And so, it was: “The Premiere Performance” included the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” followed by a “Greeting” and the “Lane Latest News Events.” The “Lane Feature Presentation” was Deanna Durbin starring in “100 Men and a Girl” -- a comedy about a persistent singer who convinces famed conductor Leopold Stokowski to help her launch an orchestra to employ her father and 99 other out-of-work musicians.
“The inauguration of this edifice marks the Dawn of a new theatrical era for the people of NEW DORP and its environs as well as a potent chapter in the history of the already glorified name Lane,” said owner Charles Moses on opening night, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in its report designating the Lane Theater’s first-floor lobby and auditorium a NYC landmark on Nov. 1, 1988.
Opening night came without any glitzy fanfare: “No tails, no evening gowns and flashing jewels,” the Staten Island Advance reported the next day. It was a “simple homey premiere” so the “average folk, the kind who patronize the modern New Dorp showhouse, would be comfortable and at ease at the premiere.”
Movies on Staten Island date to those shown in Prohibition Park in Westerleigh in 1897 and in Midland Beach in 1899, according to the LPC. The Bachmann Brewery in Clifton also hosted movie nights with “dances following.”
The Lane Theater was built by brothers Charles, Lewis and Elias Moses, who were born in Manhattan, but grew up on Staten Island. They entered the theater industry in 1912 when Charles purchased the Bijou Theatre, which was located on Canal Street in Stapleton and was one of five theaters on Staten Island at the time. The “Great Train Robbery” -- now a film classic -- was among the first movies to play on the screen there. The Moses brothers leased and acquired other theaters, including the Richmond Theatre and the Park Theater, both in Stapleton.
In 1917, “the Moses brothers built their first theater, the Liberty, on Beach St., Stapleton, said to be the first combination movie and vaudeville house on Staten Island,” the LPC notes in its designation report.
The Moses brothers monopolized the industry here, continuing to build theaters in the 1920s, including The Ritz in Port Richmond in 1924 -- “then the largest and most up-to-date theatre on the Island.”
Sometime before 1933, they took over the operation of the existing New Dorp Theater on New Dorp Lane for a few years. Charles Moses’ last project was the construction of the Lane Theater across the street in an old police precinct. The 600-seat theater cost $100,000 to build. It was designed by John Eberson, one of the country’s most prominent theater architects. He was known for creating galactic motifs on the ceilings and he followed that pattern at the Lane -- it was “decoratively painted to represent a stylized sky with a blue background of rainbows, stars, and starbursts."
In a story on Sept. 28, 1988, as the LPC was evaluating the Lane for landmark status, the New York Times wrote: “The most striking element of the interior is the painted ceiling. Large areas of plum, green and blue are bounded by rainbows of color and decorated with random designs that seem patterned after stellar explorations but bear an abstract resemblance to the masks of comedy and tragedy often used in theater decoration. Period photographs also show unusual painting schemes along the walls, including four large areas with more stellar designs set against black fields.”
Early plans found in the architect’s office listed other potential names for the theater: Globe, Astro and Novo -- translating into world, star and new. However, Charles Moses selected a name rooted in history.
“Moses’ choice of the name Lane, over the thematically more-appropriate possibilities, says much about the theater’s place in the neighborhood,” the LPC wrote. “Located on New Dorp Lane, for two centuries the main thoroughfare of the community, the Lane Theater took the name that stood for the community (much as the New Dorp Theater had a decade earlier). In neighborhoods and downtowns across the country during the early decades of this century, theater marquees with local names up in lights in many ways served to identify the community.”
Throughout the years, the Lane was known primarily for showing family-friendly movies. The Lane was remodeled in 1977, but the theater went dark in 1988. The reason: The UA Movies of Staten Island opened in Travis in 1987 with 10 screens that featured most of the new releases -- and the Lane couldn’t compete with its single screen.
The theater briefly reopened in the 1990s as a performing arts venue with concerts, comedy shows and wrestling matches. It then sat idle until the EleMent nightclub opened in 2001. The nightclub was shuttered a year later for drug and alcohol offenses, among other violations. Uncle Vinny's Comedy Club occupied the space from 2009 to 2011.
In 2012, the Crossroads Church, an evangelical ministry, made its home in the old theater. Its exterior looks much as it did on opening night in 1938 -- the marquee and box office-style entrance still remain intact and the word LANE is spelled out in red across the top of the building. However, the letters are not the originals: The ones dating to 1938 were removed during the 1970s renovation project. Those were auctioned on eBay in October 2014 for a “buy it now” price of $955. They sold for a “best offer” price of $750 only a few day after they were listed.
(Photos: A small crowd of people (mostly men) stand on the sidewalk outside the Lane Theater and a policeman stands in the street on May 20, 1953, during an event held by the New York Telephone Company, the sideview shows that the movie "Anna" starring Silvana Mangano, was playing during the event, courtesy of the Staten Island Historical Society)