinema Says Alcohol Permit is Key to Staying on the LES; CB3 Balks

The Sunshine Cinema is applying for a new liquor permit. Photo via: Cinema Treasures.

Last night, representatives of the Landmark Theatre Company told members of Community Board 3 that their plan to sell alcoholic drinks at the Sunshine Cinema offers the only hope of keeping the art house theater at 143 East Houston Street.  But citing an incomplete application and concerns about the scale of the proposed liquor permit, CB3’s SLA Committee sent them away with a tongue-lashing and the threat of rejection.  Executives from the company withdrew their application for the time being.

Mike Fant, Landmark’s senior vice president for real estate,  said the company will soon be renegotiating its lease in the historic 1898 building on East Houston Street that has served as a center of independent film downtown for more than a decade.  He indicated that the property owner expected to have multiple offers from other theater companies.  In anticipation of a big rent increase,  Fant said, Landmark wants to invest $1 million to transform the Sunshine into an upscale venue for drinks, dinner and film.

Midnight at the Sunshine: Revisiting and Reveling in Film Faves

Photo via: Cinema Treasures.

Editor’s note: The following article first appeared in our June print magazine. It was written by TLD contributor Giacinta Frisillo.

Second-run films are first-rate fodder for a fun, rowdy, happening time Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday nights at the Lower East Side’s Landmark Sunshine Theatre. That’s when the Houston Street cinema turns from independent and experimental to weird and a little bit wacky. The Midnight Movie at Sunshine offers a unique chance to recreate the experience you had while watching the films you loved — or loved to hate — on the big screen the first time around. Re-watching with audiences as caught up in the show as these nighttime moviegoers are keeps the magic of the movies alive.

“The crowd tends to be very different at night,” notes Hanlon Smith-Dorsey, the house manager at Sunshine. “The midnight crowd has to be up for staying up late. They’re usually younger and hipper, and sometimes even nerdier.” Making a case in point, Mitchell Fesh, an usher, recalls when Super Mario Bros. ran. “People came in with the T-shirts on and were really jazzed! The fandom was incredible.”
And since Landmark Theatres opened Sunshine in New York City in 2001, the fan base for the Midnight Movie has been a solid staple. After it began in Los Angeles as a theater playing second-run and cult films, its operators believed there was a market on the East Coast. And they were right. Cas Pineda, who sometimes works in the box office during the late showings, knows of “one guy who comes to every single Midnight Movie there is.”

“Pariah” Opens at the Sunshine Cinema Today

Aasha Davis as Bina and Adepero Oduye as Alike in ``Pariah.''

There’s a noteworthy opening at the Sunshine Cinema today. Pariah is the story of a young black woman from a traditional Brooklyn family coming to terms with the fact that she’s gay.  It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and is generating quite a bit of “Oscar buzz.” The LA Times says it’s a “street smart story” that, while a little “rough around the edges, ” is believable, subtle and tender.  Click here for tickets and show times.