With the Island closed to the public until May 28, we’ll take a look at some of the history of Governors Island. Another of the most visible of the unused structures from Fort Jay is the old Post Theatre (building 330). Its coordinates are N 40.687681, E -74.017593 and is located next to another vacant building, the YMCA.
Constructed in 1937, Building 330 is a two-story theatre building faced with reddish-brown brick laid in American bond. The main block of the building has brick quoins at the corners and a slate-covered hipped roof. On the north side is a two-story gabled projection above the entrance portico. This projection has three blind arches with cast stone keystones and impost blocks, brick quoins, and a raking wood cornice outlining the gable. A projecting wing with a hipped roof has been added at the south end of the building. This theatre design, with neo-Georgian detail, was typical of those constructed on military bases before World War II. It has seats for 700.
The theater was a center of life on the Island for both the Army and the Coast Guard. In 1950 movie tickets at the Fort Jay Theatre were 18 cents (about $1.75 today) for first-run films such as Father of the Bride. In 1955, an Army helicopter landed on the parade ground carrying Santa Claus. In a whirl of snow, he led children in a parade to a party at the post theater and the (now shuttered) YMCA building.
Over the years, the government kept ticket prices low. They were a fraction of what military families would spend on tickets in Times Square.
One story I can’t confirm, and I looked, was that during World War II Irving Berlin and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt were at the theater for a fundraiser, or premier, for the Warner Brothers musical based on his music, You’re In the Army. Do you know?
In 1996 the Coast Guard made the announcement it would leave Governors Island; it delivered the news to service members in this building. What is this building’s future? The theater can still have a use for movie screenings and as an auditorium, but it lacks electricity.
The theater faces Owasco Road, north of Cartigan Road. The Coast Guard named both streets for ships. Owasco was a series of World War II cutters, all named for American lakes. The first cutter in the fleet carried the name. Cartigan was also a class of cutter, first launched in 1927 and stationed on Staten Island. They were designed for trailing the “mother ships” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. The Cartigan was actually floating in Brooklyn until 2004.
For more history stories, pick up The Governors Island Explorer’s Guide (Globe Pequot).