New Amsterdam Theatre

214 West 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10036

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caspers42
caspers42 on January 13, 2005 at 5:46 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 3:20 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 11:56 am

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 12, 2005 at 11:03 pm

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 12, 2005 at 10:54 pm

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 5:47 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 4:38 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 6:43 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 27, 2004 at 11:20 pm

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 8:27 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 3:04 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.

DonRosen
DonRosen on December 13, 2004 at 11:13 am

There was a Sam Elliot film (it began with an “S”, I can’t remember the name) where they show the verticle New Amsterdam sign crash onto 42nd Street. How did they do it?

42ndStreetMemories
42ndStreetMemories on July 17, 2004 at 2:31 pm

In the 50s & 60s, the New Amsterdam & The Lyric on the north side of the street were the only two showing first-run fare (usually following their Broadway debuts). They would show the same double features as the RKO & Loew’s chains but at discounted prices. Beautiful, beautiful theater and I was delighted to see Lion King there, thirty years after my last visit. Jerry the K

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 1, 2004 at 10:14 am

In New York City, the Regent, Strand, Rialto, and Rivoli pre-dated the Capitol as purpose-built “movie palaces.” There might have been others as well. And that’s just in NYC. I can’t speak for the rest of the nation.

JimRankin
JimRankin on July 1, 2004 at 9:40 am

The NEW AMSTERDAM theatre is one of the finest theatres in the nation, and we are blessed that the Disney organization performed a remarkable restoration of this beauty for us all, but in one quarter it has been labeled as the first Movie Palace, and that is simply not true. In the VHS video “America’s Castles: Movie Palaces” produced in the year 2000, detailed at Amazon.com: (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767015363/qid%3D1088697989/sr%3D11-1/ref%3Dsr%5F11%5F1/002-8565079-4721607), several theatres are shown as examples of the American movie palace, and the impression is given that it was the NEW AMSTERDAM that was the first. Contrary to this idea (which suited the aims of the producers of this originally cable-TV program), the idea of what was the very first Movie Palace will depend upon just how one defines that phenomenon. When the producers of the 2003 PBS TV series “History Detectives” (viewable as a PDF file at: View link ) were asked if the AL RINGLING THEATRE in Baraboo, Wis. was the very first movie palace, they turned to the nationally recognized authority on the subject for the answer: The Theatre Historical Soc. of America (www.HistoricTheatres.org ) and asked their Ex. Dir. what the Society’s standard was. Ex. Dir. Richard Sklenar replied that for a theatre to have been a movie palace it had to have been (1) built as a movie theatre, (2) have a workable stage, and (3) have more than 1,000 seats. By that composite standard neither the NEW AMSTERDAM nor the AL RINGLING qualify, and they determined that the CAPITOL THEATRE of New York City in 1919 was the first. Therefore, while the NEW AMSTERDAM did show movies for part of its life, it could not be called a “movie palace” by the usual and customary definition of the term, even if it is shown in a commercially produced video on the subject.

JimRankin
JimRankin on March 25, 2004 at 7:48 am

The NEW AMSTERDAM theatre is, of course, named after the first name the Dutch colonists gave to the island of Manhattan, which the British later changed to New York, but the history of the city is not what distinguishes this notable vaudeville theatre; it’s unique decor is. It is possibly the last of the Art Nouveau style theatres in the nation, but unquestionably the best in any case. So notable is this design by Herts and Tallant, that in 1978 the Theatre Historical Society of America resolved to do one of their ANNUALS about this achievement. As if the appurtenances of the physical theatre were not enough to distinguish it, there is the fabulous decor using the sinuous forms of the style to create a mythical garden of allusion and illusion. Central to this design are the many wonderful murals which are fully featured in close-ups in this ANNUAL, as well as many photos of the rich ornamentation, both in the main theatre and in the roof garden theatre: the “Aerial Gardens.” Acquaint yourself with Art Nouveau and its artisans through this wonderful exposition in the 42 pages of the booklet.

PHOTOS AVAILABLE:
To obtain any available Back Issue of either “Marquee” or of its ANNUALS, simply go to the web site of the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA at:
www.HistoricTheatres.org
and notice on the sidebar of their first page the link “PUBLICATIONS: Back Issues List” and click on that and you will be taken to their listing where they also give ordering details. The “Marquee” magazine is 8-1/2x11 inches tall (‘portrait’) format, and the ANNUALS are also soft cover in the same size, but in the long (‘landscape’) format, and are anywhere from 26 to 40 pages. Should they indicate that a publication is Out Of Print, then it may still be possible to view it via Inter-Library Loan where you go to the librarian at any public or school library and ask them to locate which library has the item by using the Union List of Serials, and your library can then ask the other library to loan it to them for you to read or photocopy. [Photocopies of most THSA publications are available from University Microforms International (UMI), but their prices are exorbitant.]

Note: Most any photo in any of their publications may be had in large size by purchase; see their ARCHIVE link. You should realize that there was no color still photography in the 1920s, so few theatres were seen in color at that time except by means of hand tinted renderings or post cards, thus all the antique photos from the Society will be in black and white, but it is quite possible that the Society has later color images available; it is best to inquire of them.

Should you not be able to contact them via their web site, you may also contact their Executive Director via E-mail at:
Or you may reach them via phone or snail mail at:
Theatre Historical Soc. of America
152 N. York, 2nd Floor York Theatre Bldg.
Elmhurst, ILL. 60126-2806 (they are about 15 miles west of Chicago)

Phone: 630-782-1800 or via FAX at: 630-782-1802 (Monday through Friday, 9AM—4PM, CT)

nhpbob
nhpbob on November 15, 2003 at 2:50 pm

To see what this theater looked like before the Disney organization restored it for “The Lion King” Broadway show, watch the Louis Malle film “VANYA ON 42ND ST.”, which is a fascinating version of the Chekhov play “Uncle Vanya” where actors such as the not-yet-famous Julianne Moore, Wallace Shawn, and some other great actors, meet on the sidewalk, and go inside the decrepit theater, where they segue into the play seamlessly from their everyday dialogue, wearing their modern-day clothes.
They actually met for years before this film was made, rehearsing this play as they all loved it, but i’m not sure if they met in this very theater, or was the decision to use it only for the movie? Regardless, it is cool to see a movie palace in between its decrepitude and restoration….in a movie!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on February 11, 2003 at 7:03 pm

In my opinion, this absolutely amazing space is the most beautifully stunning theater still in existence in NYC. The attention to detail during the restoration is astounding. The theater itself is every bit as much an attraction as is The Lion King (or whatever show might happen to occupy it’s stage in the future). The only debateable decision made by those who oversaw the theater’s refit may be the decision to refurbish the boxy marquee and art-deco vertical sign and clock that rises above it rather than restore the facade to it’s original 1903 configuration. The signage was put in place after the theater converted from legit theater to movie house in the 1930’s and obscures some pretty intricate architectural flourishes on the exterior.

WilliamMcQuade
WilliamMcQuade on March 20, 2002 at 8:26 am

Architects were Herts and Tallants who also designed the Lyceum which is I believe older than the New Amsterdam and is a few blocks up in Times Square Area. I believe the New Amsterdam opened in 1903

trishahalloran
trishahalloran on February 16, 2002 at 1:10 pm

This past Sept. my husband and I took our children to see Lion King. My daughter got the stuffed Nala bean bag. This past Wed. Feb 13th I went with her on a class trip to see it again. This time I bought her Simba. The very next day, Valentines Day, I had to rush my daughter to the emergency room and she had surgery. While in the emergency room someone actually stole my 8yr old daughter’s Simba & Nala. When she woke up after surgery they were the first thing she asked for. She is devasted someone stole them and I am desperate to replace them. I have searched for a phone # to try and contact someone at the theater or for merchandising to no avail. I found one number but it was disconnected. If anyone has any information on how I can get these replaced please email me at Thank you.

jonathanaminoff
jonathanaminoff on April 24, 2001 at 10:30 am

I will be attending the Lion King MAy 13, 2001 at 1pm show. It is a very special day since I will be proposing to my girl friend that day. I bought front row tickets and would like to speak to someone at the theatre to possibly do something special there. Please call me at 917-968-6986. thank you