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I’m not trying to change the topic that were on, but I saw this story and thought that it was interesting. Maybe you will too.
Ny theater 1910-1920
Movie-going in the city exploded during the second decade. One 1910 survey found the city’s combined total of movie theaters could seat more than 150,000, precisely why civic reformers and New York clergyman were so terrified of the movies. They claimed a major concern for the city’s “moral health”. As attendance increased, the reformers engineered ordinances to prohibit anyone under 16 from entering a theater without a parent and banned crime depiction on the screen.
At the same time, the city was the main site for film production before movie companies began decamping for the warmth and more varied terrain of Southern California. The Biograph studios on 14th Street alone gave America both Mary Pickford and D. W. Griffith in this period.
But movies were not the only powerful agent of the new decade. This era introduced Irving Berlin, who took black musical idioms and grafted them onto American popular music, and Irene and Vernon Castle, who did the same with black dance. And it was the era of the Ziegfeld Follies, which brought humorists like Will Rogers, Fanny Brice and Eddie Cantor to audiences and scandalized polite society with scantily clad beauties whom Florenz Ziegfeld’s promoted as glorifying the American girl.
Yet as the decade drew to a close, its cultural enmity softened into reconciliation, and it was, surprisingly, the movies that suggested it. In 1913, the Regent Theater, the first movie palace, was built at 116th Street and Seventh Avenue. A year later came the Strand, which seated 4,000, making it the largest motion-picture theater in the country at the time.
What these grand, new movie houses did was make movie-going respectable for the middle classes by refining the venue and elevating the show. Since Nickelodeon theaters were considered to be passe' and for the lower class something new was needed. At the classiest theaters, you could even enjoy a symphony orchestra, a ballet troupe and opera selections before the feature began. It was cultural pastiche, even kitsch, but it aptly symbolized the era: caught between a waning and an ascending culture, and struggling to find a new identity that could merge the two.
Warren….Thanks for the info on the Gotham theater. So, the Fox Folly on this website is the same theater that was located at Graham Ave. and Deveboise St. Then that should be the theater that Jack West was a bouncer at. How about the Amphion?
No luck yet with the Gotham theater but let’s try this one. “There was a Fox Folly Theatre located on the NW corner of Graham Ave. and Deveboise St”. I don’t know if thats the one that her father was a bouncer at.
In the Ridgewood theater messages, we talked about a theater called the Amphion. Not sure if its the same one or not but there was an Amphion theater listed at #437 Bedford Ave near Division ave. Haven’t had a chance to map these yet.
Erwin….Thanks for pointing that out. Alot of the websites that I come across have mis-information. Incorrect dates, addresses, etc. All I wanted to do was find the Gotham theater and I end up being the president of the Mae West fan club. (just kidding)
As for Mae West being half African-American, check this site:
(scroll down to “Description”)
For you Mae West fans: Her mothers name was Matilda Delker Doelger. Her father was John Patrick West AKA “Battling Jack West” a prize fighter who later became a bouncer at the Fox Folly Theater. She had a younger sister and brother named Mildred West and John Edwin West. Besides English, she spoke German, French and Jewish. She wrote plays using the pen name Jane Mast. She is entombed in the Cypress Hills Cemetery at 833 Jamaica Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.
I now know more about Mae West then I ever wanted to. I’m going back to researching theaters.
Jamaica ave was Jamaica Turnpike and before that it was Jamaica Plank Road. Just another reason why it is so difficult to find info on these old theaters.
I only read that inter-racial story on one site so I don’t know how true it is. Nothing of value comes up for the Gotham theater. On one site, instead of the Gotham theater it said that she appeared at the Jamaica theater in 1911. I don’t know if this is important or not but around 1900 Broadway was known as Division.
Taking Mae West on a date today would be a smart move on Eddies part. After all, how much could she eat? Talk about a cheap date!
Seriously, I’m giving up on this Gotham theater. I find nothing on the theater, but lot’s of info on Mae West which I’m really not interested in. Even the info that I find on her is sometimes incorrect. They all agree that she was born in Greenpoint. There are conflicting stories on where she moved after that. I also read something that if true, is new to me. I read that she was half African-American and she enjoyed passing herself off as white. Her father was a boxer and I’m not sure if he was African-American or the mother was. I’m sure that someone else here knows more than I do.
Good one Peter. Now I know that he is one can short of a six pack. He takes deceased women to a theater that doesn’t exist anymore. What a guy!
She “lives” in Florida now? I’m happy to hear that. In her condition, the warm weather will do wonders for her.
I can’t find anything usefull about the Gotham theater. I find lots of things about Mae West, but not the theater itself. When she died, there was a funeral at Forest Lawn for her, but she isn’t there. From what I read, her body was shipped back to NY and she is in the mausoleum at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. If your in the area, “Why not go up there and see her sometime”.
Apollo….Thanks for the additional info. I didn’t read the book that you mentioned, but I did come across the builder Thomas Clark on the web.
Sometimes these articles are misleading or just plain wrong. I read that Mae West moved to Bushwick ave and Euclid ave. That would be a neat trick since the map that I’m looking at shows that Euclid ave is no where near Bushwick ave. That article should have said, she moved to Euclid ave IN Bushwick. I know that it’s East NY but at the turn of the century alot of places in Brooklyn were called Bushwick.
And here is another theater that Mae West was supposed to have appeared at. Payton’s Fulton Street Theater in Brooklyn. I have a feeling that the three theater’s mentioned already were not far from each other.
Erwin….I lost my marbles years ago. I also get confused easily so don’t feel bad. When I search for these theater’s, I rarely find info on the theater that I’m looking for. The most recent example is the Gotham theater. I used 7 search engines for that one and pretty much found nothing about it. What I did find was the Broadway “theater” that Sol Brill owned. I also found the man that built the Halsey theater in Brooklyn. (I already posted that in the Halsey section)
I’m never sure if the info that I find is important or not. I post it here so everyone that reads these messages can decide for themselves. My motto is like Fox News. “I report, you decide”.
Sometimes I get lucky and I find info that leads to a theater that is not listed here. other times the info turns out to be worthless. That’s the chance that you take when you do research on theater’s that date back almost 100 years. Sometimes I might post things that look stupid to some people, but I don’t intend it to look that way.
Anyway, I don’t know when the Broadway theater at 912 opened. The one at 700 Broadway was probably long gone when the larger one did open.
Hi Erwin….The Broadway theater that is listed on this website gives an address of 912 Broadway. The one that I found had an address of 700 Broadway. I assumed that they were two different theaters. I’ll see if I can find out anything more on it.
Thanks for the info Warren. I’ll go back to searching for the Gotham and the Royal theater’s.
BTW…..Mae West was at the Royal theater before she was at the Gotham theater.
1901: “Baby Mae” wins amateur contest at Royal Theater, Brooklyn
1907: Appears in stock at Gotham Theatre, Brooklyn
I found this during one of my marathon theater research sessions:
Thomas A. Clarke (b. 3 Nov 1878 – d. 28 May 1935).
Thomas A. Clarke was a prosperous contractor who built churches, schools and public buildings throughout New York City. He also built the Halsey Theatre, Arcadia Hall and the Broadway Arena in Brooklyn.
While I was searching for info on the Gotham theater, I came across the following:
“The first motion picture theatre in Brooklyn was a nickelodeon called the Broadway Theatre at 700 Broadway, Brooklyn NY in 1904. It was owned by Sol Brill who would later become the owner of a string of motion picture theatres and the head of an investment concern, Meserole Securities Co. Brill’s obituary in the New York Times, (27 Jan. 1932, p. 21) proclaimed (Owner of the first motion picture theatre in Brooklyn). At the time of his death Sol Brill owned 15 theatres in the New York area”.
Is this the same Broadway theater that is listed on this website or did I stumble across something?
Mae West was born Mary Jane West, in 1893, on Herbert Street, in what is now Greenpoint. Her family moved to Bushwick Avenue and Euclid Avenue.
Before she appeared at the Gotham theater, she appeared at the Royal Theater, Brooklyn NY. She appeared at the Gotham theater along with Harry Houdini.
I’m already searching into her career as a child. So far I found that she joined the Hal Clarendon Stock Company based at Brooklyn’s Gotham Theater for four years. That theater is listed as Bushwick on some sites and as Brooklyn on others. If she appeared there for 4 years, that tells me the theater was SOMEWHERE for at least 4 years.
In that case, since the “Fab-4” (us) are on a roll, maybe we can locate this theater.
Good point. This one might be too tough, for even for us. Besides, if it wasn’t a movie theater why bother.
I just did a search and I found a story about Mae West performing as a kid at the Gotham Theater in Bushwick around the year 1900. I guess that it wasn’t a movie theater unless it was converted at a later date. I don’t even know where it was other than being in Bushwick.
Was there a Gotham Theater in Bushwick? If there was, was it a movie theater?
Bway…..Thanks. I’ll tell you why I get confused with this theater. I read somewhere on this site that it was located on Myrtle near Knickerbocker and Greene. Then I find the address for it and when you check that address on a map, you find that address is not by Knickerbocker and Greene but further down Myrtle closer to Wilson.