By TESS McRAE
The Paradise Theater, an 83-year-old Bronx cultural institution, will soon be home to the World Changers Church of New York.
The nondenominational mega-church signed the lease to occupy the cherished city landmark on October 20. It is understood the site will become an official residence for the New York branch of the World Changers Church International.
As of press time, no grand opening date for the WCCNY church has been announced, and the public relations firm representing the WCC did not return repeated calls for comment. A request for comment from Jones Lang LaSalle, who represented WCC in the transaction, was also not returned.
Founded in October 2004 by pastors Creflo and Taffi Dollar, the church have held services all throughout New York City at premiere venues including Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. They currently have satellite churches located in 14 states with a headquarters in Georgia.
According the New York Post, Creflo Dollar originally had his eye on the Kingsbridge Armory, but his proposal was met with resistance from Bronx Borough President Rubin Diaz Jr. and other city officials.
Dollar has been the subject of controversy for years and has been criticized for being a materialistic “prosperity preacher.”
Many of his teachings are based on prosperity theology: The idea that believers in God shall be rewarded with wealth and financial blessing.
The Paradise Theater, built in 1929 by renowned architect John Eberson for $4 million, has long been a staple of the Bronx. Eberson specialized in designing atmospheric theaters and pulled out all the stops when constructing the Paradise.
“A patron would leave his everyday humdrum life and enter fabulous opulence,” Bronx borough historian Lloyd Ultan said.
The theater, known for its elaborate design and extravagant chandeliers, was designed to represent a 16th-century Italian baroque garden with stars twinkling in the ceiling as tufts of clouds sailed by.
As television and motion pictures became more popular, the Paradise stopped showcasing live performances altogether.
The theater would be twinned, triplexed and eventually split into four screening rooms. Through the years it was bought and sold a number of times and was closed in 1994, remaining empty for six years.
In 1997, the building’s exterior was declared a city landmark, with the interior being declared in 2006. The theater reopened in 2009 as a venue for musical acts including the Killers and Boyz II Men.
Because of the building’s landmark status, WCCNY cannot make any major renovations without permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
This would preserve the iconic decor that made the Paradise Theater famous. Ultan doubted the commission would permit any major renovations.
“I have no objections per se to having the theater used for church purposes, but the building needs to be preserved,” Ultan said. “And maybe they could have tours of the theater in between services.”