Forest Hills Theater Set To Shut Down

UA Brandon Cinemas, a staple in Forest Hills, will be closing its doors on Sunday.

“Anytime a movie theater closes, it really hits the community hard,” Nick Hirshon, author of “Images of America: Forest Hills,” said. “The theater was there for more than half a century. This can be troubling for a community. Austin Street has been changing over the years. You hear stories about all the mom and pop shops that existed, and all of that is going away. It’s been replaced by plain, bland stuff that doesn’t stand out.”

The UA Brandon Cinemas theater is shutting its doors on Sunday, 51 years after it first opened on Austin Street in Forest Hills. Photo by David Russell

The UA Brandon Cinemas theater is shutting its doors on Sunday, 51 years after it first opened on Austin Street in Forest Hills. Photo by David Russell

The closing of the theater itself is only part of the loss.

“It’s very unfortunate that I’m going to be losing that movie theater,” Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said. “It brings a lot of people into the neighborhood. People can stay around and do some shopping or go to restaurants and get a drink.”

Frank Gulluscio, District Manager of Community Board 6, echoed the sentiment.

“We’re upset about any entertainment facility closing down,” Gulluscio said. “It’s always a loss for the neighborhood and the people.”

The Continental movie theater opened at 70-20 Austin St. in 1963. The first movie screened was “The Balcony,” starring Shelley Winters and Peter Falk. In 1975, The Heskel Group bought the theater from the Walter Reade organization. The theater became the Continental II before it was re-done and opened as UA Brandon Cinemas in March 1999. The theater is named for the son of Heskel Group CEO Yeheskel Elias. The Heskel Group also runs the United Artist Midway on Queens Boulevard.

According to a spokesperson for the Regal Entertainment Group, the landlord terminated the lease after finding another use for the space.

“The redevelopment of the Brandon space is another great sign of the economic vitality of our neighborhood,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We thank our patrons and are happy to say that we will still proudly serve them at the Midway.”

Brown said she heard that a medical use building is slated to come in.

“The building is on a slant. They can fix it for rental use, which would be very costly, but medical companies have deeper pockets,” she said.

A medical building may not have the same impact on the area that the movie theater had.

“It was a gathering place for a community,” Hirshon said. “It’s like a church or a synagogue in that it was a place with a lot of shared memories. How many first dates, birthday parties and great movies that were never forgotten were experienced at the Brandon?”

-David Russell