Little Old Canarsie
T’was the spring of 1913 when Canarsie got its first glimpse of an up-to-date Movie House, which was built and opened by an old time resident J. H. Vreeland who was one of Canarsie’s oyster planters of Jamaica Bay. Harry, as he was known by all the residents, operated it for about 3 years, showing such films as Anita Stewart and Earle Williams in a serial every week called “The Goddess” and Flora Finch and John Bunny of the old Vitagraph Studios over in Flatbush. Feature films were Theda Bara and, Valeska Seurat. Harry later sold the theatre, which had 500-seats to a pair of partners named Berman & Grossman who then after a few years, sold it to Louis Scala and Edward J. Leone who owned and operated a movie house called the Oriole down at Degraw and Henry Streets in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.
Canarsie at this time had a population of maybe 5,000 people as a building boom started right after World War I. Then Louie and Eddie, the owners, decided to enlarge so they built out an extension and came up with 800 seats. They had a photo player, an organ up front on which they had a platform for a stage built, and many leading acts from Broadway appeared. They also had a baby grand piano, which was played by Nick Monty who worked there many years. The operator was Little Harry Gebhardt for Scala and Leone. Among the best drawing card films were those of Stars such as Mae Murray, Bebe Daniels, Milton Sills, Richard Barthellmess, Rudolph Valentino, Thos. Meighan, Zasu Pitts, Lon Chaney, the Tal-madge Girls, Norma, Constance and Natalie, Doug Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Chas. Chaplin, Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Wm. S. Hart, and Rin Tin Tin. Every Saturday and Sunday the place was packed as the Canarsie population was growing by leaps and bounds. The owners decided on week-ends to have a 4-piece band, so they hired (3) well-known men who were talented musicians. Mr. Gustave Richter, Mr. Doc Weiss and Morris Kali. Gus played Cornet, Doc the drums and Morris the violin. They played for the feature pictures until the beginning of the 1930’s when finally the movie house was taken over by the owners of the New Canarsie Theatre on Avenue L.
Then the City decided to widen Flatlands Ave. and take 10 feet off each side so they turned the movie house into 9 stores. Many a couple who are now happily married met inside this movie house.
Across from the movie house was the drug store of Louis Chrome which later was operated by a Mr. Klein. Next door was the high class ice cream parlor of Herman Boehme. Next door to that was the deli owned by B&H Lorenzen and afterward by Dick Grube. I was manager for Scale & Leone until 1927 when I went over to the Canarsie on Avenue L and was there for the first five years.