Hudson Theatre

141 W. 44th Street,
New York, NY 10036

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Showing 26 - 38 of 38 comments

chconnol
chconnol on January 12, 2005 at 9:31 am

Benjamin: Glad I inspired you to take a tour.

The Millenium’s lobby is public space and it’s weird to walk right through there (it’s great on rainy days). Knowing this, I thought it might be easy to get access to the theater and was right. The day I was there, it looked like they were either setting up or dismantling some kind of conference. I got some “looks” but no one seemed to care (I was in a suit) and really, all I was doing was having a look/see. It was so accessible that I could’ve walked up and around the whole theater but I didn’t.

What you mention about how this theater has been re-adapted for use is exactly why I like it.

Benjamin
Benjamin on January 12, 2005 at 9:08 am

DavidH:

Glad you enjoyed the “tour”! As I revisted and reflected upon the Hudson, I really began to appreciate this theater even more.

Regarding gallery entrances:

From my readings over the years, I got the impression that the separate entrances were almost entirely designed for the purpose of economic/social segregation — keeping the poorer classes away from the more well to do. And in the era in which they wre built (pre WWI), I don’t think people really gave it much thought.

Also, and this is just a guess on my part, I think it was really the rise of the (bascially one price) movie theater and the (bascially one price) movie palace that led the way towards the elimination of this type of design — movie palaces being “palaces” for the people, for the masses.

Although I realize that Radio City Music Hall, and probably a number of the other movie palaces, did have higher priced sections, I don’t think any of them had separate entrances for them. And judging from RCMH, the people going to the more expensive section had to walk through the areas set aside for the less expensive seats in the Orchestra and walk along with those headed for the less expensive seats in the second and third balconies.

By the way the first three levels of the old Metropolitan Opera House — the three levels closest to the stage and to the ground — were accessed through the main lobby. (The main lobby was not, by the way, all that impressive to begin with.) These three levels were called, I believe, the Orchestra level, the Parterre (the boxes) and the Grand Tier. Everything above that (from what I believe was called the Family Circle on up) was accessed through a number of separate entrances (which I believe were on the side streets, rather than Broadway).

The Sam S. Shubert theater on 44th St. had a separate 2nd balcony stairway that was entered, if I remember correctly, from Shubert Alley.

DavidHurlbutt
DavidHurlbutt on January 11, 2005 at 3:06 pm

Thank you Benjamin for the great tour of the saved Hudson. Many theaters had gallery entrances. Looking at these entrances for the cheap seats makes one wonder whether they were designed for quickly filling and emptying the gallery or was it subtle segregation.

Benjamin
Benjamin on January 11, 2005 at 1:07 pm

P.S. — One thing I forgot to mention is that when I looked at the back wall of the theater it occurred to me that the theater is only about three — or four, at most — brownstones (rowhouses) wide on 45th St., and only two — or three, at most — brownstones wide on 44th St. So it’s also interesting to me that this handsome and seemingly commodious “regular-sized” theater takes up such a small amount of space. It’s a very modest, handsome and efficient design — a real positive contribution to the cityscape!

Benjamin
Benjamin on January 11, 2005 at 12:55 pm

CConnolly:

Glad you mentioned about how accessible the interior of the Hudson Theater was, as it inspired me to go back and take a look again after 40 years! I’ve passed by the theater many times over the years, and knew the theater was being preserved as part of the hotel, but didn’t think to try and get inside. Even now I’m surprised that it was so easy to walk in — perhaps both of us just happened to visit at the right times?

Actually, when I first tried to visit around Christmastime, the doors were locked — it might have been off hours — and you could see through the glass doors that the theater was being repainted. When I tried successfully a few days ago, there were still painters, etc. working on the theater, and I almost wonder if that made it easier for me to just walk right in. (Although I realize that the hotel LOBBY itself is legally something of a public space — I believe the owners got a zoning bonus from the City for providing it — I don’t think they are legally required to allow public access to the interior of the theater though.)

But in any case, I took a look at the lobby — and, of course, it’s funny how memory plays tricks on you! Actually the ticket lobby entranceway goes directly into the back of the orchestra level of the theater — it’s hard to imagine it being any more straight forward or direct! (It even seems to have been placed symmetrically in the center of the theater.)

So how / why did the Hudson Theater become part of this strange recurring dream of mine?

On the one hand, dreams are “notorious” for being irrational. Thinking of movies, there was a fantastic dream sequence in a Michael Fox movie (forgot the name, based on a book by Jay McErney[?]) where the Fox character plays a young intern at the “New Yorker.” The great thing about the dream sequence was the way the people pictured in it kept on changing (morphing) as the dream progressed — just like in some real dreams! So perhaps, something similar happened to the theater that appeared in this dream — perhaps it started out the Hudson Theater, but then morphed to, say, the Imperial Theater (which, I’m pretty sure, does have such a “funny” entrance).

But on the other hand, I wonder if maybe the source of this dream was that perhaps I was sitting in the second balcony when I went to see “Ross”?; and I wonder if the original ENTRANCE to the second balcony is that “mysterious” stairway to the right, just inside the doors to the street? (I didn’t feel comfortable enough to go up the stairs to see where they led; and now that the theater is connected to the hotel, access to the second balcony might have been changed anyway.)

By the way, in the old days (pre-democratic movie palace days), many legit theaters did indeed have separate entrances for second balconies etc. For instance, the Shubert Theater (on 44th St.) had one (which I used once), as did the Metropolitan Opera (which I also used once).

Now that I think about it, if I remember correctly, I vaguely remember being told we couldn’t enter into the Hudson using the main entrance, but had to use the stairway to the second balcony. What’s “strange” and “funny” about this stairway (at least to me), if this is indeed what happened, was the way the stairway was so unobtrusively and “mysteriously” placed just inside the glass doors leading in from the street. Almost like a secret stairway. (Plus, since we were seeing the show on twofers, there’s a good chance there were very few other people using this “secret” stairway.) Somehow in my mind I would have thought that the stairway to all those seats in the balcony — even if it was a separate stairway — would have been further inside the theater and more prominently placed.

The other “funny” thing about this staircase that might have inspired my dream was that I believe it was a “blind” staircase that seemed to just go on and on forever!


Regarding the theater’s adaptive re-use:

This does seem to be a terrific adaptive re-use of the Hudson Theater. As you are probably aware, there are other theaters that have also been adaptively re-used well. Perhaps the most famous is “Studio 54,” which was originally a legit theater (whose name escapes me … the Gallo Opera House? — it’s profiled in the Mary Henderson book on New York theaters) before it became 1) a TV studio (“What’s My Line”; “To Tell the Truth”, etc.) and a world-famous disco. The Henry Miller Theater (which is now only a preserved facade) was — many years before it was the home to “Cabaret” — the home to “Xenon” (which was a poor man’s “Studio 54”) and, I think, a nightclub by the name of “Shout!” Also the Academy of Music on 14th St. (which was built as a Thomas Lamb[?] designed movie palace) also was a disco, the “Palladium,” before being torn down for an NYU residence hall.

What’s great about all these adaptive re-uses was that the theater’s interiors were pretty much preserved as theaters — the theaters could easily have been reconverted to theaters (and in some cases were).

Having been to some of these theaters, what I find striking is how SMALL the theaters seem to be when the orchestra level no longer has seats. Somehow (at least to me) theaters appear bigger when they have their seats in them.


Also took a look at the rear of the Hudson Theater and noticed that the loading dock to the stage is only a foot or two off the ground. It’s easy to see how Steve Allen could interview passersby from this stage, as he did in the early days of the “Tonight” show.

I hadn’t noticed before, but there appear to be windows (dressing rooms?) and, if I remember correctly, very small firescapes on either side of the stage’s backwall. It’s interesting to see how these windows, firescapes and the stage itself are so close to the street. The whole set-up seems so delightfully small-scaled and so intimate — a really nice addition to a city street!

chconnol
chconnol on December 22, 2004 at 10:01 am

Benjamin: Don’t know if the strange entrance you mention (entering the orchestra left side) is still there but it should be as the hotel has left and theater in fantastic condition. You can go to the Millenium and check it out. They didn’t stop me from going right into the theater. I got some looks but since I didn’t look suspicious, no one bothered me.

What I liked about this place is that it’s being USED. The orchestra seats are all gone but the stage and balcony are still in great condition and beautifully maintained. The orchestra area during my “tour” had catering hall style tables (round). Very nice and fascinating to see how it’s used now.

DavidHurlbutt
DavidHurlbutt on December 21, 2004 at 10:03 am

During its porno days as the Avon-at-the-Hudson, the theater had a box office with turnstile on 44th Street. One day while walking by I noticed a young boy of 11 or 12 on his belly crawling under the turnstile while two other boys were crouched down in front of the box office waiting their turn to sneak into the Hudson. I don’t know if they ever made into the theater or had any had idea what was playing at the Hudson.

Benjamin
Benjamin on December 21, 2004 at 9:14 am

P.S. — Whoops! In my above post, references to 43rd St. should have been to 44th St. and references to 44th St. should have been to 45th St.

For instance, the entrance pavilion is on 44th St., not 43rd, and the back wall of the stage and the loading dock are on 45th St., not 44th St.

Benjamin
Benjamin on December 21, 2004 at 8:59 am

I never saw a movie at the Hudson — although for a while, in the late 1960s, the Hudson did show a commercial(?) release of some Andy Warhol films I think. However, in the early 1960s, I did see at the Hudson a play called “Ross,” which was by Terrence Ratigan(?) and starred John Mills (father of the then very famous, Haley). The play was about Lawrence of Arabia and played in New York just prior to the film, “Lawrence of Arabia.”

As I mentioned in another post about the “Rivoli” theater, it’s interesting to see how theaters have often utilized their expensive parcels of land for maximum efficiency. It’s also interesting to note how irregular or weirdly shaped some of the land assemblages for theaters were — especially in mid-Manhattan — and how the theater owners and their architects accomodated the apparent economic necessity of less than optimally shaped or sized plots. (I was looking at floor plans for the Roxy yesterday, and its architect did just an incredible job squeezing this enormous theater onto that plot of land!)

It seems, for instance, that many theaters in the Times Sq. area have the main body of their property (the auditorium and stage house) on one street, and a lobby/ticket office “pavilion” — just barely and weirdly connected — on another street entirely. Also, to maximize the value of the land, there often seems to be a small office building over the lobby/ticket area (e.g., the New Amsterdam, the Palace, etc.).

I think the Hudson theater is another good case in point. The Hudson, like apparently a good number of theaters in the Times Sq. district, appears to have been built on land that orginally held individually owned brownstone residences — which were relatively difficult to assemble. In early pictures, like the one in Mary Henderson’s first edition of the “Theatre and the City,” the entrance “pavilion” to the Hudson is shown interrupting a row of brownstones. (The builders of other theaters, like the Winter Garden, the Roxy, etc. were fortuante enough to start with more regularly shaped parcels of land that had been things like horse trading arenas or trolley (?) car barns.) So the actual bulk of the Hudson Theater (the stage house and auditorium) are on 44th St., while only a small portion of the theater (the ticket office / lobby and small office building) is on 43rd St.

By the way, the 44th St. side of the theater is really the back wall of the stage and stage house. The opening in the wall is the loading dock for the stage. When it’s open you can see right onto the stage — a feature that was utilized on the original “Tonight Show” with Steve Allen (for more, see below).

What I found really interesting about the Hudson (and I think it is also true about the Imperial, a famous “legit” Brodway theater) is that the connection between the lobby and the theater is, if I remember correctly, rather awkward. Basically everyone entering the theater kind of enters along a lobby corridor that leads to the back of the left side of the orchestra level. Since I was in the theater ages ago — forty years! — I’m not sure exactly what it was, but something about this arrangement stuck me (at least as a kid) to be very, very strange. So much so, that I believe it eventually entered into an occasional dream / nightmare that I would have where I was sitting in a theater that would have virtually “impossible” sightlines — something like sitting in a deep alcove off of a main auditorium! (Stange things — like theaters with virtually impossible sightlines — happen in dreams!)

In any case, I’ve always had a special interest in the Hudson. Here are some miscellaneous tidbits of info.:

1) The theater is on what was widely known as the dark side of Broadway. For some reason the theaters on the east side of Broadway / Seventh Ave. have never been as popular as those on the West side.

2) The theater was one of the first, if not the first, to incorporate indirect lighting for its public areas. Indirect lighting first made a splash apparently at the Buffalo (?) World’s Fair that was held just prior to the construction of the theater. (I believe this info is from the Mary Henderson book about legitimate theaters in Manhattan.)

3) This theater was the site of the original “Tonight Show” with Steve Allen. Although this is a bit before my time, apparently one of Steve’s features was sitting at the back of the stage with the doors of the loading dock open and interviewing those passing by on 44th St.

4) After “Ross” played the Hudson, the theater was dark for a while, but eventually was home to the somewhat successful attemp by Ann Corio (a famous stipper of, I believe, the 1940s) to revitalize — and revitalize the image of — “true” burlesque.

5) I’m not sure about this, but I think the Hudson may be the oldest extant theater in New York City to have a cantilevered balcany. If it is, I believe this is because the other extant theaters from its time (I think one opened just a week before or a week after) had balconies that were held up from rods or columns from above or below.

chconnol
chconnol on November 19, 2004 at 1:30 pm

I don’t know…it looked in fine shape to me. Even the old box office boothes were still in tact and looked immaculate. I was just there today.

chconnol
chconnol on November 19, 2004 at 11:54 am

What an amazing, creative and clever use of a former theater. I happened to be walking through the Millenium Hotel and I noticed a sign for the Hudson Theater in the lobby. Knowing that it had been incorporated into the hotel, I was really curious.

Wow! What a great use of the space. They’ve not only kept the theater in tact in a pristine condition, they’ve utilized the space beautifully. There are no orchestra seats but the floor is used as meeting/party space. But the entire balcony and such is still there as well as all the ornamentation (as far as I can tell). What’s so great about the space is that it’s nice to see a theater kept up but also used. The use keeps it vital and also means it will be maintained for years to come.

I urge you are in midtown to check this out. There’s no one stopping anyone from just walking through and into the Hudson Theater for a quick look. In this age, that’s not necessarily a comforting notion but if you want to see how a theater might be preserved, check this out.

YMike
YMike on May 6, 2004 at 10:42 am

In the late 70’s the Hudson was a dollar theatre showing double features of second run films.

Foxplaza1966
Foxplaza1966 on March 1, 2004 at 3:05 pm

In October 1975 the Hudson took a one week break from porno to present a triple feature of Marx Brothers movies. It only cost a buck for the triple bill. Only in New York.