United Palace: A Wonder Theatre for the Heights
At 88 years old, the United Palace on 175th and Broadway is altogether a spiritual center, live music venue, nonprofit cultural center, and time capsule (the only time capsule I know that seats 3,400 people). Originally called Loew's 175th Street Theatre as part of the Loew's Wonder Theatres franchise, United Palace was built in 1930 and designed by architect Thomas W. Lamband.
While Lamband incorporated several classic theatre motifs in the décor (gilded yellow and felt red color palette, iconic columns, chandeliers galore), the place's jazz-age aura is not to be overlooked. Upon walking in, the air timetravels to the 30’s. You inhale and think “man, this place smells refreshingly old!”
When the Loews Corporation first built the theatre they thought it would be an opportunity to transform Washington Heights into a mini, second theatre district. They probably thought vaudeville wouldn’t go out of style! With midtown theatres still holding their reign, it is evident that things didn’t quite work out as planned. However, we ought to give this Wonder Theatre credit for having housed a diverse range of events – from stage performances to the silver screen - for over decades. In addition showcasing theatrics, the theatre has also found other ways to open its door to the uptown community. In 1969, the Wonder Theatre was purchased by the United Church Science of Living Institute, and has since been renamed as the United Palace and housed weekly congregation for the United Palace House of Inspiration, an all-inclusive, interfaith spiritual group.
(Pictured Above: Vaudeville going out of style)
It has also doubled as home to the non-profit organization, United Palace of Cultural Arts, and functions as a neighborhood arts and cultural center to provide after school creative and educational programs to kids. Partnering with local community planners, the United Palace of Cultural Arts takes on a progressive mission to enrich and empower individual’s artistic expressions with cultural events, arts education, movie screenings, and shared community space.
While there’s a lot happening at the United Palace, the showrunners and community planners are all for taking on more. Feeling Shakespearean? Caught the Lin-Manuel Miranda bug and have inspiration for the next “In the Heights”? Need an old timey theatre for your Oscar worthy horror thriller? The stage is set! United Palace awaits. Simply send in a request form, make some money rain, and reserve your own stage. You think midtown theatres will allow you into their inner workings that easily? Forget about it!
Thought you have to trek down to Madison Square Garden to enjoy an A-list performance? Think again! Despite its small town appeal, each year United Palace’s attracts big-ticket musicians and voices. I’m talking Adele, Sam Smith, Elvis Costello. Give yourself a chance to experience the top notch acoustics in this pristinely conditioned theatre, you will find yourself belting Hello-from-the other-side for days on end.
With so much history and potential all under one roof, I don’t know what is most impressive about the United Palace. Is it its rich history and status as a much loved landmark? It being a gem in the crown of the Heights? Or the infinite possibility of what can be done on its stage (“Hamilton on Ice”, anyone?). Next time you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the United Palace. Or do as its signage says, “come on in or smile as you pass”!