Murray Hill Cinema

160 E. 34th Street,
New York, NY 10016

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Showing 51 - 53 of 53 comments

peterdamian on March 24, 2004 at 6:46 pm

I was an usher/doorman from 1977 to 1981. At the time, the Murray Hill was part of the Cinema 5 (formerly Rugoff) chain. “Star Wars” was playing when I started working there in August. It was still a big hit at the time. After that, Gene Wilder’s “The World’s Greatest Lover” opened in December, and the theater became very quiet. There were a lot of other modest movies there like “Making Love,” “It’s My Turn,” “Phantasm,” “Jaws 2”, “Excalibur,” but a lot of monster hits, too, like the other “Star Wars” movies and the “Superman” series, as well as “An Unmarried Woman,” “Coma,” and “Animal House,” (a surprise hit). In 1980, there was a 70mm re-release of “The Exorcist.” The ads read, “Hear The Devil for the First time in 70mm and Dolby Stereo!” Director William Friedkin came to the theater to oversee the projection before it opened and he told the manager to remove certain lightbulbs from the lobby ceiling. (The manager ignored the dictate.) The manager was James Bradley, an ex-military man who was very officious and stern. He ran the theater like a ship but the staff was fond of him. The staff was family-like and friendly. Terry Amore was the cashier for many years. She was raised in Hells Kitchen and had an old-fashioned NY accent, the kind you only hear in old movies now. She’d answer the phone, “Murray Hill Thea-duh.” She later married one of the projectionists, Ray. When Mr. Bradley retired, younger men managed the theater and something was lost. The theater had a large chrome or stainless marquee that extended over the entire sidewalk and almost the whole width of the building. In the front of the theater there was a large display window, between the glass entrance doors on the west and the red, metal exit doors on the east. It was customary for a banner or flag to be made advertising the movie shown, and this was hung above the marquee, visible to east-west traffic. The typeface on the flag was usually the same as that in the ad or on the movie poster. Inside, the lobby was lined vertically with white-painted, thin strips of wood. The carpet was red and the walls not striped with the white wood, were painted red. Inside doors were painted red. The cashier desk, covered with the same white wood strips, was just inside the glass front doors. There was an Automaticket machine. The “telephone girl” would sit on a stool behind the cashier when the theater was busy. The lobby was split by a red rope. The inflow was on the right and the exit flow was on the other side of the rope, to the left. A “Doorman” would take tickets at a stanchion about twenty-feet up a very slight slope from the front door. Just beyond this, to the right, was the Women’s Room, and then down one or two steps, also on the right, was the lounge. To the left of the doorman’s post, back a few feet, was the telephone booth, a cozy little roomette with no door and just beyond that was the Men’s Room. The Usher’s Room was accessed through the Men’s Room. The theater was fairly sleek and modern. Two open staircases stood in the rear, on either side of the main floor auditorium (two aisles with three sections of seats, the largest in the middle). The lounge was small and narrow with a long glass window that allowed patrons to watch the movie while on line for snacks or if smoking. The walls of the lounge were painted red as well. There were modern, high back sofas on either side of the lounge: facing the aforementioned window and underneath it. The balcony above was laid out like the main floor, two aisles, etc. Smoking was permitted there. At the snackbar in the lounge, there was a working popcorn machine, candy and Coca Cola products, including Tab. Later, the owner, Mr. Rugoff, brought baked goods in from a bakery on the Upper East Side called “Incredible Edibles.” There were brownies, chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies. The oatmeal cookies were named after Mr. Rugoff’s wife, Susan. They were called “Black-Eyed Susans.” Initially, staff were permitted to eat the “spoiled” cookies, those that were considered broken or unsellable. This was revoked because an inordinate number of cookies were “spoiled.” Brownies were sometimes “shaved” and slivers fed to the staff, living on $1.50 an hour. Later, hotdogs were brought in, and this was considered vulgar and not very Cinema 5-like by some staff. The candy and soda syrup were stored in a room up near the projection booth. Up there, in the rafters, you could see the remnants of the original theater, referenced by Joe Masher (2/28/04). I had been told the original theater burned down and I seem to remember seeing charred wood up there and even old box seats if memory serves. The manager’s office was located at the bottom of the balcony staircase on the west end of the building. There was an exit there as well, to an indoor alley which led to the front of the theater and out onto 34th Street. Just outside that door, to the left, was a coffee shop, in the same building as the theater. It was probably called the Murray Hill coffee shop but I can’t be certain.

joemasher on February 28, 2004 at 8:20 am

The Murray Hill was originally an opera house that opened in 1895. The false ceiling collapsed on top of the audience in ‘86. City Cinemas gutted the building and rebuilt it as a 4-plex. The original structure was never demolished until recently.

br91975 on February 27, 2004 at 8:38 pm

I distinctly remember ‘Bull Durham’ playing at the Murray Hill in the summer of 1988 and the theatre being closed for a long while shortly thereafter until it reopened as a quad during the 1990 holiday season (counting the Sean Connery-Michelle Pfeiffer starrer, ‘The Russia House’, among its offerings), so perhaps the ceiling collapse you referred to, Jamal, occurred sometime around then.

Quite frankly, when the Murray Hill closed in the summer of 2002, I was a bit surprised as it seemed to be subsisting pretty well on Fox releases (a direct byproduct of the then-standoff between Loews Theatres and 20th Century Fox/Fox Searchlight, which kept product from those studios off Loews screens in Manhattan for just over three years, through the summer of 2002), foreign, independent, and dependent films whose runs within the five boroughs were being widened out (‘In the Mood for Love’ and ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ seemed to have particularly strong runs at the Murray Hill), and the scattered move-over from the Loews Kips Bay. A real loss for NY filmgoers who prefer to catch their flicks in smaller, intimate venues.