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East Harlem Theaters, Part 2: The Cosmo

November 27th, 2009 by DavidFreeland

East 116th Street in “El Barrio,” East Harlem, is one of my favorite Manhattan thoroughfares because of the life that seems to pulse from every storefront and window.  A sign jutting from a row of stately 19th century townhouses advertises “Lupe, Spritualist Reader & Advisor,” who is also described as a “profesora en espiritismo.”  Dental offices proclaim extractions and other services offered “con gas,” while the steady heartbeat of salsa and Latin jazz emanates from glass-fronted record shops, filling the streets with music.

Architecturally there is much here to admire, including this lovely old theater (now Regine’s clothing shop) at number 176.

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I’ve passed this theater a number of times and have longed to investigate its history.  My first stop, after taking this photo this morning, was to visit cinematreasures, which can always be counted on for well-researched information.  According to the site, Regine’s was once the Cosmo, a venue for not just Spanish-language films but (like the Campoamor Theater profiled in an earlier Gotham Lost and Found post) live performance as well.  In fact, one Cinema Treasures contributor recalls seeing great Latin artists such as Celia Cruz and Tito Puente here, some time before they crossed over to a wider public and began performing at larger venues such as Radio City Music Hall.  As we’ve seen with so many of New York’s performance spaces, the Cosmo resonated with the culture and spirit of the community that surrounded it.

My next step in researching the Cosmo was the page for 176 East 116th Street on the NYC Department of Buildings’ Building Information System.  According to the “NB” (for “new building”) entry there, the permit for the theater was applied for in 1920, which means that the building would have been completed by 1921 or 1922 (and a certificate of occupancy, also available for viewing on the site, dated January 1922, confirms this).  A perusal through the New York Times historical archive (not free, I’m afraid) reveals something of a tumultuous history, including a fire, two robberies (including one in which the thieves used acetylene torches to melt the burglar-proof safe), and a shooting within its first two decades of existence.  According to Cinema Treasures, the theater continued to show action and Spanish-language movies until it closed during the middle 1980s.

Today nothing of the interior is visible, although I suspect that some original decoration survives beneath the expansive dropped ceilings.  The facade remains extremely well-preserved, as can be seen in this photo:

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We’ll continue our exploration of East Harlem’s theaters within the coming weeks!

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9 responses so far ↓

  • Interesting secrets stories behind these magnificent walls! Thanks, David

  • Wow the Cosmo, Im only 30 years of age and I remember walking by the theatre as a kid and seeing the movie posters up and the last posters I remember seeing was for Friday the 13th. I wish I could come across some pictures of this historic theatre.

  • Ive been going there since the late 6os and can remember spanish movies and can also recall celia cruz, and seen the coming of wresling movies brought by mexecos Blue Demon and Mil mascaras, It was a pleasure back in the day the Marqueta and the Ile store were all kicking, Maybe someday she will come back if only for a while.

  • There were a few Theaters in East Harlem we attnded to see our movies. The Cosmo was the most popular of the five I’ll mention, even though the cosmo had no balcony.

    You had the Cosmo who ran the most recent movies. Tom Thumb, Phyco, Rodan, Godsilla, Young Savages, The Westerns, and Thrillers. We also had the Eagle on 102 street and 3rd Avenue who was always in compitition with the Cosmo. The Eagle had a balcony how ever.

    The Tri-Boro was the cheatest at 0.15 cents and wnet up to 0.25 cents in the sixties. They ran 4 movies, seven cartoons, and either the Three Stooges, Little rascals, Laural and Hardy, located on 125th street between 3rd and Lex. Ave.

    The Regent at 116th off Lenox ave… The Boriqua on lex. and 107 street. The Azteca and the Boriqua played all the Spanish, Mexican Movies. These wre the movie houses I remember in my day, between 1954-1971. Those were the days… But the Cosmo had the best Franks and fresh candy and a beautiful round dome when you enter the main part of the theater…

  • The Cosmo, yeah, those were the days..and if you grew up in the Wagner, Johnson, & Jefferson Houses….fabulous!!!! $3.50 What a night that would be. Memoriesss, light the corners… lol really, great place! Miss It!!

  • Does anyone have any pictures of the cosmos movie theater in Spanish Harlem.. Would love to find a picture of the old movie theater!!!!!

  • yes i have i pic of the old movie house. email me.

  • I grew up on 119th & 1st so the Cosmo was mine and my brother’s get-away. Bruce Lee! Lol. Omg I saw so many Kung-Fu movies there. Always a double feature. Usually a cartoon. And there was always hanky panky going on in the last rows Lol! Please if anyone has photos of it please let me know if you would share. Thank you x 1000!

  • wow I remember the cosmo 116 street those were the good old day!