After a months-long effort to save the structure, Greenpointers watched with dismay as construction on the historic Meserole Theater building at 723 Manhattan Avenue began.
The structure has long stood as a monument to the neighborhood’s varied history. Its elaborate marquee and plasterwork ceiling have been in place since the building’s early days as The Meserole Movie Theater, affectionately nicknamed “The Mezzy.”
The disco ball hanging in the grand hall persists from its time as a roller rink in the 70s. Since the 80s, it has been home to department stores, yet the building’s visual flares and distinct character remained.
When news broke in early February that the building’s current owner, Double U Real Estate, planned on partially demolishing the structure to make way for a five-story apartment building, nostalgic Greenpointers immediately expressed their concern.
Locals organized The Meserole Theater Project Facebook Group within a week of the announcement and it quickly grew to over 1,000 members, all of whom were united by their appreciation of the building and a mutual desire to preserve it for future generations.
“We just got to it too late,” explained John Altyn, the Facebook group’s founder and de facto spokesperson. “If I had known sooner, I would have fought for it sooner.”
A native Greenpointer and an artist in his own right, Atlyn imagined a future where the Meserole Theater building could be partially converted into a performance and community space. He hoped that the structure could be preserved to respect the memory of old Greenpoint and that any new development would directly serve the area’s current residents.
Atlyn communicated extensively with Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher in his efforts to preserve the structure, and went so far as to contact the property’s owners to see if a compromise could be reached. Unfortunately, no such deal ever manifested.
“They are going to build their little apartment and they are gonna make their little money,” said Atlyn. “I watch it go up and I think ‘oh my god!’ I just wish we would have looked at a way that it would have benefitted everybody, the community and developers.”
However, Atlyn does not see the Facebook group as a total failure. The page became a forum for the Meserole faithful to share their memories of the theater in its many forms, and led to numerous conversations about premier events, late-night screenings, and roller-derby discos that all transpired under the building’s ornate roof.
“I am still going to keep the page up if people still want to reminisce,” Atlyn explained. “It brought people together who hadn’t spoken in a really long time and it brought new people together. There’s no feeling that people should have done more. We all did what we could and we enjoyed it.”
Atlyn shared a similarly heartfelt message on the Meserole Theater Project Facebook page: “We can tell others that we tried to save it but our efforts fell short. We will still tell our stories about the Meserole Theater and the heart-felt memories about the Meserole.”
The Meserole is going the way of other notable Greenpoint structures that have been destroyed over time and replaced by new developments. However, despite the many changes, Atlyn is still confident that the neighborhood’s spirit – and that of the Meserole Theater – will live on for many years to come.
“The area is still beautiful, it’s still Greenpoint,” said Atlyn. “Things are going to come back with a new attitude and be even better than ever.”