Brooklyn Heights’ beloved twin cinema will become more than a moviehouse, now that a local musician and tech specialist has taken over.
Kenn Lowy, the Brooklyn Heights Cinema’s new owner and a legend of the local left wing, said that he will modernize the decrepit little theater by adding a photo exhibit, open mic night and café to the bill — turning it into a destination for the arts.
“It’s one of the last neighborhood theaters in the city, and it’s a goldmine,” Lowy said. “Now people will have even more of a reason to come by.”
The tumbledown 150-seat cinema, at Orange and Henry streets, has weathered several changes in ownership since it opened in 1971. And with the help of loyal customers, it managed to stay afloat in an age of multiplexes.
Lowy was one of those devoted moviegoers. “You could blindfold me and I would know every part of this cinema,” he said. “It was really important to me and that’s why I bought it.”
A 30-year resident of the Heights, Lowy ran Brooklyn’s best-known political club, the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, until he was ousted last year.
He’s also a marathon swimmer and Community Board 2 member.
Now, in his leading role as indie cinema proprietor, he faces the task of modernizing an institution with a history of failed ownerships and renovation schemes.
The moviehouse began to slump in the 1990s, after distributors couldn’t get new movies on time.
Delphi Basilicato and Jai Singh owned the theater for eight years, but sold it in 2001 after they couldn’t attract investors to fund more than $60,000 in desired renovations and new equipment.
They also couldn’t compete with the 12-screen Regal Cinema on Court Street and Fort Greene’s BAM Rose Cinemas.
After Basilicato and Singh came husband-and-wife owners Norman Adie and Kasey Gittleman, who helmed the cinema for nearly a decade. In 2008, they floated plans to add two more screens above the low-rise building and a wine bar in the basement, but that plan — if it actually existed at all — fell apart last November, when police arrested Adie for cheating movie-loving investors in a Ponzi scheme. Instead of expanding the theater and building condos, he squandered $530,000 on personal expenses and running his other cinemas.
Lowy, who had coveted the cinema for years, approached Adie in December after hearing about the fraud accusations. He agreed to assume the $50,000 in debt that his predecessor owed — mostly to film distributors — and bought the theater “for very little cash.”
This week, he signed a one-year lease, taking over what remained of Adie’s rental agreement.
Lowy said that he’s keeping his day jobs so he won’t be at every screening, but he plans to man the counter often.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” he said, “and if there’s a line, you’ll see me shoving popcorn into bags.”
First up, is a new paint job. Eventually, he wants to convert the basement into a restaurant, and make the ground floor a daytime coffee operation, serving espresso and pastries through a window facing Henry Street.
“Nobody is doing this stuff,” he said. “If something doesn’t work, I’ll just try something else.”
Despite these coming attractions, Lowy is determined to keep his theater a throwback — he’s sticking to two screens.
Longtime manager Amy Mascena and projectionist Bryan Diego, who’ve been at the grindhouse for five years, will also retain their roles.
Mascena gives her new boss’s plans two thumbs up.
“This theater is really supported by the neighborhood,” Mascena said, “but we’d like it to be more than just a Brooklyn Heights cinema. This will be a community based theater, with much more art.”