Ziegfeld Theatre

141 West 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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hardbop on April 14, 2005 at 9:54 am

The latest and hopefully last of the “Star Bores” films will be opening next month I believe. I’m sure we’ll start to see the fanatics camping out on the sidewalk waiting to get into the first screening. They literally pitch tents and camp out in Midtown Manhattan days, if not weeks, in advance of the “Star Bores” movies.

Benjamin on April 14, 2005 at 8:48 am

I’m not sure about this, but I always assumed that the Ziegfeld Theater was part of the same zoning lot as the skyscraper next door (and that the skyscraper got a zoning bonus for providing the through-block “park” separating the two).

If that’s is the case, then I think there would some kind of constraint as to what could be built on the Ziegfeld site — since the skyscraper next door had already not only utilized all the allowable commercial space for the zoning lot, but was bonused for the through block “park” to boot.

If this is true, and I’m not mistaken, this is actually a pretty clever use of space under the existing zoning regulations (whether these regulations are good urbanism or not, is a different question). On the Avenue, you have a tall skyscraper utilizing the allowable commercial space, with front and side “plazas” and a through block pedestrian “park” boosting the amount of space the skyscraper can have. Plus you have a low-rise theater, with a parking garage entrance (below the theater on the 55th St. side) on the side streets, utilizing the areas that cannot be built up too much. (And, I’m guessing, that the parking garage space extends beneath the through block “park.”)

hardbop on April 14, 2005 at 8:48 am

I pretty sure that Clearview doesn’t own the real estate. I worked with a guy whose brother-in-law was a mega-rich real estate mogul and he mentioned in passing that his brother-in-law “owned the Ziegfeld” among other things.

William on April 14, 2005 at 8:47 am

It looks like the Ziegfeld Theatre is at a point in it’s life that the theatres in Beverly Hills went through in the mid 1970’s. The three palaces in Beverly Hills (Warner Beverly Hills, Fox Wilshire, Beverly). They would still get booked with major releases during the year from the studios. And most of the year be only running evening performances during the week. And finally going to running the classic Roadshow prints that were available. At that time there was many prints to choose from, that were still runable and you had real projectionists manning the booths.
Pacific Theatres had a few locations that they showed little motivation in rebuilding. In Los Angeles there are a few of these Deluxe type theatres and they are doing killer business. The ArcLight in Hollywood, The Grove in Park La Brea area near the Farmers Market and The Bridge near Culver City & Marina Del Rey area of Los Angeles. For the $14.00 admission price you get the Deluxe service that was once availible for the price of any ticket and validated parking for about 3-4 hours.

br91975 on April 14, 2005 at 7:10 am

Good point from both you, Bob, and William and Warren, too, but, presuming Clearview either owns the building which houses the Ziegfeld or could, at least in theory, negotiate with the landlord to build an ArcLight-like complex around the Ziegfeld, what are the odds they’d actually do so? From what I can tell (at least based on their properties in Manhattan), Clearview has shown little motivation to build any new properties or add onto the ones they already own (or hold leases on) and with the ongoing financial troubles of Cablevision, such a venture would seem unlikely.

VincentParisi on April 14, 2005 at 6:56 am

When Funny Girl played at the Criterion in ‘68 a mezz seat(considered the best place for a movie though not by me) for a Saturday night was $6.00. A top Broadway musical for orch would cost you $15.00. This means that a roadshow mezz seat(which of course does not and will not never exit again- the Ziegfeld is really far back orch)would cost you today about $40.00. Then if in line with contemporary avarice we were to discuss Premium Seating a theater then could charge $100 for a hit roadshow film.

William on April 13, 2005 at 5:25 pm

BobT, Thats an idea.

Does Clearview own the building or are they just tenant with a lease?

There are a few companies that operate Deluxe type plex theatres that charge more than the going rate of admission.

BobT on April 13, 2005 at 4:29 pm

Just look at the photo above, all that space over the theatre. Wonder who has the air rights? Leaving the main auditorium alone and building up would secure it’s future.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on April 13, 2005 at 3:55 pm

For $14 per ticket, it should work well, or I’d demand a refund! That’s about $4 more than the going rate…Long before “the old Roadshow days,” ushers showed patrons to their seats, regardless of the price of admission. Of course, many people preferred to find their own seats, but it was reassuring that you could ask an usher for help if you needed it.

William on April 13, 2005 at 3:08 pm

They use the reserved seat ticket policy at the ArcLight Theatre complex (Cinerama Dome) in Hollywood. Tickets are around $14.00 and it works well. You go up to the box office and the cashier shows you a seating plan of the auditorium and then a screen shows whats available for that show. When you get to the auditorium the usher will show you to your seat. Just like the old Roadshow days in the theatres. Before Pacific Theatres built the ArcLight complex the Cinerama Dome was doing about the same amount of business as the Ziegfeld. Both are single screen First Run presentation houses.
But now since Pacific built the extra screens, this theatre complex is doing killer business. The arclight complex is what we really need in Manhattan. The only way this theatre is going to last is if Clearview could build a multi-screen plex next door and operate it like the ArcLight complex in Hollywood.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on April 13, 2005 at 2:24 pm

Hardbop, I was at the Ziegfeld’s first public screening of “Last Temptation” with the cops stationed at the exits and at the sides of the screen, and I too thought a bomb or some kind of big disruption was going to happen in the theater near the end of the movie.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on April 13, 2005 at 2:21 pm

You’re welcome, CC. The show will be on CBS June 21st (I think), and I hope the Moses quote makes the final cut.

chconnol on April 13, 2005 at 1:00 pm

Bill: Thanks so much for the list! And my favorite quote is there!!!!

hardbop on April 13, 2005 at 12:10 pm

I was at a Q&A a couple of years ago where former NYT film critic Janet Maslin interviewed Harvey Weinstein of Miramax and in that discussion he expressed worry about the future of the Ziegfeld. I do remember walking by one night and they were having the premier for Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown.” In the lobby Harvey was there with Q, Mira Sorvino (Q’s then paramour), Bridgit Fonda and I forget who else getting their picture snapped.

Some people might remember this, but I think shortly after Clearview took control of the Ziegfeld they put in place a dunderhead policy regarding “pick your seat.” I’m not even sure how it worked, but I think it was tailored for people who reserved tickets over the phone. So, you couldn’t just walk up to the box office, buy a ticket and sit anywhere you pleased (getting a good seat has never been a problem in the capacious Ziegfeld).) You would buy a ticket and have to pick where you wanted to sit. It was awful annoying and it was quickly abandoned. Anyone remember that fiasco?

And I remember going here to see one of the recent “Star Bores” films and specifically wanted to see it at the Ziegfeld because it was one of two places in Manhattan where they were projecting digitally. When I got there, they said the digital equipment had broken and they would be screening a regular film print.

I also remember viewing Scorsese’s “Last Temptation of Christ” here on original release and kept thinking that someone had planted a bomb in the theatre. The screening went off, of course, without a hitch.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on March 22, 2005 at 11:50 am

CConnolly: Back in February you were posting on the Capitol Theater page about “The Ten Commandments.” Well, the American Film Institute will be announcing their 100 Greatest Movie Quotes in June, and here is the link to the 400 nominated quotes they’ll be choosing from. Check out #348.


Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on March 22, 2005 at 5:42 am

Tommy was one of the first movies I saw at the Ziegfeld and I can remember it as if it was yesterday. The sound and spectacle were awesome; and coming from the suburbs (RKO Twin, anyone?) the theater was a revelation. Who knew you could see a movie in such a glamorous and elegant setting.

Astyanax on March 21, 2005 at 8:44 pm

Seeing Tommy at it’s premiere engagement at the Ziegfeld was truly an incredible experience. The pulsing stereo sound and Tina Turner’s performance were incomparable. Could only be fully appreciated in the deluxe surroundings of the Z.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on March 21, 2005 at 2:43 pm

So the Ziegfeld isn’t the greatest theatre that ever existed. So what? I’m 37 and most of the greatest theatres that did exist were torn down or mutilated in some way before I was born. Nothing I can do about that. A palace it may not be, but for what’s left in this city, I’ll take the Ziegfeld or the Beekman as many times as I can as long as they’re still here.

RobertR on March 21, 2005 at 1:56 pm

At least they played it in 70mm for the 25th anniversary at the Trans-Lux East (Gotham). It’s my favorite film but I refused to see it in that sing along version.

VincentParisi on March 21, 2005 at 1:33 pm

Considering that I am bashing 20th Century Fox today may I continue?
Am I the only one to have noticed that the 40th Anniversary of the Rivoli’s world premiere of The Sound Of Music in March of ‘65 has come and gone this month?
So where was the deluxe Todd AO print which should have been struck for this occasion with a run at(gulp)the Ziegfeld?
Pretty soon those of us who saw it in our youths will be gone and then who will go to see the thing in a theater ever again?

Benjamin on March 21, 2005 at 1:05 pm

While, in a sense, I can understand why they included the Ziegfeld in the article (I can see how, in a narrow sense, it meets their criteria), the listing of it in such an article made me think of the concept and the expression, “defining deviance down.”

There is no greater disdainer of the Ziegfeld than myself … .
Talk about damning with faint praise … .

The Ziegfeld may not be ideal … .

I think we tend to put the Ziegfeld on a pedastal and worship her because sadly she is all we have left. In the good ole days she would have been just another movie house, and certainly not a movie palace … .

it’s as good as it gets these days … .

Is it a palace? No, I was cheated out of the great palaces. The Paramount, Capital, Roxy were all gone, The Rivoli, Criterion, & Warner were twinned when I came into my own as a serious moviegoer.

I realize, especially from reading the posts on this site, that movie theaters are more than just their architecture and design. Just as important — actually, even more so — is the way a theater presents a movie (e.g., the quality of the picture, the quality of the sound, etc.).

Luxuriously comfortable seats with great sitelines, state of the art sound and projection, great bookings, it is a palace to me, with or without the gilded plaster cherubs.

BobT on March 21, 2005 at 12:51 pm

You MUST’VE been a Ziegfeld junky to sit through dreck like “Grease 2” and “Staying Alive” not to mention “Can’t Stop the Music” (you should be cited for your bravery, though).

Actually “Grease 2” was a treat because I got to go to the 70MM test run. They tested the print before the premiere. It was just a friend and I in the auditorium with the director Pat Birch and some producers in the back making sure things were working fine. I also got to go into the projection booth. Nothing like your own private 70MM screening at The Ziegfeld, which made it all the more sweet because I had been such a fan of the place. Like I said everything was better at The Ziegfeld.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on March 21, 2005 at 12:49 pm

RobertR: The paper I saw had all the movie showtimes listed in a separate column called Movie Clock or something like that, but that was probably set up to be printed before the assassination. I don’t know if the movie theaters actually closed, but I’m sure you’re right about not too many people going to the movies that day.

bruceanthony on March 21, 2005 at 12:44 pm

I like the Ziegfeld and it is the best remaining theatre in New York City still showing movies. It does lack the showmanship that the exclusive reserved seat attractions it use to show. I went with a friend to see the “Road to Perdition” and was surprised at the lack professionalism at such a high profile industry theatre. The curtains never opened and closed during the presentation and the theate wasn’t as clean that you would expect. My friend owns a theatre complex of his own with an Egyptian theme and curtains in each auditorium and was surprised that this was the one of the top screens in New York City.brucec

br91975 on March 21, 2005 at 12:43 pm

The Ziegfeld, when held in comparison to some of NYC’s past movie palaces, doesn’t hold up in the same league, but for what it is and for how much the filmgoing scene in the city (and in general) has changed in the last 30-40 years, it’s the closest thing to a ‘classic’ cinema treasure we have.