Call it Paradise Lost – and maybe found.
The historic Loews Paradise Theater has been leased to a mega-church.
Last a movie house in 1994, and most recently a venue for live performances including boxing and stage shows, the Bronx icon will become a pulpit for controversial charismatic preacher Creflo Dollar, head of the Georgia-based World Changers International Church.
The church may likely be a stable tenant for the property, but Dollar has been critized for a lavish lifestyle, including multi-million dollar homes.
He and several other televangelists were investigated by the U.S. Senate committee on finance in 2007.
He was also arrested on two misdemeanor charges this year involving alleged battery on his 15-year-old daughter.
Gerald Lieblich bought the theater in 2003 for $4.5 million. The terms of the lease agreement with the church, finalized Oct. 20 were not made public.
The theater, one of the grand, ornate Loews movie palaces to be built in the late 1920’s, has historic city landmark status.
Its opulent interior, with ornate Greco-Roman statuary adorning its walls and “star filled” heavenly ceiling will remain untouched.
Only the stage might be altered without approval of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, said official Bronx Historian Lloyd Ultan.
The once premier movie house opened in 1929, weeks before the collapse of the Wall Street market, and ran movies until the 1960s.
The first film to play there was the “all-talking” film called “The Mysterious Dr. Fu-Manchu.”
It was a place for romance, both on and off the screen, with young love – and lust – in the balcony.
Ultan described the movie palace as being designed to give a viewer an impression of oppulence, they were watching a movie not in a 3,885 “Wonder Theater,” but under the stars in a 16th Century Baroque Italian garden, complete with twinkling stars.
Sometimes, added Ultan, the theater management created real clouds from a cloud machine overhead.
In 1973, the Loews Corporation began changing the format, first to a twin theater, then a triplex in 1975 and finally a quadriplex in 1981.
The weekly Riverdale Review first reported the church signing a lease for the theater.
The Fordham Road shopping strip, just two blocks away, could see an increase in business because of large crowds the church will draw, said Fordham Road Business Improvement District deputy director Daniel Bernstein.
“It is a ‘mega church’ that is getting a lot of press and draws a lot people,” said Bernstein. “They have a big base of people who should be coming out to their services.”
Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (718) 742-3393