“Gaudy,” “ostentatious,” “too much,” “flamboyant,” “a joke” — these words were frequently used to deride Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, a Black televangelist popular in the 1970s. Historically, they were also used in architecture circles to describe movie palaces that proliferated across the American landscape during the 1920s.1 Despite the pervasiveness of the ideological systems that Eikerenkoetter (better known as Rev. Ike) promoted throughout his career – combining positive thinking and prosperity theology to form what he coined “Science of Living” – he is mostly forgotten today. Extravagant movie palaces, on the other hand, have experienced various resurgences and revivals. At least since the 1970s, theater preservationist groups have mobilized support to save the structures nationwide. Forging an unexpected symbiotic relationship, televangelism and the movie palace have sustained one another in Rev. Ike’s church, the United Palace Cathedral, for more than forty years.
While popular opinion about movie palaces’ lavish designs has become more favorable over time, the repurposing of movie palaces as megachurches remains a contested matter. Theater preservation groups, for one, predictably privilege film as the ideal primary programming for movie palaces.2 For film enthusiasts, the discrete sites of cinema’s earlier infrastructure continue to connect together as nodes in the history of cinema exhibition, even as they must find new applications in a “post-cinema” era. However, amongst the various configurations of movie theater reuse, the movie palace-turned-church performs a noteworthy form of preservation. Materially, the transformation frequently leads to exemplary preservation of the structure’s interior, as minimal modifications are necessary to the theater auditorium, with velour seats replacing the pews parishioners are accustomed to occupying.3
Symbolically, the conversion raises many questions about medium specificity. Can the building’s conversion to a church be maintained alongside a preservation of its discursive and material past as a movie theater? Will its religious reuse threaten the building’s relevance to the field of cinema studies? I propose that an important aspect of the movie palace-turned-church is precisely its potential to push cinema history and film studies to interrogate the structure’s intermedial state. Rather than focusing on film heritage, we might place the structure in a wider field of inquiry, media studies, and call for inquiries into how movie palaces-turned-churches have been used as infrastructures for broadcast media networks and how has this identity has functioned alongside their signification of cinematic opulence.
In this article, I argue that by adopting research methods from new cinema history and network archaeology, we can connect racial dimensions of media history to the use and reuse of movie theaters. Using the sophisticated media empire that Rev. Ike developed at the United Palace Cathedral as a case study, I challenge the simplistic dichotomy between the “glory days” of classical film exhibition and the supposedly unglamorous, unseemly use of movie palaces during periods of urban decline. This separation itself is predicated on a racial split. For movie palaces, the former period is historically associated with urban white middle-class audiences, while the latter is linked with Black and Latino groups whose access to luxurious city spaces is facilitated by “white flight.” Primarily supported by donations from Black parishioners, Rev. Ike’s United Evangelistic Christian Association was very glamorous and delivered extravagance to American households via weekly television broadcasts. The case of Rev. Ike and his church impels us to rethink the dominance of film heritage in contemporary understandings of repurposed movie palaces, which not only privilege cinema but also presume whiteness in their approach to media history.
Race and Network Archaeology Through (Post) Cinema History
To expand our understanding of repurposed movie theaters beyond the domain of film heritage, I turn to recent scholarly approaches, including new film history and new cinema history, that have challenged traditional historical narratives. New film history challenged teleological narratives of early cinema by focusing on intermedial links between cinema and other media and the economic determinants for the success of popular film forms. New cinema history is a developing field influenced by the revisionist spirit of new film history. However, instead of focusing primarily on archival research that stresses the intermedial and/or economic dimensions of film, new cinema history aims to build original archives based on the vernacular experiences of moviegoing. New cinema history further distinguishes itself from conventional film history by turning toward the social and spatial dimensions of cinema. Traditional methods of film studies pay “close attention to the formal and ideological properties of film as a signifying system” by focusing on distinct film texts, performers, studios, exhibitors or directors.4 New cinema history, by contrast, decenters the content of films. It “attempt[s] to write cinema from below,” applying empirical methods more common in the broader field of media studies than in film studies.5
Although new cinema history contains elements that are helpful for considering a post-cinematic space like Rev. Ike’s church, its emphasis on empirical research often elides the broader social and cultural histories associated with cinematic spaces. Additionally, its focus on the period of cinematic exhibition leaves unexplored the post-cinematic uses of movie theaters. One exception to these limitations is Janna Jones’s ethnographic research on the preservation activities associated with Southern movie palaces.6 She explores how preservationist groups must choose to wrestle with or blatantly ignore racial segregation in their theaters’ pasts. Jones asserts that preserving the discursive past by engaging the uncomfortable aspects of a theater’s cultural past is imperative to “foster[ing] community connectedness.” She argues that this can be achieved by linking movie palaces to the broader cultural histories of Southern downtowns and the American city. Jones’ work demonstrates the importance of being attentive to how regional media and cultural networks intersect with cinematic infrastructures. This type of network archaeology can be used to explore the racial and cultural histories of post-cinema uses. “Treat[ing] the past as a network,” as Alan Liu notes,7 encourages us to look beyond the history as it has been officially recorded to the marginal ways it was documented through ephemeral radio or television broadcasts, church newsletters, etc. For instance, promotional material for Rev. Ike’s church reveals how the symbolic function of movie palaces contributed to the church’s post-racial proclamations and appeals.
Focusing on the pasts and presents of networks is also premised on the advancements made by media archaeology. Media archaeological methods free film scholars from inflexible notions of the medium by encouraging us to trace “forking paths of possibility,” to discover alternative pasts and different potential futures.8 Thomas Elsaesser notes that our encounter with a post-cinematic digital future makes us more open to alternative histories of early cinema that go beyond a myopic focus on medium specificity.9 While Elsaesser counteracts traditional notions of medium specificity with his formulation of “film history as media archaeology,” we can extend the metaphor to arrive at “(post) cinema history as network archaeology.” One way to challenge hegemonic understandings of cinema is to consider how cinema’s infrastructures act as nodes in the networked histories of other media. By examining how cinema palaces are used as places of broadcast media, and therefore nodes in the history of both cinematic and media networks, we gain insight into cinema’s relationships to other media histories and the systems of cultural, religious and racial practice that they intersect. (Post) cinema history, attentive to the multi-layered, mediated history of the movie palace-turned-church, can help us to understand the racial and intermedial dimensions of the United Palace Cathedral.
Religious Conversion of Movie Palaces
The United Palace Cathedral is not the only movie palace that has been converted into a church. In fact, there have been a great number of religious transformations of film exhibition spaces across the United States. From Los Angeles to New York, Boston to Birmingham, movie palaces built during the first thirty years of the twentieth century have been deemed a suitable backdrop for religious service. This compatibility is suggested in the reverential names movie palaces were given during their “secular” period, such as “cathedrals of film” and “temples of democracy.”10 Atmospheric movie palace emphasized otherworldliness, which temporarily elevated moviegoers from the drudgery of the real world. The architecture of movie palaces repurposed as churches suggested a link between this and other worlds, and between the physical and spiritual realms.
Religious conversion of movie palaces is widespread in Los Angeles’s Historic Theater District. The former Loew’s State Theater is now home to a Brazilian Pentecostal church called the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), and has been re-christened La Catedral de Fe (The Cathedral of Faith). Stephen Barber has written dramatically about his experience of sitting in the State Theater, making connections between the palace’s earlier role and its latest incarnation as a “cultist” church:
…residual filmic hallucinations still hang suspended in the air, meshing with the religious visions of the hard-core cultists, each seated in isolation, interspersed with accidental spectators, across the auditorium’s stalls, awaiting the beginning of the hourly services… The cinema’s infrastructure has not been permitted to lapse into disintegration, in its separation from film… the crystal chandeliers about the balcony level appear oblivious to their new status, of illuminating religious rather than cinematic enflamings…11
Barber’s account exoticizes and defamiliarizes the transition from “cathedrals of film” to “cathedrals of faith.” In fact, religious leaders were able to use the excessive qualities of movie palaces to suture them into other media networks, through radio and television broadcasts, unseen to Barber as he sits in the “abandoned” movie theater searching for ghosts. The numerous ways that preachers used the excess of movie palaces to project fantasies of wealth, akin to how they were used by exhibitors during the classical Hollywood period, and their transformations of the mediated experiences of the space remain invisible to the theorist looking only for the presence and absence of film.
For example, to return to Broadway, this other layer of networked media history exists in different theatres along the street. Leased by well-known American televangelist Gene Scott, The United Artists Theater on Broadway opened as the University Cathedral in 1990.12 The building was sold in October 2011 and a conversion into a luxury hotel is well underway.13 These theaters functioned (or continue to function) as nodes in a religious network that exceeds the confines of the historic theater district. In the case of Catedral de la Fe, UCKG connects an international network spanning across Latin America, the United States, Europe and Africa. Gene Scott’s own operation began at Faith Center Church in Glendale in 1975 and flourished at the United Artists Theater.14
Robert Schuller, one of the most prominent white televangelists of the 1970s, began his televangelist career in an outdoor space of film exhibition in California. He first held services for the Garden Grove Community Church at the Orange Drive-in Theater. Successfully moving away from the necessity of having to use a Drive-in Theater, because of space rental constraints, Schuller nonetheless continued to combine car culture, religion and media spaces in the built structures created specifically for the church’s unique services. This eventually culminated in the design and construction of the reflective glass Crystal Cathedral, built in 1981, which housed the broadcast headquarters of Schuller’s widely known television program “Hour of Power.”15
Rev. Ike and United Palace Cathedral
Impeccably dressed in a pale pink business suit with a crisp white shirt, a stylish striped tie and a yellow rose pinned to his lapel, Rev. Ike preaches to a packed church. Though the audience is unseen, as their voices chorus together, one can picture the auditorium filled to its 5,000-seat capacity.16 Plainly visible is the background behind the Black evangelist, composed of an elaborate altar, a candelabrum and several other luxurious furnishings. Occasionally red carpet can be peeked at the bottom of the camera frame that captures the scene. During the sermon, a woman unobtrusively appears by the Reverend’s side and offers him a golden chalice sitting upon a matching golden platter. Rev. Eikerenkoetter instructs the crowd to repeat, “I am full of the joy of the Lord!” for the third time before sipping calmly and deliberately. Eikerenkoetter’s movements at the pulpit are confident and fluid, displaying a stage presence that drew numerous comparisons to the American pop singer Jackie Wilson throughout the minister’s televisual career.
This scene took place in the United Palace Cathedral and is documented in a video titled “Fake It, ‘Till You Make It.”17 The clip is one small part of the broadcast media archive of the United Christian Evangelistic Church. The charismatic founder and leader of the church died in 2009, but fragments of his sermons persist in multiple media forms. The most readily accessible are clips of Rev. Ike’s many television and radio broadcasts that have been uploaded to the church’s YouTube channel, under a username most appropriate for the church’s key teachings: “gift of money.” These clips are just advertisements, however, as the archive continues to serve the commercial role for which it was created. Full sermons and audio tracks can be purchased through the church’s online store and on iTunes. Whether it be by donation basket, toll-free phone number advertised on television, online credit card form or crowd-funding campaign, Rev. Ike’s church has consistently found ways to use media in moments of transition to spread its message of “health, happiness, love, success, prosperity and money,” but primarily of money.18 Rev. Ike transitioned into this spiritual orientation over time, and sought out the purchase of the Uptown movie palace after his ideological shift. In fact, United Palace Cathedral was not his church’s first movie theater. After moving to New York from Boston, where the church’s financial headquarters remained throughout Rev. Ike’s career, Eikerenkoetter moved into a dilapidated movie theater in Harlem, formerly the Sunset Theatre.19 It was at that time that he abbreviated his name to Rev. Ike so that it could fit onto the theater’s marquee, which succinctly read: “Rev. Ike Every Sunday.”20
Eikerenkoetter purchased Loew’s 175th Street Theatre in 1969 for half a million dollars, and the theater was reborn as the United Palace Cathedral. It became the symbolic center of his religious network, United Christian Evangelistic Association. The physical building is the size of a city block, bordered by 176th Street on the North, Wadsworth Avenue on the East, 175th Street on the South, and finally, Broadway on the West. Renovations sought to retain, and heighten, the opulence of the building’s original design. The theater’s original “Wonder” Morton pipe organ was restored;21 gold-plated ornamentation and crystal chandeliers were added to the interior. According to United Church’s website, “authentic Louis XV and XVI furnishings” were also added to enhance the building’s elegance.22 Red carpet was installed. Posters, featuring portraits of Rev. Ike alongside famous lines from his sermons, and accompanying altars were added to theater lobby. The famous lines include: “I am NOT other people’s opinions” and “When you discover who you are, it doesn’t matter what you’ve been.”23 The outer marquee was used to advertise the starting time of Sunday services (2:45 p.m.) while the inner marquee read: “Come on in or smile as you pass.” A major change made to the building’s exterior was the addition of a prayer tower on the 176th Street side, designed to be widely visible.24 While the tower is primarily advertised as a sanctuary for prayer, its design also emphasizes the importance of broadcasting to a larger public. Its similarity to a radio tower provides a visual reminder of Rev. Ike’s ambitions to reach not only the surrounding neighborhoods, but also to a much wider audience through broadcast media. The addition of the prayer tower was a key element in the historic movie theater’s material conversion into a proto-megachurch.
While Rev. Ike’s congregation may not have exceeded 5,000 members in the physical space of the United Palace Cathedral, it numbered as high as an estimated 2.5 million remote listeners and viewers at the height of Rev. Ike’s popularity. United Church broadcasted Rev. Ike’s program “The Joy of Living” to around 1,770 radio stations across the nation and ten major television markets.25 As Jonathan Walton notes, “Rev. Ike was one of the first African Americans to use an amphitheater as a place of worship, build an in-house video production center, and package and distribute his teachings to a national audience via television and radio.”26 played a large part in the sustained renovations and maintenance of the United Palace Cathedral. The generous financial support of this collective in-person, television and radio audience appears to have mitigated the high costs of preserving a large structure such as the United Palace. The great expense involved illustrates a neglected detail about the movie palace legacy. Robert Sklar explains, “the shocking fact, so disruptive of the myth that no historian of the movies seems ever to have uttered it…picture palaces were economic white elephants.”27 Romanticizing the heyday of cinemagoing blinds us to the commercial realities that shaped how movie palaces were actually used in the past. Rev. Ike, and other evangelists like him, was able to successfully preserve a movie palace, in part, because of the ample donations from his devoted, distributed audience.
Mainstream accounts commonly ignore Rev. Ike’s deliberate and inventive uses of space, place and media technology after his church’s adoption of Loew’s 175th Street theater. The theater has been mistaken for “a Hindu-Indochinese temple,”28 its location presumed to be in Harlem,29 and its purchase falsely attributed to a donation from the Loew’s Corporation to United Church.30 These inaccuracies reveal a disjuncture between the church’s creative repurposing and prevailing perceptions of the theater as a relic of a bygone era. Douglas Gomery has noted that the construction of the theater in 1930 helped to convince New Yorkers that Washington Heights was a viable middle-class neighborhood.31 Despite the theater’s initial symbolic value for Washington Heights, we shouldn’t allow nostalgia for cinema to overshadow the culturally significant forms of reuse that have occurred at the site.
Laments about the United Palace’s new role as a church instead of a movie palace reflect a “longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed.”32 Svetlana Boym calls this restorative nostalgia, a form of recollection that “does not think of itself as nostalgia, but rather as truth and tradition.”33 Restorative nostalgia seeks to reconstruct the past as whole and coherent. It is unfettered by memories that stray from this unity or that would fragment the past. Certain about history’s meaning, proponents of restoration “propose to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps.”34 Restorative nostalgia occurs when preservationists “rather than uncovering the past… create an illusion of a credible material past.”35
The oversight of Rev. Ike’s congregation results in a neat categorization, relegating white and Jewish ethnicity into the past and Dominican culture into the present and future. While it is true that Washington Heights was known as the “Frankfurt on the Hudson” in the earlier half of the twentieth century, what is not addressed in mainstream accounts is that this reputation was precisely why Rev. Ike chose this neighborhood for his flagship church. New York Times advertisements for the church read: “The Church is NOT located in Harlem, but in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.”36 United Church moved into Washington Heights at the very moment when demographic dominance was shifting in the neighborhood. During the 1960s and 70s, the number of German-Jewish upper- to middle-class residents fell by over 50 percent and eventually Dominicans became the demographic majority.37 Rev. Ike’s church always presented a tolerant attitude toward parishioners when it came to racial identity, even if in interviews he would confide another perspective: “Blacks were taught to use their behinds, not their minds. I’m trying to reverse that tired old psychology.”38 By the 2000s, bilingual sermons were delivered at Rev. Ike’s church. A desire to cater to the neighborhood’s demographic majority may also have led to the partnership with Pastor Sal Sabino’s Heavenly Vision Church, which emphasizes a message of forgiveness and reform, in contrast to Rev. Ike’s enduring prosperity gospel.
Rather than forcing details to conform to a predetermined narrative of rise, fall and revitalization, network archaeological and (post) cinematic methods enable an unearthing of connections and exchanges in places like Universal Palace Cathedral that are frequently overlooked.39 These two approaches explore neglected infrastructures, forgotten places and minor networks. The following section demonstrates how being attuned to the palimpsestic networks historically stationed in repurposed movie palaces can build alternative media histories. Rev. Ike’s decision to move the church from a historically black neighborhood in Harlem to Washington Heights demonstrated his ambition to expand the reach of the church beyond the confines of one racial group, something ignored in mainstream accounts of the church. Perhaps more surprising is Rev. Ike’s reluctance to acknowledge the networked influences on his practice, mirroring in certain ways the omissions of official histories of the theater.
Black Televangelists in Movie Palaces-Turned-Churches
Rev. Ike’s conversion of United Palace theater into a hub of his broadcasting empire is an important episode in the history of Black televangelism. Earlier forms of televangelism greatly influenced Rev. Ike, who was very well versed in the teachings of white televangelist Oral Roberts.40 Another influence on Rev. Ike was the Black Spiritual Movement, which derived “from a cross-pollination of esoteric belief systems such as New Thought and Christian Science as well as forms of black Pentecostalism, Voodooism, and Hoodooism.”41 The career of Prophet James F. Jones, a notable radio evangelist and public personality associated with the Black Spiritual movement, encapsulates the primary cultural and rhetorical precursors of Rev. Ike’s religious practice. Both men were media-savvy evangelists. Prophet Jones used radio broadcasts to propagate his prophecies and message of prosperity during the 1940s and 50s. At a vulnerable time for religious broadcasting, he was able to sidestep restrictions on radio televangelism by using a Canadian radio station that aired to his region in the U.S. market. He was also profiled positively through several print media outlets during the height of his popularity. He was featured on the pages of Ebony, Newsweek, the Saturday Evening Post, Time and Life magazines. Known as the founder of the Church of the Universal Triumph, the Dominion of God, Inc., Jones was most distinguished for how he lived like a millionaire.42 By the time of a feature in a 1953 issue of Life magazine, Prophet Jones had relocated his church to a converted movie theater, the Oriole Theatre in Detroit. Though the price paid is not given, the theater’s value was listed as $550,000 in a story about the purchase in Baltimore Afro-American.43 Prophet Jones’s sermons were broadcasted from the theater, a fact corroborated by the broadcast’s announcement of its location, proudly stated between the National Anthem and “God Bless America.”44 The national fascination with the cost of Jones’s luxurious lifestyle anticipates the media’s fixation on the finances of later prosperity televangelists. Furthermore, the image of a Black preacher surrounded by ostentatious symbols of wealth anticipates the public image of Rev. Ike.
Prophet Jones’s highly mediated image contributed to widespread coverage of his lurid downfall45 and perhaps also to his later obscurity. The stigma of this ruination might explain why Rev. Ike would shrug off Jones’s historic significance, claiming that there were no other Black preachers that competed with the vast fame and fortune of white televangelists Billy Graham and Oral Roberts.46 Similar to other public personalities and performers, it is common practice for televangelists to exaggerate the originality of their contributions to the field. Contrary to Rev. Ike’s desire to be the only remembered Black televangelist, Jonathan Walton’s research about Black televangelism illustrates how, in fact, Rev. Ike acts “as a connectional figure…in the history of African American religious broadcasting.”47 Rev. Ike is linked not only to the televangelist past through the figure of Prophet Jones but also to the televangelist present through Atlanta-based Pastor Creflo Dollar, founder of World Changers Church International. Dollar leased Loew’s Paradise Theatre in the Bronx at the beginning of this year, soon after a scandal over his arrest.48 Before the purchase of the Paradise Theatre, World Changers Church International (WCCI) held services at several rotating premier performance venues in New York49 before settling into this atmospheric movie palace, worth $10 million and designed by John Eberson, the leading architect of these types of buildings in the 1920s.
Meanwhile in Upper Manhattan, film is returning to the United Palace Cathedral. A successful crowd funding campaign, organized by the newly formed United Palace of Cultural Arts and hosted by the website Indiegogo,50 raised $40,000 in July 2013 to bring film back to the theater more than forty years after the last film screened there in 1969. While the space has been used for numerous concerts and performances,51 it is not yet equipped to be a regularly running movie theater. Funds will be used to purchase a digital projector, clean the theater’s screen and run programming to ensure that the United Palace can be considered the largest theater in Manhattan with a regularly scheduled film program, and the only movie theater north of 128th Street.
For many, regularly running film programming constitutes the ultimate fulfillment of the building’s cinematic legacy. Network archaeology allows us to see that the co-existence of different media forms, cinematic and broadcast, more accurately represents the building’s intermedial legacy. The overlooked history of the building’s religious conversion reveals the social complexity of Washington Heights in ways elided by the building’s nostalgic return to cinematic exhibition.
But there are signs that the theater’s new function as a cultural performance space will acknowledge the surrounding community. A promotional video highlights plans for the theater that will cater to the Latina/o community of Washington Heights. For example, one of the initiative’s first scheduled events was a performance of In the Heights, a Broadway musical set in the neighborhood. However, there is no mention in this marketing campaign of the role played by Rev. Ike’s church in the preservation of the theater or of the church’s continued use of the theater as a broadcasting center. Network archaeology allows us to establish crucial links between cinematic, broadcast media and other cultural uses of theaters such as United Palace, which in turn can help us better understand the diversity of historical experience that characterizes urban neighborhoods such as Washington Heights.
Janna Jones points out the division between how audiences and critics perceived movie palace designs: “The pseudo-elegance of [movie palace] designs projected an ambience of ‘tastefully tacky or refined vulgarity,’ which was intended to appeal to an emerging semiclassless audience. While most of the patrons of the movie palace did not perceive the theaters as gaudy, critics did.” Janna Jones, The Southern Movie Palace: Rise, Fall, and Resurrection (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), 115. ↩
A group like the Theater Historical Society of America (http://www.historictheatres.org/) is characteristic of this type of thinking. Though this particular group also aims to document the history of American performing and cultural arts venues, widening the field of appropriate programming to accommodate the arts more broadly. A debate about the topic of religious conversions recently emerged in the online community Cinema Treasures (cinematreasures.org), which is more closely interested in the history of film programming. See June comments here: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/44/comments#comment-519864. ↩
David Naylor makes a similar observation in American Picture Palaces: “Inside, only the plush seats in place of pews distinguish the auditorium from the interior of a church.” David Naylor, American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981), 209. ↩
Richard Maltby, “New Cinema Histories,” in Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies, ed. by Richard Maltby, Daniel Biltcreyst and Philippe Meers (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2011), 4. ↩
Maltby, “Histories,” 31.) It focuses on the circulation, consumption and experience of moviegoing in order to observe cinema as a site of “social and cultural exchange.” ((Maltby, “Histories,” 3. ↩
Jones, Southern Movie Palace. ↩
Alan Liu, “Remembering Networks” (keynote presentation, Network Archaeology Conference, Miami University, Oxford, OH, April 21, 2012). ↩
Liu, “Remembering.” ↩
Thomas Elsaesser, “The New Film History as Media Archaeology.” CiNéMAS 14, nos. 2-3 (2004), 89-90. ↩
Ross Melnick and Andreas Fuchs, Cinema Treasures: A New Look at Classic Movie Theaters (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2004), 56, 66. ↩
Stephen Barber, Abandoned Images: Film and Film’s End (London: Reaktion Books, 2010), 108. ↩
Steven Wolf, “Televangelist Scott Sets Up Shop on Broadway.” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1990, Downtown News 5, 13.) With the move, Scott brought the iconic “Jesus Saves” signs to Broadway’s streetscape, placing them atop the roof of the United Artists building. ((Eric Richardson, “The Journey of the ‘Jesus Saves’ Neon.” blogdowntown, September 16, 2010, http://blogdowntown.com/2010/09/5671-the-journey-of-the-jesus-saves-neon. ↩
Ryan Vaillancourt, “United Artists Theater to Be Ace Hotel,“ Los Angeles Downtown News, January 23, 2012, http://www.ladowntownnews.com/news/united-artists-theater-to-be-ace-hotel/article_413d9cfa-463e-11e1-ab46-0019bb2963f4.html. ↩
Larry B. Stammer, Obituary of Gene Scott, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2005, http://articles.latimes.com/2005/feb/23/local/me-scott23. Preceding Gene Scott’s death in 2005, his wife Melissa Scott took over as pastor. Since the sale of the United Artists building in 2011, the church has relocated back to Glendale. “Pastor Melissa Scott’s Official Website,” accessed July 17, 2013, http://www.pastormelissascott.com/. ↩
For more about Robert Schuller and his church’s innovations in producing “manifold worship spaces” see Erica Robles-Anderson, “The Crystal Cathedral: Architecture for Mediated Congregation.” Public Culture 24, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 583. doi 10.1215/08992363-1630672. See also Robles-Anderson, “Blind Spots: Religion in Media Studies.” Flow, http://flowtv.org/2012/12/blind-spots/. ↩
5,000 seats is a contested number for the building’s capacity. At the height of the church’s popularity, advertisements boasted these many seats. Rev. Ike’s son mentioned in a recent interview that this was “in the days before strict occupancy codes.” The theater’s legal capacity is actually 3,363. Led Black, “Spa For The Soul: A Q&A With Xavier Eikerenkoetter,” The Uptown Collective, March 26, 2013, http://www.uptowncollective.com/2013/03/26/spa-for-the-soul-a-qa-with-xavier-eikerenkoetter/. “Specifications,” United Palace, last modified October 1, 2012, http://unitedpalace.org/index.php/united-palace-theatre/specifications. ↩
“Rev. Ike: ‘Fake it, ’til you Make It!,’” YouTube video, 4:56, clip from “The Joy of Living” TV program of unknown date, posted by “giftofmoney,” March 17, 2010, http://youtu.be/CAzOwt1M7OI. ↩
Rev. Ike, “Fake”, 0:10.)
Rev. Ike’s religious innovation, what he called “Science of Living,” postulated that thoughts are things. Central to obtaining goals and wealth was positive thinking and, naturally, donations paid to the church. This system of belief signals a shift away from the Baptist and Pentecostal teachings that permeated his childhood and early training in Ridgeland, South Carolina. In direct contrast to the delayed reward of heaven promised by traditional Pentecostal churches, Rev. Ike promoted the potential achievement of combined financial and spiritual gains in the present through positive self-image and “New Thought” philosophy. He expressed this difference succinctly in his famous line: “Don’t wait for your pie in the sky by and by; have it now with ice cream and a cherry on top!” ((Jonathan L. Walton, Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 50. ↩
Walton, Watch, 47. ↩
Martin Gallatin, “Reverend Ike’s Ministry: A Sociological Investigation of Religious Innovation” (PhD diss., New York University, 1979), 182. ↩
The organ remains at the theater today, though it has experienced considerable water damage from a concert mishap in recent years. James Barron, “Working to Revive a Movie House That Lived in a Palace.” New York Times, June 21, 2013, http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/working-to-again-light-up-the-big-screen-in-a-majestic-home/. ↩
“United Palace Cathedral History,” United Palace Cathedral, last modified 2011, http://unitedpalacecathedral.org/churchhistory.php. ↩
Rev. Ike explained the renovations in an Ebony feature: “I want the people who come here to know the feeling of great opulence; I want them to see what right thinking, what Positive Self-Image is all about. I want them to reject poverty and experience wealth.” Charles L. Sanders, “The Gospel According to Rev. Ike.” Ebony (December 1976), 151. ↩
“United Palace Cathedral History,” United Palace Cathedral, last modified 2011, http://unitedpalacecathedral.org/churchhistory.php. ↩
Clayton Riley, “The Golden Gospel of Reverend Ike,” New York Times, March 9, 1975. ↩
Walton, Watch, 10.) Rev. Ike’s “mediated congregation,” to use Erica Robles-Anderson’s term, ((Robles-Anderson, “Crystal.” ↩
Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 149. ↩
Douglas Gomery, “The Movie Palace Comes to America’s Cities,” in For Fun and Profit: The Transformation of Leisure into Consumption, ed. R Butsch (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 141. ↩
“Frederick Joseph Eikerenkoetter,” in Preaching with Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons, 1750 to the Present, ed. M. Simmons and F. Thomas (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 650. ↩
“United Palace Theater,” City Concealed on Thirteen, http://www.thirteen.org/thecityconcealed/2009/04/20/united-palace-theater#.UNRDLbbglcw. ↩
My emphasis. Douglas Gomery explains that a theater like Loew’s 175th Street catered to newly middle class families living in the less-populated, newly suburban area of Washington Heights. He argues that this anticipates the turn toward the suburban movie theater in the postmodern era. See Gomery, “Palace,” and Douglas Gomery, “Movie Audiences, Urban Geography, and the History of the American Film,” The Velvet Light Trap 19 (1982), 25. ↩
Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), xviii. ↩
Boym, Nostalgia, xviii. ↩
Boym, Nostalgia, xviii. ↩
Boym, Nostalgia, 41.) When this “credible material past” is not complemented by an engagement with the social and cultural histories of post-cinematic reuse, preservation ends up reinforcing nostalgic narratives of cinema’s golden age.
The omissions that characterize restorative nostalgia are apparent in a profile of the United Palace Cathedral featured in The City Concealed, an online documentary video series produced by the New York public media station WNET. The series purports to explore “the unseen corners of New York.” The episode on United Palace Cathedral presents three distinct perspectives on the building’s history, provided by theater historian Orlando Lopes, Pastor Sal Sabino (who teamed up with Rev. Ike for a few years), and middle-aged native New Yorkers Ronald and Richard Levao who grew up in Washington Heights during the 1950s. In this profile, the representative of the United Palace Cathedral, Latino Pastor Sal Sabino emphasizes the gang violence that plagues Washington Heights while ignoring Rev. Ike’s congregation, composed of a diminishing group of older, Black middle class parishioners. Touring the palace’s auditorium, the Levao twins appear lost in memory. Richard explains, in contrast to today’s media delivery platforms, “the magic is the location of the movie, as well as the movie itself.” ((Jones, Palace, 123. ↩
Walton, Watch, 194. ↩
Steven M. Lowenstein, Frankfurt on the Hudson: The German-Jewish Community of Washington Heights, 1933-1983, Its Structure and Culture (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1989), 212. ↩
Sanders, “Gospel,” 154. ↩
This formulation is partly inspired by Boym’s formulation of “reflective nostalgia.” As Boym describes it, “Reflective nostalgia dwells on the ambivalences of human longing and belonging and does not shy away from contradictions of modernity.” Boym, Nostalgia, xviii. ↩
Walton, Watch, 60. ↩
Walton, Watch, 70. ↩
Features in Life magazine from November 1944 and March 1953 present Jones as the epitome of conspicuous consumption. In the 1944 issue, with Jones being relatively unknown nationally by that point, the prophet’s unusual style, luxurious fashions and unorthodox service hours were highlighted. From this story, Prophet Jones’s image was widely publicized and the subsequent nationwide attention led to his congregation’s growth. By the time of the 1953 Life spread, his church had expanded and the level of his material extravagance had been significantly raised. In the article’s first image a white mink coat is removed from Jones’s back before a church service. The story of this expensive mink coat is the focus of the entire article as it was generously paid for by two of the religious leader’s followers, The Jackson sisters. They paid $12,900 for the gift. ↩
“Sell Big Theatre To Prophet Jones.” The Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), November 22, 1952. ↩
“Prophet James F. Jones,” YouTube video, 21:25, Radio Broadcast of Rt. Rev. Dr. James Francis Jones from the Shrine of Lady Catherine, Detroit, MI, posted by LeRoy Martin, October 26, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMsb5rFZ4cc. ↩
Prophet Jones’s sexuality was foregrounded when he was arrested for an immoral act. Charges were later dropped as he was entrapped by an undercover vice officer, assigned to gather evidence about the finances of his church. The damage to his reputation, however, had already been made. See Tim Retzloff. “Seer or Queer? Postwar Fascination with Detroit’s Prophet Jones.” GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 8, No. 3 (2002). ↩
Walton, Watch, 195, n38. ↩
Walton, Watch, 73. ↩
Dollar was arrested after his 15-year-old daughter called the police after a domestic incident in which an argument over whether Creflo’s daughter would attend a party became physical. “Georgia: Pastor Arrested in Domestic Incident,” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/09/us/georgia-pastor-arrested-in-domestic-incident.html. ↩
The most prominent run being at Madison Square Garden, the gigantic midtown Manhattan arena which seats up to 20,000. ↩
“Return Film to the United Palace,” Indiegogo, http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/return-film-to-the-united-palace. ↩
“United Palace Theatre – New York | Tickets, Schedule, Seating Chart, Directions,” Ticketmaster, http://www.ticketmaster.com/United-Palace-Theatre-tickets-New-York/venue/356. ↩
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From: "Drawings from A Thousand Plateaus"
Original Artist: Marc Ngui
Copyright: Marc Ngui