Ziegfeld Theatre

141 West 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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chconnol on May 25, 2005 at 2:24 pm

In my opinion, the only thing that can and will spell The Ziegfeld’s doom is if some developer for some reason or another decides to build a competing “palace” at a better site, say nearer or actually in Times Square. The Ziegfeld is kind of off the beaten path and let’s face it, it’s really not that nice from the outside, at least.

Imagine if someone were to build a theater the same size or even larger than the Ziegfeld in which to hold it’s premieres?

Since this scenario is highly unlikely, I think the place is safe because there really isn’t another place in Manhattan that can host a premiere AND play the movie. Yes, The Music Hall is better for premieres but it’s not playing the movies for more than one night.

Benjamin on May 25, 2005 at 1:34 pm

If I correctly understand the property data provided on the OASIS NYC website, the Ziegfeld is on the same zoning lot (block 1007, lot 29) as the the adjacent through-block “park” and adjacent office building (whose official address seems to be 120 W. 55th St.) The lot is listed as being 200 ft. wide (the width of most mid-town Manhattan blocks), and 500 ft. deep. (I believe the blocks between Sixth and Seventh are about 800 ft. deep, so this is a pretty deep lot.)

The maximum FAR (floor area ratio) allowed on the site is 12, but the actual FAR seems to be 19.9, which means that the builders qualified for one or more bonuses. They probably got a bonus for the front and side plazas, plus a bonus for the through-block park. Whether a bonus was given for a movie theater on this site, I don’t know.

(I also mention some of the zoning issues for this site in my April 14th post in this thread, above — but at that time I hadn’t looked up the site on OASIS NYC yet.)

While I doubt they would be able to build more office space on the Ziegfeld site — I think all the office space allowed is already in the tower on the other side of the through-block “park,” I would imagine they could change the use of the Ziegfeld Theater (unless they got a bonus for building it). So maybe it could become a “Toys R Us” (as someone joked in an earlier post) or a good-sized disco, etc.

If there were plans to close the Ziegfeld (due to a lack of profitability), I’d be very surprised if the outcry was significantly greater than the (apparently very little outcry) for the Beekman and Cinema I, II & III. But, then again, I’ve been surprised to read that people consider the Ziegfeld a “treasure” and a “movie palace,” so who knows, maybe there is a large and vocal group of fans who could provide sufficient pressure. But, given the the theater’s lack of distinguished architecture and the lack of any genuine historical importance (understandable, since it was only built in the late 1960s), it’s hard to imagine what kind of appeal could be made and what kind of pressure exerted.

My guess is that the Ziegfeld will survive, however, because it does seem to be profitable for certain kinds of films and because it might be difficult to find an economically compelling alternative use for for this site, given the zoning.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on May 25, 2005 at 11:34 am

I wonder if the Ziegfeld could be expanded upwards, maybe with a proper balcony installed and a few hundred more seats. I’d love to go to a 2000+ seat theatre on a regular basis.

chconnol on May 25, 2005 at 11:19 am

I would have to say that for now, The Ziegfeld is safe. Think about it: the land upon which is sits is mid street and sits between two A class office towers. The footprint isn’t really big enough to provide a developer with anything that they could build anything really dynamic. Just my opinion.

Add to the mix the (hopefully) anticipated outcry that would befall anyone even proposing this and I think it’s somewhat safe to assume it will be around for awhile.

But. You. Never. Know.

Shade on May 25, 2005 at 10:54 am

There are so few nice places to see movies in New York. There are many places to see films, but a nice auditorium is fairly rare. We have screening facitilies here, and some are comfortable, and few have any design elements.

Loews 72nd Street East is a cool 1962 place to see a movie, but the entrance and lobbies are merely functional. This theat is a great place to see a movie though. Nice metal work on the stairs, comfortable seats (I believe taken from the Loews Astor Plaza), and two small balconies jutting out from either side of the projection booth. The upper auditorium at the UA 64th Street is very nice, and also sports a curved screen.

The Walter Reade is my favorite NY screening facility. Fresh popcorn, large indoor waiting area, often hung with posters or photographs, a single screen, comfy seats arranged smartly, and a screen that’s right there in front of you. Great sound, etc.

As far as cool New York history, the Paris is pretty much it. The Paris is really good fun with a large auditorium, excellent descension to the popcorn area, and great design elements. After the Beekman goes next month (so unbelievably wrong and sad) it’s really the single screen marquee theater showing new releases. I’m a big fan of the ImaginAsian (the retitled 59th Street East, aka the D.W. Griffith), and should also include that, as a departure from the airport-simulations of today’s moviegoing ‘experience.’

The Ziegfeld is really the best. As soon as you enter to buy a ticket, you’re under a chandelier. You walk into a downstairs lobby adorned with display cases with the original theater’s history and artifacts on display, then have a choice of ascending stairs or an escalator, with more chandeliers to guide you, then you’re in a curved end exit/entrance lobby with black doors on one side, and then you enter the main concessions lobby with yet another chandelier, a large French My Fair Lady poster, a round soft couch, and fun signs for Mens and Ladies restrooms, and fresh popped popcorn (depends how busy). Then a choice of left or right entrance to the mammoth audotorium with raised seating in the back (308 seats I believe) and another 800 seats on the main floor. And CURTAINS! They don’t always operate them, but for my third viewing of Reveing of the Sith the curtains opened and closed before the trailers, and then closed again at the end of the 9:30 show, which was great because that was the last show of the nonstop marathon which began Weds. evening (Thurs. morning).

I was in a new friend’s 11th floor apartment last night at 54th and 7th and looked out the window and right there was the Zeigfeld! Would been great to have seen all the tents pitched for the anticipation of the Weds. premiere.

I’m partly seeing the film again because the film is fun, but mostly it’s to have yet another reason to go to the Ziegfeld, especially with a few hundred other people there. I love seeing that place so alive.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on May 24, 2005 at 5:00 am

I’m not sure about best digital projection (although Episode III looked better at the Ziegfeld than Episode II did three years ago), but I will say that the Ziegfeld is the overall best theater in the city, especially now that Radio City Music Hall isn’t showing movies anymore.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on May 23, 2005 at 10:29 am

So, do you think is the best digital projection in the city?

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on May 23, 2005 at 9:49 am

Shade: I was at the midnight show too, which was everything you said it was, and I was there again on Saturday morning. I’ve been spoiled – I don’t ever want to see it anywhere else except the Ziegfeld.

Shade on May 22, 2005 at 9:11 am

Boy, I sure am a happy boy this week. Movies for me are most definitely the films, most definitely the theatrical experience of walking into a designed house, but the excitement of getting in line for a movie, waiting for the movie, being in a room full of excited people, and enjoying the film in a packed house… unbeatable!

Wednesday night at midnight was just great. Camera crews, kleig lights, fans in costumes, packed lines, excitement! This isn’t just some opening with a bunch of autograph hunters and celeb-watchers, this is a legitimate event! Three people from Clearview were there presenting the film, and Hedda Lettuce arrived with green hair to toss out prizes.

It’s a little sad they’ve abandoned opening and closing the curtains this week, even with over an hour between shows during the marathon of screenings, but it’s just great to have a great big lovely time at the movies.

I walked into one of the little teeny shoeboxes at a multiplex to catch the end credits of Revenge of the Sith and… yuck. Just 21 blocks up you could walk through a chandelieried lobby and past a curved entraneway through designed doors and sit in comfortable seats in a huge room with over a thousand laughing, clapping people with the movie projected on a large screen.

I’ve been to the Loews Jersey, many times. I’ll be at Ninotchka at the Orpheum in LA for the Last Remaining Seats. The Ziegfeld is not an 80-year-old movie palace. It’s a great modern theater. Great great great. It’s just great. And it’s five blocks from my apartment. Long live the Ziegfeld!

I guess the unhappy people will crap on my parade, but that’s okay. I love being alive and enjoying life. Scowl your faces all you want and pooh pooh pooh on the extremely few American pleasures we have all you want, the Ziegfeld rocks!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on May 21, 2005 at 8:34 pm

How is the digital projection at this theater? I know there are several brands out there, some newer and better than others, and of different quality.

So who has the best digital projection, this screen or the ones at AMC or Loews? Or are there others I should consider for the best digital presentation?

JodarMovieFan on May 13, 2005 at 5:12 pm

Patrons should complain to Clearview management and do so with frequency and ferocity, perhaps then someone will fix the place, especially if its the AC. I’d be quite a livid patron, if I were to attend say, screening of the new Revenge of the Sith, in 90 degree+ indoor heat!

chibitotoro on May 13, 2005 at 5:03 pm

“Do the employees go on unemployment between "major first run engagements”?"

We either get placed in another Clearview theater around town, or we just don’t work. I worked there a couple years ago, and I’m thinking of working there again when I come back from college for the summer, but if they’re only going to be doing limited engagements, I may have to go with a place that’ll guarantee me more hours. It’s a shame that such a wonderful theater isn’t getting used as much as it could be.

When I worked there, the A/C didn’t work for half of the summer, so we’d have to bribe people into the theater with discount tickets and free drinks. And a friend of mine who attended the “Kingdom of Heaven” premiere there the other night told me that part of the backlighting on the marquee was out. Little maintenance issues like that should not be plaguing one of the greatest movie houses in the world. I told the managers many times what I thought of how the place was being run, and all they could do was look at me and say “I wish it were up to me to change things”.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on May 4, 2005 at 3:42 pm

I’m only in New York for 2 days so it’s highly unlikely that I’ll go to New Jersey. And, as it turns out, it’s been suggested that I see Star Wars Episode 3 at another theatre nearby. So the chances of my visiting the Ziegfeld are looking slim. Besides…I’m not interested in tours just for tours sake. I’d rather see a movie in these palaces!

Benjamin on May 4, 2005 at 1:14 pm

Chris, I very much hope you get a chance to see a movie at the “Loew’s Jersey” and take a tour of the “Stanley.” While both of these theaters are listed as being in New Jersey, they are both very, very close to mid-town Manhattan (which is just across the Hudson River from New Jersey). They are probably more convenient to mid-town Manhattan than many parts of the Bronx, Queens or Brooklyn (and certainly more convenient than Staten Island). (Both of these theaters have listings, with lots of info on them, on the Cinema Treasures website.)

As far as I know, the Loew’s Jersey is the only remaining TRUE movie PALACE in the NYC area that still shows movies (albeit, mostly on weekends as a non-profit showcase, I believe). The Stanley, which is a block or two away from it, is also a TRUE movie PALACE that is used as a church — but I believe the church gives tours of it. (Check out the Cinema Treasures listings for both theaters for more details.)

(To clarify the terminology a bit: it seems to me that the current Ziegfeld is a movie THEATER, rather than a movie PALACE. In the same sense, one would say that the Alden and the Merrick (two, modestly decorated, 1,000+ [?] seat, local movie theaters in Jamaica, Queens) were movie THEATERS. The nearby Valencia (a lavishly decorated, 3,000+ [?] seat, atmospheric), however, was a movie PALACE. The Stanley, by the way is also an atmospheric, and as a kid it reminded me of the Valencia.)

The thing I would emphasize is that despite the “Jersey City” location, both of these theaters are extremely convenient to Manhattan. They are just steps away from the Jersey City station of the PATH train. (PATH is a “subway” — which in some ways is nicer than the NYC subway — that connects Manhattan with towns in nearby New Jersey, just across the Hudson River.) In Manhattan, there are PATH stations at Herald Sq., 23rd St., 14th St., 9th St., Christopher St. and at Ground Zero. The trains taking the most direct route leave from the newly rebuilt World Trade Center terminal — the other stations listed are on a train line that folows a more indirect route to Jersey City.

I have never been to the Loew’s Jersey myself. But I did go to the Stanley as a kid (to see Jerry Lewis' “Visit to a Small Planet”), and this theater is a TRUE movie palace that will show people who missed the movie palace era what people are talking about.

I also second Vito suggestion about Radio City Music Hall and — especially — the Beekman. Radio City Music Hall will always be there (hopefully!), but the Beekman is slated to be torn down very shortly. In a way, the Beekman is an early 1950s art house version of the movie “palace” (albeit, the “Petit Trianon”?) — it’s the very embodiment of a certain movie-going way of life. Check out the page on Cinema Treasures (especially the links that someone has posted to photographs). I think you will be kicking yourself if you miss out on visiting it before it is demolished.

Vito on May 3, 2005 at 4:43 am

Welcome to New York Chris, I would suggest you also check out the Beekman which sadly, is about to close. Take the Radio City Music Hall tour as well.

evmovieguy on May 2, 2005 at 11:50 pm

Went to the Ziegfeld tonight to see ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. I can’t remember the last time I was there. I know I missed a couple of great revival screenings in the past, but I was never jazzed about any of the first run stuff either. It must have been years since I was there last, and I am so glad that I went tonight. Even though many people on this blog think it pales in comparison to the the old NYC theaters of yore (which I’m sure it does), it’s still an amazing place and pretty much all we have left in terms of grand old places of any kind. As far as ‘Hitchhikers Guide’ is concerned, I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about! It seems like a movie geared to those who have already read the book. It get’s points for creativity and great set design (and Zooey Deschanel is nice to look at too), but the story was muddled as hell. Kind of a shame since it was a really great looking film. The Ziegfeld screened it in digital projection with amazing clarity and sound, and coming from a Luddite like me that saying alot.

Once again all I can say is that this place is a jewel in the rough, and I hope I get to see many, many more flicks there in the future.

And just for old time’s sake here are some I’ve seen there in the past:

Vertgo (revival screening early 90s)
The Doors
Edward Scissorhands
Jurrasic Park
Primary Colors

and probably more I can’t remember. Hope they do more revival screenings soon.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on May 2, 2005 at 2:31 pm

So many comments…I’m amazed! Anyway, I’m a 20 year Southern Cali resident making my first trip to NYC later this month. Needless to say, I plan on hitting the Ziegfeld while I’m in town. They’ll be showing Star Wars Episode 3 so that’ll be fun. I’m a big fan of single screen theatres and complexes with very large main auditoriums. I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences with the great LA landmarks like the Cinerama Dome (saw the 3-strip Cinerama print of “How The West Was Won” in 2003…or was it 2004?), Grauman’s Chinese, The Village & The National in Westwood and Big Newport in Orange County. I’m looking forward to checking out the Ziegfeld.

VincentParisi on April 27, 2005 at 7:28 am

Funny when i was a boy in the 60’s big budget Hollywood movies were for the most part for adults to which they could bring their children. Now its a guy in a gorilla suit running around with a laser in front of a computer screen. With of course some twinkie spiritual transcendental junk layered on top with a trowel.

evmovieguy on April 24, 2005 at 7:43 pm

I went by the Ziegfeld the other day to see what was going on. ‘Saharah’ has already ended it’s run there. They are re-opening Apr. 29 with ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’. In the meantime they are selling advance tickets for the upcoming ‘Star Wars’ flick and from what I could see, some of the screenings were sold out already.

BobT on April 24, 2005 at 6:01 pm

Not about The Zeigfeld, but a definite blast from the past. I rented the new DVD of “Finian’s Rainbow” from Netflix because it had a full length commentary from Francis Ford Coppola. It was one of his first features and his first for a studio. It’s a very entertaining commentary in which he describes what a Roadshow Engagement was and talks about 70MM. What I didn’t know was the DVD has a 15 minute documentary of the World Premiere at The Penthouse Theatre on Broadway. Numerous shots of the marquee and it’s sister theatre The Warner which was playing “2001”. You could clearly see the old Latin Quarter across the street with Rick Nelson headlining. There are some shots of the outer lobby with the gilded mirror walls going up to the glass front doors. Fun to see the old Times Square again, worth the rental.

RobertR on April 23, 2005 at 5:05 pm

At one time the Ziegfeld would fill in these dry spots with revivals of classics, many times in 70mm.

BobT on April 23, 2005 at 4:29 pm

They will probably make more in the rental for the upcoming Star Wars premiere and press screenings than being opened to empty houses.

Astyanax on April 23, 2005 at 2:19 pm

Quite a while back weekly Variety would list the weekly grosses of each theatre, and in parentheses would also indicate the “nut”. This was the cost of operating the venue taking into account all expenses. Depending on the box split with the distributor for the week’s revenue, it may not pay to remain open during slow periods.

PeterApruzzese on April 23, 2005 at 12:49 pm

Don – I don’t know. I guess it would depend on whether they were ‘laid off’ of if Clearview can temporarily put them in another location.

Jodar – I beleive the bigger theatres used to do this from time to time during the roadshow era, especially if they needed to do technical upgrades between engagements. Depending on the size of the venue, it certainly does cost more money just to open the doors for a handful of customers instead of being dark.

JodarMovieFan on April 22, 2005 at 9:13 pm

Isn’t that a waste of money having a venue that isn’t used? You would have at least some revenue coming in from a few patrons rather then to have nothing and still have to pay for your rent, electricity, etc. I’ve never heard of such a thing.