Situated at 70-20 Austin Street, it was long known as the Continental Theatre, named after its close proximity to Continental Avenue. This restful destination in the heart of the business district was on the agenda for Queens residents that would make a day of dining out and patronizing Austin Street’s shops.
The marquee once boasted mainstream films ranging from Star Wars to Les Miserables to The Great Gatsby. Operated by Regal Entertainment Group and owned by local developer Heskel Elias, the marquee now reads “Coming Soon: PM Pediatrics.”
In a statement, Heskel Elias called the property’s redevelopment for PM Pediatrics “exciting” and “more profitable” for The Heskel Group.
“It's all about who can afford the highest rents, rather than balance or quality of life, but it's no longer a community vision when a significant percentage of the population is left out,” said Rego Park resident Gloria Nash. “What percentage has a need for pediatric services, especially in light of no shortage of pediatric services in the area? What percentage has an interest in a theater which increases our enjoyment?”
In March, this column reported that Austin Street may soon become “medical center row,” since medical facilities on Austin Street’s west end are slated to expand eastward within a four-block radius.
Austin Street is known for its unique boutique shops and restaurants, but the landscape shifted over the last decade as a number of longtime and recently established independent small businesses shuttered due to rent increases and demographic changes.
Pasta Del Giorno at 70-49 Austin Street closed in February, in addition to its neighbor Second Time Around. Construction is now underway for an urgent care facility.
In October 2013, a glass building housing a ProHealth Urgent Care Center was proposed for 71-53 Austin Street, which has since received violations and stalled.
“PM Pediatrics already has 10 New York locations, so why does Heskel need to ruin a five-decade entertainment space to open another?” asked Jennifer Cohen of Forest Hills. “It’s just a matter of time when people will be asking ‘which Austin Street urgent care center should we visit? The one on 69th, 70th, 71st or 72nd?’”
When the Continental Theatre opened in 1963, an ad praised it as “New York’s and the world’s first split-level theatre,” which was only a five-minute commute from the 1964 World’s Fair. Designed by Architect John J. McNamara, it was also noteworthy for its gallery featuring local artists.
“From the beautifully decored lounge, you can either step down to the orchestra level or easily make your way up to the mezzanine,” continued the ad. “Here is a truly refreshing entrée into the experience of movie-going.”
“The Austin Street corridor needs a nice art theater like the Kew Gardens Cinema, and if it hosted live entertainment, that would fill a void and be a huge bonus to Forest Hills,” said Forest Hills resident Anita Nelson. “Currently, live entertainment is only available at bars.”
The UA Brandon’s closure echoes the loss of the Trylon Theater, the Forest Hills Theatre, and the Drake. This leaves the nine-screen Midway Theatre on Queens Boulevard as the sole theater in the immediate vicinity, and the five-screen Cinemart Cinemas somewhat further on Metropolitan Avenue.
“Close a restaurant or a dress shop, and there are others that open up,” said Nash. “But close a theater and what other social and community options will open to replace that?”