Warners' Theatre

1664 Broadway,
New York, NY 10019

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Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on May 13, 2005 at 11:05 am

The Piccadilly was built and first operated by Lee Ochs, who owned other theatres in Manhattan but none in the Broadway-Times Square area. I haven’t been able to find an exact opening date, but the earliest review mentioning the Piccadilly in The New York Times was for “Welcome Stranger” in October, 1924. Programs included a feature movie, short subjects, and musical accompaniment by the Piccadilly Concert Orchestra, which had violinist Fredric Fradkin as its conductor and chief soloist. John Hammond was the organist, playing a console specially designed for the Piccadilly by Marr & Colton. Lee Ochs eventually leased the theatre to Warner Brothers, which changed the name to Warner’s for the December 26, 1926 premiere of its Vitaphone sound system. The opening program was a selection of Vitaphone shorts, followed by the John Barrymore feature, “Don Juan,” which had recorded music and sound effects, but no spoken dialogue. Warner’s continued as a Vitaphone showcase, most memorably with Al Jolson’s part-talking “The Jazz Singer” in 1927, but fell into decline after WB “wired” the Strand, leased the Winter Garden as another Broadway outlet, and built the Hollywood directly across the street, forcing a name change to Warner’s Piccadilly. With the advent of the Depression, the theatre closed and remained shuttered until 1936, when Minsky’s Burlesque took over and changed the name to Minsky’s Oriental. Minsky’s also operated the Republic on 42nd Street at the time, but the Oriental’s shows were more upscale and staged like Broadway revues. The stadium section of seats at the rear of the auditorium was dubbed “Park Avenue.” You didn’t have to be rich to sit there, but tickets were more expensive and you were expected to wear evening clothes. Minsky’s Oriental proved a hit, but lasted barely a year when the NYC authorities banned burlesque from all theatres. Several “indies” tried running the theatre as an outlet for foreign films, first as the Oriental, then as the Continental, and finally, for a brief time in the spring of 1943, as the Abbey. In December, 1943, the Brandt circuit took over and changed the name to Manhattan, with a policy of revivals that started with WB’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Eight months later, Brandt changed the name to Republic Theatre to facilitate a deal with Republic Pictures for the NYC premieres of their top releases. By that time, the Republic on 42nd Street had been re-named the Victory, so there was no conflict. The Republic was an early victim of TV competition and closed around 1948-49. Demolition proceedings began in 1952. Along with the Republic went the original Roseland dance hall and a seven-story office building, the Broadway Central (which had its entrance on 51st Street).

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on May 8, 2005 at 1:33 pm

This theatre became known as the Republic on August 12,1944, when it started a showcase deal with Republic Pictures for their prime product, starting with the NYC premiere of the musical “Atlantic City.” I don’t think the Republic releases continued for more than a year, but the name stuck to the theatre. Prior to that, it was called the Manhattan, which had a reissue of Disney’s “Fantasia” as its last booking under that name.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on May 7, 2005 at 8:57 am

An exterior photo of the theatre as the Warner Bros. can be seen at www.nytimes.com/nystore/photos/newyork/buildings/NSAP389.html

Paul Noble
Paul Noble on February 7, 2005 at 8:21 pm

Rear of auditorium had stadium seating. There was no balcony. Was also known as the Manhattan Theatre when showing an exclusive re-release of “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” and the Republic Theatre when showing “Pinocchio”. I recall both probably in the 1944/45 period.