Dec. 22, 2014 By Christian Murray
Nearly 175 Sunnyside residents—many accompanied by children—turned out for a rally Sunday afternoon in an attempt to save Sunnyside Center Cinemas from the wrecking ball.
Many residents who attended the rally, which took place outside the Queens Blvd.-theater, had been going to Center Cinemas for the past 40 years. They turned out in hope that it would not be demolished and some sort of agreement could be struck between the landlord/developer and the owner of the theater.
The cinema’s last day in operation is scheduled for Jan. 4 , and most believe that if John Ciafone, the landlord, and Rudy Prashad, the owner of the theater, can’t work out a deal by then the theater will be demolished to make way for a seven-story building.
“I grew up with this theater,” said Lisa Deller, a Sunnyside resident, who was at the rally. “I’ve been coming here for 40 years—since I moved to Sunnyside when I was 2 years old.”
Meanwhile, John Siscaretti, 51, who started the online petition to save the theater, went to the Center Cinemas when he was a young child. “My first movie here was Jungle Book,” he said.
The two organizers of the rally—Ty Sullivan and Pastor Jon Stork—made it clear from the get-go that the rally was not an anti-landlord event. However, both wanted to send Ciafone a clear message: Sunnyside is a tight-knit community and that it deserves to know what is going on.
Sullivan and Stork said they invited Ciafone to attend the rally and speak. They assured him that he would be made to feel welcome. He did not attend.
“We hope to see Rudy [Prashad], Mr. Ciafone and Councilman Van Bramer sit down and figure out a win-win for all parties involved—including Sunnyside,” Storck said to the crowd.
“Ciafone has made it clear that he will sit down with (Prashad)… after the construction is complete (in about 2 years); but we are asking him to sit down now and negotiate before the process starts.”
Furthermore, Stork said, Sunnyside residents deserve to know what Ciafone’s plans are for the site. He said that there have been so many conflicting report—whether it is affordable housing, a community center or luxury condos.
Sullivan said that it was important to save the theater for Sunnyside’s children and families.
Sullivan, known for his charisma and energy, began chants, such as: “1,2, 3, 4, 5, Keep the Cinema Alive” and “All we are saying, is give the cinema a chance,” based on the Jon Lennon song.
Prashad, the cinema owner, who had quietly attended the rally, did speak and thank Sunnysiders for coming to his theater over the years.
“I love Sunnyside,” Prashad said. “I have met some good people and made some good friends here,” he said.
He said that he hadn’t changed his prices since he took over the theater 10 years ago: “Where else in New York City can you get a $5 movie, popcorn and soda for less than $10.” He pledged that if the landlord allows him to stay the price would remain the same.
“I didn’t expect this kind of crowd to come out on a cold day,” Prashad said after the rally. “I am touched the community loves this cinema so much.”
“I hope this rally helps me stay or come back,” Prashad said. However, “I am very doubtful, since the landlord would have sat down and talked to me by now.”
He said the six month extension he turned down wouldn’t have helped him much-—since he had already made plans to leave. Furthermore, the six month extension came with a $7,000 per month increase in rent on top of what he was paying before, he said.
Roger Hitts, a long time resident, said he has fond memories of taking his daughter to the cinema: “I don’t think there is one kids’ movie that my daughter hasn’t seen here since she was two,” he said.
Now, Hitts’ daughter, Liana, is 12. “It’s a pity for her as she would have been able to walk to the theater with her friends; now she will have to be driven to Kaufman Astoria.”
A broad cross section of local groups turned out in support of the theater. They included: The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, Sunnyside/Woodside Boys and Girls Club, United 40s, Sunnyside Artists, Hunters Point Civic Association and Recreate Queens. Meanwhile representatives from Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan’s were in attendance. Several community Board 2 members were also present.
Brent O’Leary, who is the president of the Hunters Point Civic Association and whose parents are from the neighborhood, said:
“It’s sad to see the mom and pops get pushed out for development,” he said. “And With the theater, it is like we are losing an old friend.”
I cant say I cherished this theater. It was small and poorly maintained. It was fun during super Tuesdays when I was a kid mostly out of convenience. Now as an adult I always either go to Astoria or Manhattan. I’m in favor of knocking it down and building a bigger and better theater. Sunnyside deserves a nice cinema.
Hey Harvey why wasn’t you singing.
Inside note: PJ Horgan’s must come down for them to build up. They can be back “in a few years”…what is the likelihood of that happening?
Aren’t bathrooms supposed to smell of urine? Got food poisoning at Marabella on Geeenpoint. Just saying. Don’t eat there.
This is so ridiculous! You are all fighting a losing battle. Not one of you has the right to demand anything of a private property owner!!! Who are you to demand the owner and the guy who runs the dump sit down and make an arrangement now that neither may be able to keep in 2 years?!?!
I don’t understand why those of you who have lived here for many years feel they have a right to have nothing change or improve just because you say so and you were here first!! This is a decrepit Movie Theater, not a hospital or place of worship or something worth saving. All who are protesting have their priorities screwed up!! And just for the record I don’t own in Sunnyside, I rent but one day hope to own. When I do own, I do not want you telling me what I can do with MY property!!
“Improve” is in the eyes of the beholder.
While the theater may or may not be worth saving, I think if you look beyond this specific battle to the larger one of gentrification in general, your lack of understanding may disappear.
Often, it seems to me, when people call each other names, they are missing the larger point, which is often that the are threatening each other’s existence in some way. And fighting for that is never “ridiculous.”
It’s nice that everyone’s coming together but personally, I’ve been there twice in the last year. The last time, the place was so dirty and smelly that my friend and I left within 20 minutes of sitting down. Yes, it’s inexpensive but needs a total re-haul. The bathroom were disgusting at best.
For those of you that think this new landlord will be good for the neighborhood, here is just a little tidbit on his character.
“Another landlord, John Ciafone, made it on to the “worst New York landlords” list in 2011 with a property at 34 Driggs Ave. in Brooklyn, that had 195 violations. He made a $4,950 donation to de Blasio in January 2012.
The de Blasio campaign returned Ciafone’s money but kept another $11,300 raised by relatives and employees. The building his now down to two code violations and has been removed from the list.”
I’ve lived in Sunnyside my whole life (35yrs) and I am the first to admit this theater is an eyesore and not worth the time and effort to keep around.
If affordable housing is going up that’s a good thing people!
If you want in on it you and all residents have a chance, especially when the chances are higher as current resident.
Stop complaining it’s good change.
I’d go to this theater a few times a month if the floor wasn’t sticky and the bathrooms didn’t reek of urine. I WANT to go there because of the convenience and reasonable prices. But good lord, those bathrooms are so revolting (and I used porta-potties at Woodstock ’99) that it makes me wonder about the sanitary conditions in other areas of the place.
In theory, I support Center Cinema because it’s important to keep Mom-n-Pop places alive, but I can’t even bring myself to go there because it’s so filthy.
The dog looks like the smartest of that group demonstrating. Who are u calling a scum bag circus geek?
tear this dump down than go tear down that pet store on 46th but rescue all the pets from that scum bag circus geek running iit first.
I agree! That pet store on 46 is heartbreaking and disgusting. The animals need to be saved and the store condemned.
Never have I seen something this in Sunnyside. Sunnysiders from all walks of life coming together to save a piece of Sunnyside history. This is what it means to be a community, especially here. This is how it should be and I hope it stays like that forever.
Hey Harvey what are you doing at this rally.
Greedy landlords are ruining this city. Unless you can afford a half million dollar condo, they don’t want you here.
Ridiculous populist comment. Just makes no sense.
I have been a Woodside resident for more than 20 years, I remember going to the theater since I was a teenager and recently I began taking my small children (7 & 4 years old) mainly because of the convenience of the walking distance.
My last visit to the theater was approximately 3 weeks ago and I promised to myself it was going to be my last. The conditions of the theater are horrible,
Whoever feels the theater is well kept should really take a look at the restrooms, the carpet, the seats (broken & ripped), disgusting!
Even though the theater may hold a lot of sentimental “value” for many Sunnyside & Woodside residents, they need to admit that in order to stand it needs to be renovated, just like everything in life.
It will be great to continue to have a theater in the neighborhood, but not in this conditions.
Please demolish and build a theater that all residents would be proud of and want to go.
I cherish it. While it isn’t the nicest theater in the city it is close inexpensive and friendly.
Many have complained about the conditions but Ruby has consistently improved it since taking over after prior owners deferred major renovations. He did it while being active in the community and without raising prices.
“Sunnyside residents deserve to know what Ciafone’s plans are for the site…whether it is affordable housing, a community center or luxury condos” If it’s either of the first two I will eat my hat.
There were a lot more people there when I got there than the picture above shows, even a cop car blocking traffic. I would be very sad to see another nail salon or mobile phone store take its place. Wonderful to be able to walk home from the movies.
I haven’t met a sunnysider yet who told me they “cherish” the theater. most sentiment is about how it needs to be rennovated and updated. I for one would LOVE to have an awesome theater to visit and would happily pay the same rate I pay at kaufmann astoria studios if the venue were equal.
Actually, the vast majority of people I know I’m the neighborhood value this theater immensely. I wonder who you’re talking to…probably real estate developers.