Reawakening Wonder at a Timeless Movie Palace

UPCA presents Movies at the Palace from gogoPatience c+p on Vimeo.



We believe in the magic of moviegoing. Sure, you can watch any movie, anytime at home or on your phone. But that is not going to a movie. It’s different at our 86-year-old theatre. Breathtaking architecture. Pre- and post-show entertainment. An audience that often dresses up in costume. And now we have a state-of-the-art projector donated by Broadway superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda. All we need is cinema-quality sound to complete the theatre’s rebirth.

Who we are and what we do
The United Palace is recreating the movie palace of your dreams.

Its Far East-themed architecture, which was all the rage in 1930 when it opened as one of the New York metro area’s five “Wonder Theatres,” still enraptures, having been preserved since 1969 when the renown prosperity preacher Reverend Ike purchased the building and moved his congregation here. That was the year the movies faded to black at the theatre. Then in 2013 the nonprofit United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA) began a series of fundraisers to purchase used projectors and a new screen to return movies to the Palace. Our screenings of classic, independent, and foreign films attract thousands of guests annually. Many of them dress up in period costume or the style of the picture being shown. To honor the theatre’s vaudeville roots, most screenings begin with a stage show - live music, dancing, or a Q&A. The mix of live entertainment and a movie prompted AMny newspaper to call the Palace, “The best place to see movies the way they used to be” in New York City. Many English-language movies are subtitled in Spanish to attract the largely Latino local community.

Encouraged by this success, and the closure of the Ziegfeld in January 2016, UPCA launched a campaign to upgrade its projection and audio equipment to Hollywood standards. Broadway superstar and friend of United Palace, Lin-Manuel Miranda, helped kick-off the effort by donating $100,000 to purchase a new projector, which was installed in time for him to host a screening of “Mary Poppins” in October 2016, which nearly filled the 3,400-seat theatre. The following night PBS showed "Hamilton's America" in a premiere-like atmosphere to another near sell out.

Now to complete the theatre’s revival, UPCA is leading the campaign to “Reawaken Wonder at a Timeless Movie Palace,” with the goal of raising $300,000 to upgrade to cinema-quality audio. When completed, the Palace will offer an unbeatable movie-going experience, perfect for blockbusters and premieres, as well as quirky independent pictures and beloved classics. When complete, we will celebrate with an epic screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the last film shown at the United Palace in 1969.


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The impact
We believe the future of moviegoing is rooted in its history. As Manhattan’s 4th largest theatre, and the only one north of 125th Street, we strive to set our audience’s minds and spirits free. We want guests to get lost in a movie, forget their day-to-day challenges, and find themselves elbow-to-elbow with strangers in a shared moment. The pre-show live entertainment helps audiences connect more deeply with the movie, whether it is Lin-Manuel and Rita Moreno introducing “West Side Story”, the students from “Mad Hot Ballroom” celebrating their 10-year anniversary on stage, former New York Post Film Critic Lou Lumenick discussing the making of “Rear Window,” or live organ accompaniment to “Phantom of the Opera” followed by a mini-concert by cast members from the Broadway show. More than screenings, these are movie events.

But our capacity to captivate has been limited by our technology. Before Lin’s donation of the new projector, we only showed movies on BluRay, not the latest Hollywood format. The archaic audio system is inadequate for such a large theatre. Audience members have complained they can’t hear the dialogue, particularly in older movies like the perennial favorite “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Static and buzzing from the speakers have marred some screenings. We can’t fulfill the promise of the Palace if audience members are distracted by speakers on the fritz.

This is a big undertaking, one we have been researching for over a year. We have found a terrific partner in Digital Media Systems to recommend the best premiere-worthy audio system and troubleshoot the inevitable technological problems. To help cut down costs we also found partners to help renovate the dilapidated projection booth. Apprentices from our neighboring nonprofit, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, cleaned the booth, repaired the falling ceiling, and prepped the walls for the Palace maintenance team to paint. Nunez Hardware Store across Broadway donated most of the supplies needed for the renovation.


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Photo credit: JDZ Photography 

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Photo credit: Emmanuel Abreu


The campaign
We know $300,000 is a lot to raise, which is why we are breaking the campaign into steps.

Step 1: The first $100,000 will allow us to keep the new JBL 3.1 speaker system we're currently using. Not only will this be a tremendous improvement for movies, it will also upgrade the audio for our small concerts and other performances, such as the annual “Hip Hop Nutcracker.” Through 2016 we raised half of this amount through small donations from friends of the Palace.

Step 2: The next $50,000 will purchase 7.1 surround sound for the orchestra level.

Step 3: Another $50,000 brings surround sound to the balcony.

Step 4: Finally, when we raise the last $50,000, we will equip the Grand Foyer to serve as a 100-seat screening room for smaller movies AND hire a part-time movie programmer to curate the next season. (We are seeking private funding to cover the $50,000 it will cost to run the campaign.)


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How you can help
We welcome all support in the effort to “Reawaken Wonder.”

1. Donate. Click here and help get us closer to the $300,000 goal. Every little bit helps (but the bigger the bit the bigger the help!).

2. Spread the word! Tell others about United Palace, a hidden jewel in Northern Manhattan that is contributing to the artistic landscape of the community and city. Do you have a friend for family member who is in the movie industry? Introduce him or her to the Palace and let’s see what magic we can make together!

3. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. And don’t forget to include #ReawakenWonder.

4. Volunteer. There are so many ways you can help. Let us know your area of expertise or whether you want to work with the front of house staff during an event.

5. Visit us! Stop in for a bag of organic popcorn and an old-fashioned movie-going experience that you won’t forget!

Together we will turn the United Palace into the MOVIE PALCE New York City needs.