City Cinemas Cinema 1, 2, and 3

1001 3rd Avenue,
New York, NY 10021

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dave-bronx™ on October 23, 2004 at 12:25 am

Cinema I and II
(now Cinema 1, 2, 3 Third Avenue)
1001 Third Avenue
Date Completed: 1962
Builder: Rugoff Theaters
Architect: Abraham W. Geller Associates
Consulting Theater Architect: Ben Schlanger

This award-winning art film theater was the first duplex, “piggy-back” movie theater built in the United States. The piggy-back idea was developed by Ben Schlanger, who had pioneered a back-to-back duplex theater for the Information Center at Colonial Williamsburg. Cinema I and II was built by Rugoff Theaters to serve as the core of an East Side International Film Center and as a crosstown complement to Lincoln Center, which was being built at the same time but did not include a movie house.

Artwork was an integral part of Abraham Geller’s International Style design. The interior spaces designed by Geller, James McNair, and Norman Ives include a sloping barrel-vaulted ceiling, Danish copper-leaf chandeliers in the upstairs lounge, and an abstract mural by Ilya Bolotowsky in the ground-floor lobby. In 1983, Geller was again hired to divide the larger upstairs auditorium into two, making the theater a triplex.

alex345 on October 21, 2004 at 7:21 am

Thanks for responding – too bad you do not have a city in Florida?

dave-bronx™ on October 20, 2004 at 7:17 pm

I heard he retired to Florida somewhere….

alex345 on October 20, 2004 at 4:34 pm

Does anyone know how to get in contact with Ralph Donnely?

dave-bronx™ on August 23, 2004 at 8:58 am

Nope, wasn’t Ralph…. it was above him. Although I never heard him say so, I don’t think he agreed with certain things that were done there. If he’d had the last word on things, there would have been less radical changes. The Cinemas had a reputation for both programming and design, and nobody was more aware of that than him – he was the one who brought in the original architect to maintain the character of the theatre. However, once the design-phase was underway, higher-ups from out-of-town had other ideas. It used to be a very special place, but with the general-release dreck they play there now, it’s just another plex.

RobertR on August 23, 2004 at 7:36 am

That “someone” talked about above must have been Ralph Donnely.

dave-bronx™ on August 22, 2004 at 1:17 am

BTW, it was built at a cost of $750,000. in 1962, and it was sitting on rented land. The 1988 ‘adjustments’ cost $3 million. In the past few years they finally bought the land underneath it.

When they get the photo function working on this site, I have architects photos of it both when it was completed in 1962 and after the 1988 ‘adjustments’ and will post them.

dave-bronx™ on August 22, 2004 at 12:59 am

Although I worked there at the time, I would agree with ‘fornasetti’ that the place was ruined with the 88 renovation. All it needed was new carpet, wallpaper, new seats and the restoration of the artwork. But the guy in charge at the time just had to have a third screen and one common lobby like a real triplex. Aside from that his only concern was ‘how big is the screen?’ and ‘how many seats?’ If someone is trying to get it landmarked I would suggest they continue their efforts – these people who run it now would sell their mothers for fifty-cents – after all, look what happened to the Murray Hill and the Sutton…..

barrywerks on August 21, 2004 at 11:28 pm

I attended the first showing of “Boccaccio ‘70” in 1962, which was the innaugural attraction at Cinema 1. I was struck by the odd screen which was recessed in a white shadowbox. Black straps were lowered to mask the screen for standard or wide screen showings. Stanley Kubrick later complained that the white walls around the screen caused a reflective glare and he ordered them painted black before he would allow “A Clockwork Orange” to open there in 1971. Also, the theatre was unique in it’s advertising displays which used a three dimensional window (much like a department store) rather than a poster.

br91975 on August 21, 2004 at 9:40 pm

Shortly before the demolition of the Baronet/Coronet commenced in August of 2002, some Midtown East residents launched an effort to gain landmark status for the interior and exterior of the Cinema 1-2-3 property, but little came of it.

fornasetti on August 17, 2004 at 9:01 pm

Cinema 1 and 2 were probably the most prestigious screens in NYC during the 60’s and 70’s. If you got an exclusive run there, your film was set to be noticed.
The 1988 renovation was shameful. Not only has the architecture been destroyed but the current management has changed the fare to much more commercial viewing.
As for the above comment, Nashville was a Cinema 2. I saw it there in the summer of 1975. The first film I saw at Cinema 1 was A Clockwork Orange in January of 1973

dave-bronx™ on July 26, 2004 at 4:59 pm

1001 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Opened 1962 – Abraham W. Geller, Architect – Donald Rugoff/Cinema 5 Ltd, owner – considered to be the first commercially viable two-screen cinema built in the US – Cinema I 700 seats, Cinema II 291 seats – technically not a “twin cinema” – Cinema I is a orchestra-stadium type auditorium on the 2nd and 3rd floor levels of the building with the screen on the east wall, Cinema II, a standard orchestra-type auditorium, nestles sideways underneath in the basement and first floor levels, screen on the south wall. Seperate marquee, entrance, box office and lobby for each cinema. It also operated as two seperate theatres – 2 unit numbers, 2 payrolls, 2 concession inventories etc. Lobbies decorated with modern paintings and other artwork. Specialized in art-house product. Renovated 1988 – Abraham W. Geller, Architect – the large upper theatre was divided by removing front 6 rows of seats, moving screen forward and inserting small cinema in the resulting space, screen on the north wall. Marquees, entrances, boxoffices and lobbies combined to operate as a triplex – new seating installed, rest rooms enlarged, original artwork restored – New seating capacities – Cinema I 532 – Cinema II 290 – Cinema III 165 – presently operated by City Cinemas/Reading Entertainment.

HomegaMan on June 22, 2004 at 8:41 am

I remeber seeing Lawrence Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon” there and thinking it was a masterpiece. My friend Frank and I went to go see it again but the second showng was sold out. The theater was beautiful and you could see where the old majesty of what once was on the ceilings and the sides but I haven’t been there since.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 24, 2004 at 8:57 am

Yes, they definitely were.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 24, 2004 at 8:28 am

Cinema 2 (Cinema II) was where Pontecorvo’s THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS opened to great acclaim in 1967. It was put into the Beekman, a substantially larger theatre, after that. The movie is currently getting a major re-issue, because of its relevance to events in Israel/Palestine and Iraq.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on March 18, 2004 at 8:42 am

The “Cinema 3” at the Plaza Hotel was actually referred to as Cinema III, in a review I have from the New York Times. Since it was a separate theatre in another part of town, it deserves its own listing, which I shall submit.

RobertR on February 17, 2004 at 12:27 pm

I loved all of these theatres. I remember when Cinema 5 had the Cinema Manhasset on Long Island on the Miracle Mile. They would bring the big ones out there, advertising “direct from it’s smash 6 month engagement at Cinema 1”. These would be exclusive to Long Island. Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 had such prestige in the old days,they always played art films exclusive. Now they play commercial films with everyone else and art films day and date with The Angelika or another village location. Cinema 3 at The Plaza was indeed an elegant theatre. I remember a few times being one of 4 or 5 patrons in the place, but when they played good films they sold out. This also reminds me how when we think back on good films from years ago we remember saying “oh I saw that at The Music Hall, or I saw that at The Sutton”. Do we ever say “oh yeah I saw that at AMC’s 99 plex”?

peterdamian on December 31, 2003 at 10:10 am

The Original Cinema 3 at the Plaza Hotel used to offer “reserved seating” for movies that were otherwised difficult to get into. I seem to recall that this started with the Jane Fonda/Vanessa Redgrave film, “Julia” which was also playing at Cinema I and was a huge hit. While this was commonplace with big “roadshow” movies in the Sixties, and has since resurfaced with the Internet and credit card purchasing of movie tickets, at the time it was unusual.

dickdziadzio on December 31, 2003 at 6:59 am

To put in the 3rd screen, they moved the Cinema 1 screen forward about 22 feet and took about 8 feet from the right Cinema 1 auditorium side for the walkway to the new theatre which was built at a left right angle behind the big screen.
Interestly CINEMA 1 faces EAST, CINEMA 2 south, and CINEMA 3 faces north.

peterdamian on December 27, 2003 at 11:57 am

I worked for the Cinema 5 chain between August 1977 and June of 1981. Cinema I was the flagship theatre of the chain, where “The Exorcist” opened in 1973. Cinema II was the lesser house, (“Exorcist II: The Heretic” opened there in 1977, if that’s any indication of status), much smaller, with an auditorium beneath and turned at right angles to the auditorium of Cinema I. The upstairs waiting lounge of Cinema I overlooked Third Ave. and Bloomingdale’s across the street. The waiting area for Cinema II was negligibly small, and I think I recall plants in oblong planters. The walls of both lobbies were lined horizontally with thin strips of wood, painted white. The carpeting was grey or charcoal. Didn’t Cinema I have an escalator to the lounge, upstairs? In the Cinema I auditorium, between shows, the screen was lit with red lights, from below, I think. The auditorium had a very gentle slope with good viewing and a nice wide feeling that made it seem uncrowded. Aisles were on the sides with a concentration of seats in the middle. By contrast, Cinema II, when it was full, felt a little cramped. Ticket holders' lines for both went up to 60th and around the block toward 2nd Ave. I remember seeing “Nasty Habits” at one of the theatres and, at Cinema I, a revival of “Fantasia,” the restored version of “New York, New York” and the opening of Woody Allen’s dreary “Interiors.” Since Walter Reade’s flagship theatres, Baronet and Coronet “twin” were rivals and next door, it’s sometimes hard to remember which movie I saw where, but I believe one of your contributors is mistaken and he may actually have seen “Nashville” at the Baronet, not Cinema I. The mistake could easily be mine. There was a high concentration of theatres in the area, from the Sutton on 57th, up Third Avenue to the Trans-Lux East (which became the Gotham, later), and on 59th there was the 59th St. I and II that became something else later. And across from that, around the corner from the Baronet/Coronet, a tiny theatre, the name of which I’ve forgotten. Cinema 3 used to be at the Plaza Hotel, a supposedly elegant affair, but while it was attractive, it was always empty and no one seemed to know it was there. I don’t think they served refreshments at the original Cinema 3. I can remember seeing Andre Techine’s “Barocco” there and the Maximilian Schell documentary about Dietrich, “Marlene.”

SethLewis on April 24, 2002 at 10:36 pm

As an Eastsider in the 60s, lines curving around 60th Street for the Cinema 1 and 2 were a way of life…The flagships of the Rugoff/Cinema 5 chain Cinema 1 did mostly mainstream exclusive programming and Cinema 2 slightly more arty stuff…The theatres had separate entrances and a serious feel to them. As a kid and teenager I confirm seeing things as varied as Casino Royale, Nashville, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Bang the Drum Slowly, Rotten to the Core, Getting Straight, Adele H, Silent Movie, Dog Day Afternoon here.

The triplexing wasn’t bad with Cinema 1 keeping 500 seats, 2 becoming a bit of a shoebox and 3 being too small really for first run although it is used as such. The 3 had to take on the name 3rd Avenue because Cineplex Odeon was still operating the Cinema 3 in the Plaza Hotel at the time.

When it reopened I remember seeing Batman and Cookie in 1, Quick Change in 2 and a Denzel Washington UK made film called For Queen and Country in 3.

It saddens me a bit to see really trashy mainstream product fly through here like Scary Movie 2 but it is one of the few screens left in the area