Astor Theatre

1531 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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spencerst
spencerst on August 29, 2005 at 4:59 pm

miracle of our lady of fatima=1952
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spencerst
spencerst on August 29, 2005 at 4:55 pm

miracle of our lady of fatima=1952
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Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on August 29, 2005 at 5:44 am

During the Christmas holidays of 1950, both the Astor and the adjacent Victoria had the NYC premiere engagements of long-awaited film versions of Broadway stage hits. The Astor had Universal’s “Harvey,” with James Stewart replacing stage star Frank Fay, and the Victoria presented Columbia’s “Born Yesterday,” with Judy Holliday re-creating her original role (and going on to winning an ‘Oscar’). On the stage, Holliday had been a last-minute replacement for Jean Arthur, who developed “cold feet” during the Boston tryout.

RobertR
RobertR on August 27, 2005 at 8:58 am

Yes Reade operated it for a time late in the game.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on August 26, 2005 at 8:35 pm

I see in the ad for the Carrol Baker picture that the Astor was listed as a Walter Reade theatre. I didn’t know Reade booked this house.

RobertR
RobertR on August 26, 2005 at 5:50 pm

By 1969 the Astor and Carroll Baker had seen better days
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Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on July 25, 2005 at 6:23 pm

That, plus the sign above the marquee that said the name of the picture.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 25, 2005 at 4:25 pm

Jerry, that is indeed a nice shot. That Saul Bass graphic on the Victoria marquee is so powerful, like all his graphics and logos. Apparently that’s all that was indeed for people to know that the movie was “The Man With the Golden Arm”.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on July 25, 2005 at 4:22 pm

Check out this unusual ad, under the one for “Kiss Me, Stupid” at the Astor.

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They’re acting like “Goldfarb” was a movie the world was waiting for. Or maybe Fox knew it was a stinker, and figured an ad like this might drum up some curiosity in it?

42ndStreetMemories
42ndStreetMemories on July 25, 2005 at 9:27 am

Here’s a nice shot from 1955 of the Astor & Victoria. j

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RobertR
RobertR on July 24, 2005 at 1:21 pm

Main St To Broadway at the Astor
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RobertR
RobertR on July 24, 2005 at 4:02 am

I worked for William B. Williams the legendary WNEW-Am deejay when I was in college. He did the narration for the 1968 re-issue trailer of “Around the World in 80 Days”, which opened here at the Astor.
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RobertR
RobertR on July 24, 2005 at 3:59 am

I worked for William B. Williams the legendary WNEW-Am deejay when I was in college. He did the narration for the 1968 re-issue trailer of “Around the World in 80 Days”, which opened here at the Astor.
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BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 20, 2005 at 11:25 am

Benjamin—

Yes, chain mail decorated the Victoria. I didn’t mention that above, because I’d already written about it in a post on the Victoria’s page. (That post appeared on 19 January ‘05; in looking for it, I found that the first substantive post I made in CinemaTreasures occurred one year ago today, 20 July '04—I’ll light a candle on my tofu cake tonight.)

I variously identified the chain mail as “steel medallions” and “aluminum medallions” without inquiring further: Wm Morrison likely describes it, and his book might have been the one I referred to through memory last January (I vividly recall a detailed description of how the renovators broke trough the rear wall and extended the length into the alley behind the Astor and Bijou).

In any case, the wall was covered with red velvet, matching the red velvet traveler curtain on the stage-apron, and the chain mail sat as a skin over that covering. It gleamed in light reflected from the screen, bathing the house in a silvery glow with b&w movies and in an irridescent glow with color films. The effect was very unusual. I should also note that with the introduction of wide screen in ‘53, a few feet were sliced off each end of the narrow proscenium to accommodate the new format. Even still, the screen remained the smallest of any I remember in the major Times Square houses (I exclude the original Trans-Lux houses).

Yes, if memory again serves, the balcony floors were of old-fashioned (and quite creaky) wood—though I might be mistaken here. The overall impression that I retain conveys a sense of dissonance between the two largely unremodeled balconies and the ‘48 main floor renovation. The first film I saw at the Victoria was “Joan of Arc” in '49, a film that welded me to the fourteenth century for longer than it should have; the last was “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” in '68, chiefly because that day an earlier showing at the Beekman was sold out.

Marquees: yes, they mirrored each other in style, though the Astor’s had greater length because the lobby’s frontage on B'way was longer.

The Lunt-Fontanne: The oddest feature of that theater as both a movie house and as a playhouse, I recall, was the downward sloping, horizontally splayed beaux-arts cornucopias on each side of the proscenium, retained even after the ‘58 renovation eliminated the second balcony. Since I haven’t been in that theater since the '99 renovation, I wonder what that job entailed. I wish there were a site like this for NYC live playhouses.

Benjamin
Benjamin on July 20, 2005 at 9:52 am

There were indeed a few instances in my July 18th post where I was thinking “Astor” but typed out “Victoria”! Thanks BoxOfficeBill for pointing it out. (I proofread my post a few times, but this mistake never really registered.) Here’s the corrected (and also slightly amended and extended) version of that section:

Judging from my vague recollections of the Broadway area in the early 1960s, it seems to me that the remodeling of the Astor Theater is a rare example of a wonderful, fully worthwhile remodeling job. (Most remodeling jobs, in my opinion, usually destroy the integrity and beauty of a design without creating anything nearly as good as what has been destroyed.) Whenever I would go to Times Sq. area, it was a real treat to walk by the Astor, and I always wanted to go see a movie at this theater — although, for some reason I never wound up going to the Astor until the early 1970s when a friend took me to a press preview of “A Man Called Horse.”)

As a number of commentators have mentioned, the striking interior of the theater was brought out to the street in this redesign. This was done, by continuing the “wallpaper” (the abstract mural, “New York Summer Night”) outside of the auditorium, through the entrance lobby and out to the area beneath the marquee. (From reading the account in the Stern book, though, it appears that they are saying that the “wallpaper” didn’t quite continue out to beneath the marquee. This may be so. But I think the entrance to the theater was unusually open so that you did get this “effect.” Plus, the terrazo flooring beneath the marquee did extend into the lobby, so that may have contributed to the inside/outside “effect.”)

I believe both the wallpaper mural and the Ventian glass terrazzo flooring were abstract compositions that used lots of cobalt blue, lots of black and maybe some bits of red(?). (And as the Stern book mentions, it also contained spotches of yellow and white too.)

All of this was very jazzy and glamorous (especially to a kid) in an early-1960s modern kind of way.

A picture of the box office / ticket lobby of the neighboring Victoria can be seen on page 447 of the Stern book, and it seems that Edward Durrell Stone created a somewhat similar, but more modest, inside/outside effect in his 1948-1949 remodeling of the Victoria. If I recall correctly the photo in the Stern book correctly, it seems like the lights beneath the marquee also extend into the tunnel entrance lobby.


In terms of the location of the “bulk” of the Victoria Theater, what I really meant to say was that the no part of the theater’s auditorium was really located on Broadway (its official address), and that if the theater auditorium could be said to “front” on any street at all, the bulk of the street frontage was on 46th St., instead — just the way that no part of the Astor’s auditorium was actually located on Broadway, but “fronted” on 45th St. instead. (Similarly, most of the theaters that were located “on” 42nd St. had entrances on 42nd St., but were really located “on” either 41st or 43rd Sts.)

However, it is, indeed, probably true that the short side of the Victoria faced the street, while the long side (especially after the extension) went into the block — and that the long side of the Astor theater ran parallel to 45th St. while the short side went into the block. So, perhaps “bulk” isn’t the right word to convey this meaning.


I was only guessing that the Astor was enlarged and extended in a way that was similar to that of the Victoria’s enlargement because of the following in Bryan Krefft’s intro on the Bijou Theater page:

“In 1959, when the next-door Astor was being remodeled and enlarged, it required cutting into the Bijou’s auditorium and part of its stage, reducing seating to around 300.”

I don’t know the source of the info, so it is hard to determine its accuracy. But the extension onto the Bijou property, if it did happen at all, does seem to be rather dramatic, and it’s hard to imagine why else they would have done it, especially since they were also eliminating the stage and backstage facilities of the Astor (rather than enlarging them).


It’s fascinating — and very informative — to hear BoxOfficeBill’s more detailed first-hand recollections of both the Astor and the Victoria. I think he points out, directly and indirectly, a number of interesting things about these theaters (e.g., the rakes of the two auditoriums) that are overlooked by most books and articles.

And even where this info is available to some degree elsewhere, his info helps put the info into better perspective. For instance, even in photos, some of the strangeness of the Victoria remodeling (like the shape of the resulting auditorium) comes through. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if the strangeness is a result of the photo or if it was really there and perceptible.

By the way, although the most common photo of the interior that I’ve seen [e.g., the one in the Stern book and elsewhere] does not show the existence of any balconies — which makes the auditorium look even stranger (long, narrow, wierdly shaped) — the photo in the Williamson book does show a bit of the front of both the first and second balconies. But it’s also interesting to hear that the wooden floors of the remodeled Victoria’s second balcony still creaked when BoxOfficeBill saw “Paths of Glory” and “Dr. Strangelove” there.

In the books I’ve read they mention that the Edward Durrell Stone remodeled interior of the Victoria was “decorated” with “wall paper” that was essentially “chain mail” made up of discarded metal film reels. I wonder how true this is — and how much extra it cost them to keep this complicated, 3-D “wallpaper” clean and dust free?!

I also wonder about the remodeled marquees of the two theaters. In my recollection, they were identical theater marquee “models” (with the same ornatmental trim) that made the theaters seem like twins — and both of these marquees also seemed to have a slight resemblence to the “twin” marquees that were installed at the Helen Hayes and Lunt-Fontanne around the corner on 46th St. All four marquees seemed to be modernized (circa the late 1950s) versions of ornate turn of the century metal and glass canopies that came out of a single manufacturer’s catalog.

(My guess, if the marquees of the Astor and Victoria did, indeed, mirror one another and bear a resemblance to those around the corner, is that even if all four theaters were owned by different people, all four of the owners probably bought their marquee from the same manufacturer and this kind of marquee was his big seller at the time.)

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on July 19, 2005 at 4:21 pm

Benjamin—

Thanks for a smartly worded and largely correct summary. I’d modify a few details and ambiguities in paragraphs 11-13.

“The Astor was extended and enlarged in a similar way”: The Astor was enlarged in a similar way by virtue of eliminating the stage (as had been done to the Victoria in ‘48), but it was not extended. Instead, the entire interior was gutted, the second balcony removed, the proscenium and stage area removed, and the remaining space, rather squarish and boxy, received a modern treatment with accoustic walls and mural design.

The Victoria was enlarged by gutting the proscenium and box seats, eliminating the stage, and extending the stage wall out toward the Astor and Bijou by about 12 feet. But the second balcony remained, and so did the original curve to the side walls as they reached out to where the proscenium had been; the rake in the orchestra floor remained so that it first descended, then rose slightly as it approached where the orchestra pit had been, and then dipped again and descended toward the new screen area. The effect was odd, as the floor level consequently waved down and up and down again. The rake at the renovated Astor was conventional and had evidently been completely refigured after the gutting.

“The Victoria Theater is a rare example of a wonderful, fully worthwhile remodeling job”: These words seem to me to describe the Astor rather than the Victoria, for the reasons given above. The Victoria’s antiquated second balcony (I remember its wooden floors creaking when I saw “Paths of Glory” and “Dr. Strangelove” there in their original runs), the curvature of its walls, and the make-do raking represented compromises that the remodeling of the Astor did not make.

“The interior of the theater was brought out to the street in this redesign”: You mean the Astor, not the Victoria. The latter’s tunnel entrance wrapped around a cigar-store fronting on B'way, and then (as you correctly describe in par. 6) opened onto the left side of the rear orchestra promenade (whose exit doors in turn opened on to W. 46 Street, as it the Booth theater a block away (see “The Pillowman”: it’s truly great, a cracked rewriting of Shakespeare’s “Tempest”).

The Hagstrom map for the Astor and Victoria is not accurate to scale. When you say that the bulk of the Victoria was on 46 Street, that’s not true: only the rear wall faced that street; the bulk of the theater then reached inward with a long narrow thrust to the south, not at all squarish as was the Astor.

A final comment about Bryan Krefft’s informative initial description on this page: It identifies the Astor’s predominant colors as red, gold, and ivory. That might have been true when the theater opened. By the time I first visited it in the late ‘40s, it had received a Yale Blue drapery treatment that covered the entire proscenium and box-seat walls (with box-seats removed). The ivory and gold of the ceiling and remaining walls had faded, or were barely visible in the dimly lit interior. The '59 renovation of course deployed blue, black, and green as you describe.

Yes, the books by Stern and Morrison are wonderful. Thanks for bringing them to our attention.

Benjamin
Benjamin on July 19, 2005 at 2:17 pm

Here is most of the interesting stuff on the Astor Theater from “New York, 1960”:

“On December 17, 1959, the fifty-three-year old Astor Theater (George Keister, 1906) was reopened after undergoing a million-dollar renovation to transform it into what was described as a ‘complete composition in abstract art.’ [there is a footnote that cites a number of sources] … . As redesigned by John McNamara, the veteran theater architect, and the artist Buffie Johnson, the theater now presented Times Square with a marquee of tiny, twinkling white lights that brought to glittering life a sidewalk of Venetian glass terrazzo squares. The same flooring was carried through to the lobby, which also contained a twenty-five-by-ten foot continuation of Johnson’s "New York Summer Night, a huge abstract oil painting covering both side walls of the auditorium. Forty-five feet high and ninety-seven feet long, it was made up of 209 sections executed in a range of blues, intersected by a network of black lines and white, yellow and red spotches.”

The book also mentions that, “The remodeled interior featured a cantilevered mezzanine in place of the old boxes and a new proscenium installed to accommodate the fifty-by-twenty-foot wall-to-wall screen, which could be configured as either flat or curved in accordance with the projection requirements of a given film.”

By the way, although this book may seem like a coffee table-type book, it is also a scholarly and well-researched book. Nevertheless, in a work of this size (the last page of text is page 1,213!) there are bound to be errors and oversimplifications, and I believe I have found a few myself. Apparently a good portion of the info comes from things like contemporary newspaper accounts, for instance, and such accounts can themselves be inaccurate, poorly written or poorly edited. So although I think most of what they say is accurate, chances are that it is second- or third-hand info — and written up by people who aren’t necessarily theater or movie buffs.

Benjamin
Benjamin on July 18, 2005 at 5:27 pm

More information about the remodeling of the Astor (and also about the 1948-1949 remodeling of the Victoria — a/k/a the Gaiety) can be found in “New York, 1960” by Robert A.M. Stern (the famous architect) et al.

On page 441, there is a photo of the interior of the Astor after the 1959 remodeling. It shows the fantastic abstract mural, “New York Summer Night,” by Buffie Johnson that covered the eggshell (?) interior of the theater like wall paper. (I believe it was made up of hundreds of smaller panels.)

On page 442 of this book, Stern et al. have a paragraph or two that discusses the remodeling of the theater with some detail.

From the Stern book, as well as from some other sources (like a Hagstom map I have and the William Morrison book, “Broadway Theatres: History and Architecture,” that is mentioned on the Victoria/Gaiety page), here’s my understanding of the relationship of the Astor to the Victoria:

The bulk of the auditorium of the Astor Theater was really on 45th St. The seats faced to the west, away from Broadway. (If I recall correctly, the emergency exits along the left side of the orchestra level of the auditorium led directly out onto 45th St.) There was a small, thin office building filling in the space between the back of the auditorium and Broadway. A “tunnel entrance lobby” led through the ground floor of the office building, from Broadway to the back of the orchestra of this auditorium.

The bulk of the Victoria (Gaiety) Theater was really on 46th St., and, in this case, the auditorium faced to the south. A small, thin office building filled in the space between the auditorium and Broadway itself. As with the Astor, a tunnel entrance lobby went through the ground floor of the office building — but in the case of the Victoria it appears to have led to the left side of the auditorium, rather then to the back of the auditorium.

The 46th St. facade of the Victoria Theater was very handsome, and I wonder if this was the original main entrance to the theater when it was a “legit” theater, and if the Broadway entrance (through the office building) was a secondary entrance — or even a later addition. (I believe there is a photo of this facade in the William Morrison book.)

From various photographs that I’ve seen (I don’t recall exactly where, however), it seems that each of the office buildings originally had a small billboard and that these billboards became larger and larger over time. Eventually both office buildings were covered by the very same billboard, and the very last billboard was enormous — it covered the entire blockfront and even, I believe, wrapped around to the sides of the buildings. (This is the billboard that advertised, among other movies, “The Bible.”)

Looking back at my own feelings, and looking at old photographs of what was there in the early days, this billboard was actually too large in my opinion. For one thing, since it was a painted billboard (and not one made up of lights, for instance) it was kind of drab and ugly. But even if it had been made of lights, I still think it was too large as it towered over Times Sq. — at its narrowest point, yet! — and made you feel like you were at the foot of a gigantic ugly wall. Looking at the photos of old Broadway, I think the Times Sq. was much nicer before this gigantic billboard — in the earlier photos, Times Sq. still look like a real city intersection, and it still had some sort of human scale.

When the Victoria was remodeled in 1948-1949 (see the Victoria / Gaiety page for more details), the theater was extended and enlarged by moving the rear stage wall further back to add more seats. This put the screen of the Victoria virtually on the right side wall of the Astor Theater.

When the Astor Theater was remodeled (not sure if this was the 1959 remodeling), the Astor was extended and enlarged in a similar way, I believe. (This info is mentioned on the the Bijou Theater page of Cinema Treasures.)

From my vague recollections of the Broadway area in the early 1960s, it seems to me that the remodeling of the Victoria Theater is a rare example of a wonderful, fully worthwhile remodeling job. (In my opinion, remodeling jobs usually destroy the integrity and beauty of a design without creating anything nearly as good as what was destroyed.) Whenever I would go to Times Sq. area, it was a real treat to walk by the Victoria, and I always wanted to go see a movie at this theater — although, for some reason I never wound up going to the Victoria until the early 1970s when a friend took me to a press preview of “A Man Called Horse” [correct name?].)

As a number of commentators have mentioned, the interior of the theater was brought out to the street in this redesign. This was done, by carrying the wallpaper (the abstract mural, “New York Summer Night”) out of the auditorium, through the entrance lobby and out to the area beneath the marquee. They also did this, I think, with the Venetian glass terrazzo flooring. I believe both the wallpaper mural and the Ventian glass terrazzo flooring were abstract compositions that used lots of cobalt blue, lots of black and maybe some bits of red(?).

All of this was very jazzy, modern glamorous (especially to a kid) in a early 1960s kind of way.

A picture of the box office / ticket lobby of the Victoria can be seen on page 447 of the Stern book, and it seems that Edward Durrell Stone created a somewhat similar, but more modest, effect in his 1948-1949 remodeling of the Victoria. If I recall correctly, in the photo it seems like the lights beneath the marquee also extend into the tunnel entrance lobby.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on July 18, 2005 at 6:47 am

Joe-Boston,MA;
The Gaiety Theatre is listed here /theaters/2945/

JoeMcKendry
JoeMcKendry on July 18, 2005 at 6:41 am

I am interested in finding out some information about the Gaiety theater, and wondered if anyone knows much about it’s history or could direct me to a book that does. It seems like it went through a bunch of changes in the late 30’s and early 40’s. I’ve seen pictures with the Minsky name, and a big burlesque sign. Then it’s simply the Gaiety with smaller letters on the marquee that I couldn’t make out in the photo (c. 1938). I also read from an earlier posting that it was Laffmovie by 1942. Can anyone clarify what type of place this was – stage, theater, etc – and what changes it went through?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 18, 2005 at 2:47 am

Please see my post of January 26, 2005, for info about the modernization of the Astor, which did require the theatre to be closed while the work was going on.

CelluloidHero2
CelluloidHero2 on July 18, 2005 at 2:38 am

TC – Excellent photo of the Astor

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on July 14, 2005 at 7:03 am

The Astor and the Victoria were two separate theaters until Marriott slaughtered them.
The street long sign above them often advertised films that played at neither theater. However it seems that Loews State across the Street would advertise there frequently(The Bible, Dr Dolittle, the Godfather, Great Gatsby etc.)

br91975
br91975 on July 14, 2005 at 6:38 am

One place to turn for a photo of the modernized Astor auditorium, mlobel, is the 1997 edition of Nicholas Van Hoogstraten’s book, ‘Lost Broadway Theatres’. Several copies are available throughout the NYPL system (http://www.nypl.org); if you want to purchase one, I’d recommend checking any Shakespeare & Company, Barnes & Noble, or Borders location in the city (the Strand, which would normally be my personal first choice, only has in stock at the moment one copy of the 1991 edition, which I cannot attest contains the same photo as the 1997 edition).

mlobel
mlobel on July 14, 2005 at 5:46 am

Vincent et al. – Thanks for the helpful replies. Just so I get this right, even after the 1959 modernization the Astor and Victoria were still two separate theatres, yes? (That is to say they were two distinct physical spaces.) But they shared the same enlarged billboard? Was it always dual engagement, or did they at times show different films? I know this is pretty specific, but does anyone know when exactly (what months) the Astor was shut down for the modernization? It seems like it was a pretty radical modernization, both interior and exterior; I’ve seen photos of the original theater (James Dean, etc.), but does anyone know of photos taken after the modernization? Thanks!