The Madison Theater in Pine Hills has been a fixture in the neighborhood for 90 years, since its opening in May, 1929. That opening was a gala event.
The theater debuted with “Desert Song”, a block buster from the Warner Co. , which built the new theater and would own it until 1975 (as well as the Strand on North Pearl and what is now the Landmark Theater on Delaware Ave.) “Desert Song” was the first “talkie” musical (music by Irving Berlin), was filmed in two-part Technicolor, and co-starred an impossibly young Myrna Loy.
This Madison wasn’t the first Madison movie theater in Pine Hills. The first opened c. 1914 on West Lawrence (about where the Price Chopper is today). By 1917 it became the Pine Hills Theatre, and closed by 1930.
Movie goers wanted luxury and comfortable seats and glitz- more than hard wood seats to watch silent films. They flocked to new movie palaces for more of a real “theater” experience. The new Madison quickly became a favorite. It was a “second run” theater. If you didn’t get a chance to see a movie at the flagship Strand downtown you could catch it at the Madison. It was and is more than a neighborhood theater. During the Depression, like most movie theaters, it provided an escape, and served the same in World War II.
The Saturday morning cartoon shows in the 1950s and 1960s are the stuff of legend, attracting hundreds of kids from all over the city. The Back to School programs (free pencil box.. Yay!) drew screaming hordes of children. The building was re-modeled a couple of times in the 1950s and 1960s.
By the 1970s it was one of only 3 movie theaters (the others were the Delaware and the Hellman on Washington Ave.) in Albany. There was increased competition from theaters in the suburbs, many near the shopping malls, in Colonie. And then came the era of multiplex cinemas, and the Madison struggled to re-invent itself, now faced with competition from the VCR and movie rentals. And yet it has held on, experimenting with live entertainment, and new owners have re-invented the movie experience.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor