New Amsterdam Theatre

214 West 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10036

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teecee
teecee on April 11, 2005 at 2:28 pm

sorry, corrected link:
View link

Darrel Wood
Darrel Wood on March 28, 2005 at 11:15 pm

Re: Benjamin’s comment of Jan 14 on the balcony support rods—your memory is correct. The Upper Balcony of the New Amsterdam has the support rods running up to the ceiling, but they do not actually support anything. Because no one had seen a cantilevered balcony back then, people were afraid it would collapse….so, the owner put the rods up to reassure people. They are still there, and supposedly cannot be removed because they are covered by the landmark ordinance. Under the main balcony there are some columns, so that would have reassured people back then that it had support.
As far as the upper theatre, the current line is still that they cannot meet code and have performances up there.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 16, 2005 at 11:54 am

In July, 1941, the New Amsterdam had a “Special Limited Engagement By Popular Demand of Thousands” of a double-feature of Rudolph Valentino’s “The Eagle” & “Son of the Sheik.” The silent films had been updated with musical soundtracks. The New Amsterdam operated continuously from 8AM until 2AM, and boasted of a “modern cooling plant now in operation.”

DonRosen
DonRosen on February 19, 2005 at 6:11 pm

I have an exterior photo of the New Amsterdam (circa early 90s). I’ll e-mail it to some if they want to post it.

GeorgeStrum
GeorgeStrum on January 29, 2005 at 11:51 pm

Not to spook anyone but the New Amsterdam is haunted by the spirit of one of the Follies girls. Her name is Olive Thomas and she died very young from an illness and over dosed on her medication. Former and some present maintanance people and performers have seen her. Mostly in the balcony and in the so called Garden Roof section. They say she looks so real and solid you’d think she was alive. Well, that’s the legend of the New.Am.

Benjamin
Benjamin on January 14, 2005 at 3:29 pm

From my recollection, the rooftop theater atop the New Amsterdam was indoors — but with big windows. It may — or may not — also have had some kind of sliding roof that allowed you to see the sky in good weather.

I know this sounds modern, and I’m not sure about the New Amsterdam having such a roof, but Christopher Grey in the “Times” — a pretty reliable source — said that the original Lunt-Fontanne Theater had such a “moon roof.” And I believe the Waldorf-Astoria (the current one, from the 1930s) had some kind of retractable roof for it’s “Starlight Roof” nightclub. (I was in this space once for a function — it’s used for events and receptions — but I believe the retractable roof feature was removed long ago.)

The roof garden / restaurant on top of Hammerstein’s Victoria seems (from the one or two photos I’ve seen of it) to be mostly in the open air — but with some sort of covered area along the sides also. (From photos, it seems to be “multi-leveled” also, with the open air section up a few steps.)

Re: ambient noise

While I assume 42nd St. was not really quiet even then, in 1903 or so when some of these theaters were built, the area was built up differently than it is today. It was mostly low, rowhouses (“brownstones”), churches and horse and carriage manufacturing / trading facilities. So I suppose the kind of noises produced were different — for instance, no loud diesel truck and bus v-a-r-o-o-m noises, no garbage truck compactor whines and, obviously, no car alarms! Also maybe the height (six stories or so above the ground) might have helped distance people from some of the noise?

(Also, maybe the whole thing seemed like a better idea than it was, and the noise helped contribute to the demise of such places — along with the growing city around them!)

br91975
br91975 on January 14, 2005 at 3:05 pm

Caspers42: are you asking about what the side of the building itself facing east, or the side of the rooftop theatre facing east, looked like prior to the construction of 5 Times Square (a.k.a., the Ernst and Young Building)?

caspers42
caspers42 on January 14, 2005 at 3:04 pm

Ron, the theatre was enclosed with walls of windows.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on January 14, 2005 at 2:49 pm

This ‘rooftop’ theatre was outdoors? What did they do if a show was scheduled there, but it rained? Wasn’t there so much ambient noise aruond 42nd street that it would cause acoustical problems for the performers and audience?

caspers42
caspers42 on January 14, 2005 at 2:37 pm

100% percent ablsolutely their was a roof garden which was seperate from the roof top theatre. It was actually referred to as the aerial gardens and their is a double doorway in the rooftop theatre which leads to where this garden used to be. However behind the doors today is nothing but airconditioning systems, heatings units and a water tower. The aerial gardens were on the roof of the backstage area which is a roof I would aproximate at 35-45 feet, I am sure of this. The rooftop theatre indeed did have those windows to the east and i would love to be able to see what that side of the theatre looked liked before the earnst and young skyscraper.

Benjamin
Benjamin on January 14, 2005 at 12:41 pm

P.S. — I think the New Amsterdam’s roof “garden” and roof “theater” are the same thing. I believe at the time the New Amsterdam was built, the word “garden” had more connotations than it has today. For example: Madison Sq. Garden (an arena); and the Winter Garden Theater (a name that was given to the theater, which I believe was at one time decorated with trellises, to evoke those places like the lobbies of grand hotels that created a “garden” of potted palms, etc.).

I believe in those pre-air-conditioned times, a number of restaurants and “night clubs” (or their equivalent) were built on roofs (especially the very large roofs of theaters that were otherwise economically useless) and that many of them had a garden-like theme. (Oscar Hammerstein’s “Victoria,” on 42nd and Seventh Ave., had a famous one with cows and milkmaids. There’s a photo of it, empty, in the exhibition catalog.)

Before the skyscraper to the east of the New Amsterdam was built, you could clearly see the very large windows of the rooftop theater. I believe they were “French door” type windows that, when opened wide, gave one the illusion of being outdoors. (Over the years, unfortunately, I think they were painted over in black.)

In the years around the time I took the tour, I think the roof garden/theater space was used as a rehearsal hall for Broadway plays and musicals.

While I don’t believe this is that easily visible these days, I think the jumble of firescapes needed for both the roof theater and the rest of the New Amsterdam are still visible on 41st St.

Benjamin
Benjamin on January 14, 2005 at 11:53 am

I found the announcement and the exhibition catalog from the event. So in case people are interested, here is some additional info (and a correction):

The series of programs, the tour and an exhibit was called, “42nd St. — Theatre and the City.” It was indeed sponsored by the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) and took place in the fall of 1977.

The Graduate School was then located on 42nd St., on the north side of 42nd St., between Fifth Ave. and the Ave. of the Americas. The building had an “arcade” almost the width of the building that was used as an exhibition space. It also had a fair-sized basement auditorium where the panel discussions were held. By the way, I believe the building was originally the Aeolian Building, and there was originally a theater/auditorium on the second floor that was used as a concert hall, Aeolian Hall, where Gershwin premiered “Rhapsody in Blue.” If I recall correctly, while the graduate school was there, this space was used as a large, casual auditorium/lecture hall. I think the building is used as a dental school these days.

There were five Tuesday evening panel discussions beginning on October 18th and ending on November 22nd. 1) History; 2) Problems; 3) Human and Economic Solutions; 4) Future Reconstruction; 5) Future Showcase. Participants included “names” from different walks of life: academics (Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Mary Henderson); actors (Dorothy Stickney); producers (Herman Schulmin, Alfred de Liagre, Jr.); businessmen (Vincent Sardi); critics (Jack Kroll, Brendan Gill); etc.

There was a two film “film festival” (“Reunion in Vienna” and “Once in a Lifetime”) that showed films “… of the 1930’s, based on a play of the same period that opened in the 42nd St. area …” (Stanley Kauffmann is listed as the discussant [don’t ever recall seeing this word before]).

The exhibit was 85 photographs “… featuring interiors and exteriors of the area’s major theatre structures as they were in 1927 and as they are now …”

The walking tour was on Sunday, October 23rd. Here’s the blurb from the announcement: “Opportunity to view first-hand examples of the old playhouses, including the new Amsterdam (built 1903), a new off-off Broadway theatre center, a performing arts housing complex, among others.”

The announcement itself has some interesting photographs and a particularly interesting juxtaposition of photographs: the original facade of the New Amsterdam (without any advertising whatsoever) and the facade in the 1970s (with advertisements for “The Deep” plastered all over the place).

The facade, sans marquee, etc., is fascinating because it shows the entrance being only four doors wide (stone facing taking up the rest of this very, very narrow facade). Looking at the two photos side by side it’s hard to believe they are the same structure — it’s hard to imagine how the entry of four doors in the photograph on the left could be enlarged to the building wide entryway shown in the modern photo on the right.

(P.S. — I am somewhat new to the internet. If it is technologically possible, and legally permissible, to send in scanned copies of these photos (and others), I’d be delighted to give it a try. I can get access to a scanner and the appropriate software (I think), but I’d have to find out how I could get it to Cinema Treasures.)

The announcement also has great photos of the original facades of the Empire (with glass and iron canopy), the Liberty (with almost no advertising); the Belasco (now the Victory?); etc.

My favorite photo is a “wide-angled” one that shows the Lunt-Fontanne (which was a movie theater at one time, and is listed on this site, I believe) and the Helen Hayes. It gives a really nice feel for how well they worked together to create a nice “feel” to 46th St.

The exhibition catalog (text by Josephine Dakin, Megan Lawrence and Ray Ring) has nice pictures (interior, exterior, historical) and text on all the 42nd St. theaters and a few others off 42nd St.: New Amsterdam; Harris; Liberty; Empire; Anco; American Theatre (demolished in 1932); Times Sq. and Apollo; Lyric; Victoria (replaced by the Ra\ialto); Lunt-Fontanne (with a terrific photo of the way it looked when it opened); the Palace; the Astor; the Hudson (including a contemporary photo showing “For Rent” on the marquee); etc. (I’ve tried to list only those theaters that were also movie theaters. But a few other theaters are also included.)

Correction: The catalog mentions that the New Amsterdam “… is said to have been the first theatre built with a cantilevered balcony.” (Something I had thought I had heard about the Hudson.) So apparently the balcony I saw that was held with rods from the ceiling was in another theatre on the tour, not the New Amsterdam.

Fascinating fact: The Hudson, the New Amsterdam and the Lyceum (a landmarked “legit” theatre that was never, as far as I know, a movie theater) were all opened within weeks of each other — two of them even opened on the same night!: 10/19/03, the Hudson; 11/2/03, the New Amsterdam; 11/2/03, the Lyceum. WOW! New York, in those days, WAS really jumpin!


I also found a terrific Hagstrom “detail” map from the late 1950s that shows the approximate building lot outlines of the various theaters in the theater district, including the bunched up ones on 42nd St. On this map you can clearly see where the actual auditoriums for the various theaters on 42nd were located. Again, if it’s legally OK, and if someone tells me how, I’d love to be able to share this with Cinema Treasures.

caspers42
caspers42 on January 13, 2005 at 8:46 pm

The very handsome lounge, The present day New Amsterdam Room. A rectangular lounge with columns in the shape of an elipse giving the room a circular type feel. The theatre has 12 stories of office space, the 8th floor being the lobby to the rooftop theatre. The rooftop gardens I believe are non existant anymore due to air conditioning and heating systems that were installed on it during the renovations. The rooftop theatre is however still their and again along with the Cine 42nd st theatre, are still yet to be touched by any renovations or plans of any sort. As for the Cine, how did Disney end up taking control of this space, it was not a part of the original New Amsterdam blueprints.

Benjamin
Benjamin on January 13, 2005 at 6:20 pm

During the late 1970s when everyone was trying to figure out how to save 42nd St., a number of civic organizations held symposia, etc. discussing the problem of 42nd St./Times Sq., and some of these events including tours of the theaters on 42nd St. — tours that included the interiors of these theaters.

Looking back, I feel so privileged that I was able to take some of these tours and especially to take the tour of the New Amsterdam and to see it all lit up but empty in its “ghostly” downtrodden state. (I believe the New Amsterdam tour took place not long before, or just after, it closed as a functioning movie theater.) The tour was terrific and included not only the auditorium, but various lobbies, the backstage areas AND the fabled rooftop nightclub.

(I also went on interesting tours of some of the other theaters on the street, but don’t remember offhand, if they were all included on one big tour or if the New Amsterdam tour was separate.)

Although I’ve seen the Mary Henderson book about the restoration of the New Amsterdam, I’d like to share my much fuzzier recollections of the theater as I remembered it from this tour. (Somewhere down the line I’ll have to take a closer look at the Henderson book to see how well my memories correspond to reality.) So here’s a quick run-down of the tour as I remember it now — kind of like a report about the tour 25 years, or so, after the fact!:

We entered through the main entrance and went down the long entrance corridor (which has an office building above it). This corridor lead to the back of the orchestra level of the auditorium proper. Don’t have much recollection of how the theater impressed me from this viewpoint. In the years before it was renovated, I read a newspaper article that said, I believe, that the theater had a beautiful asbestos curtain — don’t remember if we saw it or not on the tour.

Eventually we went up to one of the balconies, and, if I remember correctly, I was surprised to see that they were supported by columns from below or from rods from above.

The three big highlights of the tour for me were as follows (in no special order):

1) A visit to a very handsome lounge. Don’t remember which one it was but, as I remember it, it had an unusual shape with some very thick columns. Could it have been a lounge for one of the balconies — or was it in the basement?

2) A visit to the stage and backstage area. I think we were told that this was the largest stage on Broadway — at least when it was built. To this “civilian” (with no real experience of other stages to compare it with) it didn’t really seem all that big to me. (Years later, the same held true, more or less, with my impression of the stage of Radio City Music Hall. The only stage I’ve ever seen on a tour that really impressed me as huge was that of the Metropolitan Opera House which, along with it’s side stages, seemed to be more like a movie sound stage or an aircraft hanger!)

I think this stage also included a turntable and maybe even stage elevators? But the big thing about the visit to the stage was to think about and reflect that I was standing in the same wings that so many famous entertainers had once stood in. If I remember correctly, I think Fred Astaire stood in those wings before going onstage in one of his last Broadway shows. Also think Bob Hope played in “Roberta” in this theater — so he too would have stood in these wings waiting to go on.

3) A visit to the fabled New Amsterdam roof! We took the elevators which were on the eastern side of the long entrance corridor? Again, if I remember correctly, I was a little “disappointed” in that the roof garden seemed smaller than I thought it would be. I also think, as small as it was, it had some sort of small balcony around it. Still it was just amazing to be in this space that I had heard so much about.

As mentioned earlier, I also got to go on tours of some of the other theaters. While memorable, these tours were not as “eventful” as that of the tour of the New Amsterdam, though.

(Since I hadn’t seen “Follies,” I don’t think the aura of “Follies” entered into my thoughts of the tour at the time. Plus, I don’t think the New Amsterdam was seen as ripe for renovation rather than demolition — maybe this is another reason I don’t really recall thinking of “Follies.” But looking back on the tour now, the theater would probably have been a visually PERFECT setting for a film version — which is not always true of real life places that are, more or less, being depicted in a movie.

Two strong impressions of this “other” tour:

1) In one of the theaters — it was on the north side of 42nd St. — we got to tour what had been a suite of offices upstairs. The suite of offices — which in my recollection was really large and spread out — was absolutely empty and thus gave off a very ghostly aura. One — one could image these offices as a beehive of activity in the heydey of 42nd St. — just like in the movies, with actors and chorus girls camping out to get an audition, and the Broadway bigwigs scooting in and out of the offices to avoid them or the bill collectors or to work on a big deal.

Don’t know when the offices were vacated, but lending credence to the aura that they had been vacated not long after 42nd St.’s heydey (which, in reality, is probably unlikely) was the fact that amongst all the emptiness there was a book left on one of the inbuilt bookcases(?) — a large format pictorial guidebook to New York in 1939!

An acquaintance that I had met on the tour (he was a grad student in theater history at the Grad Center of CUNY, which may have been the sponsor of the tour) said I should take it — but I felt funny about it. Later, after we had already left the building, he pulled it out from beneath his coat and gave it to me! So I took it. (I’ve since given it away in a fit of apartment cleaning.)

2) The other stong recollection from the tour of these theaters was how just how badly they all smelled! Not only did they seem to have a musky smell of unwashed people, I believe they also smelled from the cats that were kept in them (to keep the mouse problem under control).

One of the symposia also published a small book and informative brochure, both of which I’ve kept. When I get the chance, I’ll have to take a look at them to see if they mention these tours and anything interesting about the theaters.

caspers42
caspers42 on January 13, 2005 at 2:56 pm

First of all, the new amsterdam main house had the same problems. They decided to solve the problem by installing mezzanine and balcony lobbies, which in fact block all natural light which used to shine through the orchestra skylight. Secondly, I am quite sure that if Disney wanted they can accomodate the fire codes. Their is 3 elevator shafts in the buildings orchestra lobby. Which all are capable of reaching the rooftop theatre. The biography of the theatre clearly states that.
Also, about the Cine 42, what about a private screening theatre for any Disney/Miramax or whatever other release they decide to come up with. And you say there were two screens, any idea of the layout and maybe how to get our hands on the blueprints to the space. IM quite intrigued. I am just kind of in awe at how they are just doing nothing with these spaces on the most famous street of all time!!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 13, 2005 at 2:03 am

About the rooftop at the New Amsterdam, I read somewhere that there are no viable entrances and exits that would comply with the current fire codes. There’s one or two small elevators that wouldn’t be able to handle the audiences, so Disney is not really able to use the space.

As to the Cine 42, where I spent many happily intoxicated hours watching some wild triple bills, I too wonder what is up there. Although I was a frequent patron here, it was my 2nd least favorite grindhouse (the Anco was worse); the seats were molded plastic without any cushions or padding, which I guess cut down on vandalism. As it was, my friend Anthony and I used to joke that it seemed Rondo Hatton (or his spawn) was always in the audience!

caspers42
caspers42 on January 13, 2005 at 1:54 am

Is anyone aware of the Cine 42nd theatre which was exactly to the right of the new amsterdam. I know that it is still intact but yet has been abandoned for over 13 years now. I know the New amsterdam has a rooftop theatre which has been abandoned for even longer, the rooftop theatre is actually in the biography of the new amsterdam but the Cine 42 is not besides a picture of its marquee from the 80’s. What is Disney doing sitting on these two treasures and does anyone have any information on either one?

42ndStreetMemories
42ndStreetMemories on December 30, 2004 at 8:47 am

Is there any way to retrieve the bookings information on the 42nd Street Theaters, back in the 50s-60s, especially the Empire, Anco, Times Sqaure, Victory, Liberty? I went through the NY Times microfiche at the library and found some mention of the more mainstream New Amsterdam, Lyric, Harris, Selwyn but nothing on the others. Thanks for any info. Jerry 42nd Street Memories

DonRosen
DonRosen on December 30, 2004 at 7:38 am

I remember that just about every marquee in the late 60s had “save free tv” on it.

42ndStreetMemories
42ndStreetMemories on December 29, 2004 at 9:43 pm

Bryan,
Great shot. Thanks. Where did you come by it? I’ve been trying to accumulate photos of the Deuce from the 50s – 60s with little luck. Jerry 42nd Street Memories

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on December 28, 2004 at 2:20 am

It was a mess really only after it closed, with a leaking roof that no one repaired for years. It was my favorite place to see double features, and even in those days there was a remarkable amount of detail still existing. Of course it’s gorgeous now, but then it was a pretty decent grind house. It was a thrill to come up out of the subway on Wednesday (and later Friday) mornings, make the U-turn onto 42nd Street, and see all those wonderful marquees with their breathless descriptions of the double and triple bills awaiting inside. I loved seeing 9:00am movies at rock-bottom prices instead of going to college classes!

42ndStreetMemories
42ndStreetMemories on December 24, 2004 at 11:27 am

Thanks for the heads up, Don. I checked and it will be shown again Sunday Dec 26 at noon EST. Jerry the K (42nd Street Memories)

DonRosen
DonRosen on December 23, 2004 at 6:04 pm

The Travel Channel just aired a special on Times Square. They showed film footage of the New Amsterdam before the Disney makeover. What a mess! They said mushrooms were growing in the orchestra section. Then, they showed the makeover. You get to see footage of the Mayfair (DeMille) and most of the 42nd Street theatres in all their seedy glory.