2006-12-14 / Little Old Canarsie

Little Old Canarsie

When Our First Firehouse Became A Theatre

At about the time from 1894, when Canarsie Village was no longer a part of the town of Flatlands and became a part of the city of Brooklyn and then into New York City, it no longer had its Volunteer Fire Department to put out its many fires. The city paid the Fire Department as much as $257 and many of the volunteers went over to this company.

A couple of people I remember from when I was a young boy were William Ecks, Barney VanHouten, George Miller and William Webb. It was a great sight to see the pair of beautiful grey horses with the steam pumper tearing down Rockaway Parkway driven by either Ecks or VanHouten and sometimes a spotted dalmation dog barking at the hooves of the horses to go faster.

They traveled inside the cobble stones between the car track rails because on the sides, the part of the road was dirt and sometimes very muddy (no paved streets in those days).

When the city built a new firehouse, which opened around 1907, it was called #257. William Lemkin was stationed at a firehouse on Snyder Avenue and drove a hook and ladder when the horses were retired and the equipment became motorized. His company always came over to help #257 out in all the fires.

The original home of #257 stood in a frame building on Rockaway Parkway and when they moved into their new brick building, the old building became a movie house which had about a hundred seats and was owned and operated by Bob Garrison who, with his wife as cashier and George Armet as doorman and Thomas Clancy, went to New York to pick up the films and carry them home to Canarsie on the train. They didn’t prohibit carrying film those days on the train. The admission then was ten cents and a nickel for children to see “The Perils of Pauline” with Pearl White or a serial with Ruth Roland, which showed for about ten weeks; and each week for about twenty minutes. You would just get interested when the train came along. It would stop and tell you “next week – to be continued.”

There were not many feature length pictures those days. Among the first were William Farnum and Brother Dustin, Valeska Suran, Theda Bara in those and in the two-reelers that lasted about twenty minutes were Broncho Billy (G.M. Anderson), Zazu Pitts, Edith Story, Larry Seman, and John Bunny, who was the leading comedian in movies for many years until about 1915 when Charles Chaplin came over from England and took the lead in comedy films.

The owner of Canarsie’s first movie house, Bob Garrison, will long be remembered. He worked very hard in the booth cranking the machine by hand, as there was no automatic machines in those days. When the film broke or had to be changed and rerun for the next showing, they put out slides of songs and a young lady would lead the audience to join in the singing.

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