Royal Photoplays Theatre
The Royal Photoplays Theatre was constructed in January 1914 by architect Robert LaVelle on 1348 Southern Boulevard. It was a one-room theater with 600 seats. The Royal Photoplays was renamed the Bronx Playhouse in the 1920s, then New Royal Theatre by 1929 and Radio Theatre by 1935. The classic Yiddish films "Motel, the Operator," "Eternal Fools," and "Jewish Tears" are among the productions that were shown here. A series of Soviet films, "They Wanted Peace," "The Golden Key," "Conquests of Peter the Great" and "Lenin in 1918" from Artkino Pictures were also shown here on June 17, 1940. By May 12th, 1947, the theater became an office store and manufacturer of fireproof doors. It also became Jerome Redemption Center, a place to trade recyclable containers for money, in 2011. In 2018 the building was bought by the Clean Rite company to become a laundromat.
Backstory and Context
After World War I, the New York City subway added extensions that contributed to the increased population of Jews in the Bronx. In addition to Jews, many French, German, and Polish immigrants moved into the Bronx. However, in the 1930s residents started moving out due to high crime rates and gangs. The first population to leave was the Irish after the 1930s, then the Germans followed in the 1940s, the Italians in the 1950s, and finally the Jews in the 1960s. From 1923-1930, the Jewish population had grown from 382,000 to its peak population of 585,000. Then, gradually the Jewish population fell to 538,000 in 1940, to 519,000 in 1950, and 493,000 in 1960.
In the 1940s, the Royal Photoplays Theatre, now renamed the Radio Theatre, started screening Soviet films from a controversial film company called Artkino Pictures. This followed a trend of Communist films being shown at theaters during the period. The President of Artkino Pictures was Nicola Napoli, an Italian who also edited a Communist publication and became an employee of Amkino Corp (not to be confused with Artkino Pictires), a US distributor of Soviet films. For his Soviet affiliations, Napoli was registered with the Department of State as an agent of the Soviet Government. Radio Theatre closed in 1947 as its main customer base began to leave the area and as the post-World War II "Red Scare" took hold of the city and nation.