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The Roxy was at the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue & 50th Street. where the former entrance is now occupied by some fast food restaurants including Thank God It’s Friday. When the founder of the Roxy left to take over the management of the two new theatres at Rockefeller Center, the smaller of the two, on the east side of Sixth Avenue at 48th Street, was christened the New Roxy, but the owners of the original Roxy filed a legal complaint and the New Roxy was re-named the Center Theatre. The original Roxy never at any time changed its name and was known as the Roxy until demolition. You may remember a famous Life Magazine photo of Gloria Swanson standing in the ruins of the Roxy. Her movie, “The Loves of Sunya,” was the first to be shown at the Roxy when it opened in March, 1927. “Roxy” was originally the nickname of its founder, Samuel L. Rothafel (sometimes spelled Rothaphel), who was a pioneer in the presentation of stage shows with movies. Walter W. Ahlshlager was architect of the Seventh Avenue Roxy, which stood next to the Taft Hotel and had an auditorium built at a diagonal to the entrance in order to accommodate 6,000 seats on such a limited parcel of land…The stage shows at the original Roxy were similar to those at the Music Hall, built around a theme (“Spring Fever,” for example), and using a resident company of entertainers and musicians rather than hiring new ones for each show. Early in the 1940s, the Roxy switched to “name” headliners for its stage shows, and many big stars and jazz/dance orchestras performed there (together with movies, of course)…Meanwhile, the New Roxy on Sixth Avenue, now re-named the Center, shifted from movie/stage house to movies only and then to “legit” musicals before finding a successful policy in ice-skating shows. They continued until about 1949-50, when the Center was converted to an NBC television studio. By that time, the original Roxy’s stage shows weren’t much different from the variety programs that could be seen on TV, so the theatre decided to copy the Center’s success. Most of the Roxy’s stage was converted to a skating rink which had special lighting beneath it that could change into all the colors of the rainbow. I believe that the movie/ice show policy continued until the 1953 premiere of “The Robe,” when the new wide-screen process of CinemaScope seened to rule out the need for a stage show as well. But after a few more CinemaScope movies, the novelty wore off and the Roxy resumed ice shows as part of the program.
The Keith-Albee Flushing, advertised as “The Mmost Unique Playhouse in the East” and claiming “3,500 Perfect Seats,” had its grand opening at 1:00 PM on Christmas Day, 1928, with continuous showings of vaudeville and a feature movie. The inaugural program (which ran through December 29th) was the silent “Three Week Ends,” starring Clara Bow, with vaudeville headed by Helen Brown, 16 Albertina Rasch Dancers, Chic Yorke & Rose King, Evans & Mayer, and “other Keith-Albee attractions.” Subsequent trade paper reports reduced the Flushing’s seating capacity to a round number of 3,000, though it was actually 2,975 or so. In any case, the theatre was much too large for the community it served, but it eventually became profitable during the WWII attendance boom and the rapid post-war development of North Eastern Queens…One of its most beautiful architectural features was the grand foyer, which you entered from the street after walking through a low-ceilinged lobby. Suddenly you found yourself in an oval area that was two stories high and had a curved ceiling decorated like a clear blue sky. Two winding marble staircases lead to the mezzanine promenade. In the center of the foyer’s floor was a free-standing fountain and pool, topped by a figure of Cupid and with sculpted dolphins behind the streams of water which poured down from the vents above Cupid’s head. The pool itself was illuminated by multi-colored lights around its sides and was stocked with real goldfish. When the theatre finally closed, the fountain/pool mysteriously “vanished,” and may now be gracing some millionaire’s estate.
If you look at the entry for the Center Theatre, you will find my description of the dual opening of “King Kong” at the Rockefeller Center theatres. Incredibly, both supported the movie with a stage show entitled “Jungle Drums,” though the one at the Center was less spectacular because it had a smaller stage and fewer performers and musicians than at the MH.
The Music Hall was originally intended for “live” stage presentations only, but the first program, which lasted over four hours on opening night (December 27,1932), was such a fiasco that the management closed the theatre briefly until a new policy of a first-run feature movie with a one-hour stage show could be installed. This was to the detriment of the Music Hall’s sibling, The New Roxy (soon re-named The Center), which was intended from its opening to present a movie with a stage show. The best pictures would go to the Music Hall and the New Roxy got the leftovers. The cost of operating two theatres with stage shows also became prohibitive in those Depression times, so the New Roxy switched to straight movies for several years and was then converted to stage plays and ice shows.
The Midland, along with many other theatres in the area, will be visited this summer during the 2004 Conlave of the Theatre Historical Sociey of America in Kansas City. Further information can be found at www.historictheatres.org under the section headlined “2004 Conclave Sneak Preview.”
Walter Reade (not Reed) was a pioneer movie exhibitor. By the time of the building of the new Ziegfeld, he had died and the circuit was run by his son, Walter Reade, Jr., who later died in middle age in a skiing accident. During the son’s lifetime, the company also ran Continental Distributing, Inc., which acquired and released “foreign” films for showings in art theatres.
When first opened in 1917, Loew’s Metropolitan was the largest theatre built in the USA since the advent of movies. Architect Thomas Lamb tried out some of the ideas that he used two years later for the considerably larger Capitol Theatre in Manhattan. The Met presented vaudeville with the movies until 1935, when Loew’s discontinued it in all of its New York area theatres except the State on Broadway…Until the introduction of city-wide saturation openings in the mid-1960s, the Met was always the top Loew’s house in Brooklyn and showed the movies direct from their Broadway runs and ahead of all the other Loew’s in the borough. Unfortunately, because it had to compete for product in the downtown area against the Albee, Paramount, Fox, and Strand, the Met’s programs usually changed every two weeks, so it was not as profitable as it might have been. Attendance on a second week would drop by at least 50%, even with a “hit” movie.
The Beacon was originally supposed to be part of a Roxy circuit throughout the Greater New York area, funded by William Fox after he acquired control of the 6,000-seat Roxy (Seventh Avenue & 50th Street). Ground was also broken for the Roxy Mansion on Lexington Avenue between 58th & 59th Streets (opposite Bloomingdale’s), but construction never got started due to Fox’s bankruptcy. The completed Beacon sat vacant for at least a year before Warner Brothers took it over with a policy of a first-run movie and vaudeville. But WB also had the Strand and Hollywood Theatres in the Broadway/Times Square area, and they got the best of the studio’s product, and the Beacon usually the leftovers. WB soon gave up on the Beacon and the lease was taken over by Brandt Theatres, which converted it to double features. Due to the dominance of the Loew’s and RKO circuits in Manhattan, Brandt could only get neighborhood secon-run status for the Beacon, which continued until the 1960s when saturation “Premiere Showcase” release started. But by that time, the Beacon had become faded and decrepit, and business did not improve much with first-run movies. Due to its size and expense of upkeep, it closed as a movie house and eventually re-opened as a “live” concert house. Even then, it went through several losing managements before reaching its current and apparently stabilized condition. About two years ago, it acquired a new marquee with computer-operated attraction boards.
The Corona Theatre on Junction Boulevard was built by Small & Strausberg, which operated under the name of the S&S Circuit. It was constructed simultaneously with another S&S theatre in Corona, the Granada, which was located on Polk Avenue (now 37th Avenue) at 44th Street. Both theatres opened within days of each other in February, 1927. Although the 1,750-seat Granada was the larger of the two, it was located in a mainly residential area and never did well, even with attempts at vaudville and wrestling/boxing matches. It was one of the first victims of home TV and closed in the early 1950s. It served as a factory/warehouse for many years and still stands. When I visited the site last summer, it seemed to be at least partially occupied by a local church/charity group, but it was closed at the time and I could find no one to answer questions. I’ve never been able to find photos of its interior and have always been curious. The name suggests that it might have been Spanish/Moorish decor. An elderly friend who attended the Granada as a youngster can only remember that it was of the stadium type, with a raised section of seats at the rear of the auditorium instead of a balcony…Up until the advent of television, the Corona always did well because of its location in the heart of Junction Boulevard shopping. But it was never more than subsequent run, showing the movies two weeks after Loew’s Plaza and RKO Keith’s Flushing, which were the leaders for that area…The S&S Circuit was one of many acquired by William Fox during the 1928-29 rampage that ended in his bankruptcy. In the re-organization that followed, all of the ex-S&S theatres, including the Corona and Granada, landed with Skouras Theatres, which ran them until their closure. I believe that the Corona lasted only a few years longer than the Granada. It was converted to retail and the exterior shell still stands.
In March, 1933, while still known as the New Roxy (a name successfully challenged by the original Roxy), it shared the New York premiere engagement of “King Kong” with Radio City Music Hall. Incredible though it might seem, both theatres supported the movie with a stage show, “Jungle Rhythms,” though the version at the New Roxy was slightly less spectacular because it had a smaller resident company of performers and musicians than the Music Hall. But between them, about 400 people were employed as soloists, chorus, or orchestra players. The combined seating capacity of the two theatres was about 10,000, and each gave 5 complete (movie and stage) shows per day. Not surprisingly, with so many seats available, “King Kong” lasted only one week at the Music Hall, but continued (with stage show) for two more weeks at the New Roxy.
Paul, you’re welcome. But I erred in reporting Proctor’s name. He was Frederick F. Proctor, though advertising and promotion always referred to him as F.F. Proctor. When I wrote “J.J. Proctor,” I must have been momentarily thinking of his rival, J. J. Shubert. The Shubert brothers once tried to convert some of their playhouses to vaudeville, but were unsuccessful due to the monopoly of Proctor, Albee, Keith and others.
J.J. Proctor was one of the great American vaudeville entrepeneurs, the equal of E.F. Albee and B.F. Keith. Ironicially, many of their theatres became the nucleus of RKO Theatres at the onset of the sound movie era. But their names remained on some of them for many years after, as witness RKO Proctor’s 58th Street at Third Avenue, NYC. The 3,100-seat Thomas Lamb “atmospheric” opened in 1928 and was a brand-new replacement for another Proctor’s theatre that had occupied that site since the turn of the century.
The 3,444-seat 175th Street Theatre was designed by Thomas Lamb, with an interior quite similar to a slightly smaller theatre that he designed for Loew’s in Syracuse, NY (now known as the Landmark).The 175th Street was built at the same time as the nearby George Washington Bridge, but opened before it when bridge construction fell behind schedule. Loew’s hoped that people would regularly drive over from northern New Jersey to attend the theatre, but if they ever did, they were never enough to make it very profitable. After a few months of movies with stage shows, the 175th Street went to films only for the balance of its cinematic life. Because of its location on the Upper Upper West Side, it never got the recognition it deserved as one of New York City’s most sumptuous movie palaces. The programs were never more than first-run for that neighborhood, so who would go there except locals?…In recent years, the church ownership has been renting the theatre for concerts and conventions that don’t clash with its own schedule. With help from those revenues, it has been able to maintain the 175th Street in a condition very close to the original.
Perhaps today the neighborhood is considered Glendale, but when the Oasis Theatre first opened in September 1927, the area was part of Ridgewood. Sol Brill, a onetime business associate of William Fox, built the Oasis, which was designed by Thomas Lamb in a subdued Egyptian style. The stage opening and surrounding area were draped to suggest a tent that might be found in a desert oasis. Most of its original 1,800 seats were on the ground floor, but the Oasis had a small balcony with a loge section at the front. The stage was too shallow for vaudeville, and the Oasis showed only movies, but employed a pit orchestra with 15 musicians plus an organist until 1929, when the theatre converted to “talkies.” For its first few years, the Oasis showed a feature movie, supported by shorts and newsreels, with program changes every three days, and then switched to double features. The movies were always second-run for Ridgewood because the Fox (later Randforce) Ridgewood and RKO Madison, both located in the heart of the shopping district, were the area’s leaders. The Oasis, on the upper part of Fresh Pond Road, was a very long walk from there and in a more residential area. Sol Brill eventually sold the Oasis to the Randforce circuit, so it landed under the same management as the Ridgewood for the rest of its life as a movie house…Several years ago, after standing empty since its closing as a roller rink, the Oasis was semi-demolished for conversion to a CVS store. Only the basic structure was kept; everything else is new.
The Avalon had an unusual beginning. Built by a local Brooklyn company as the Piccadilly, it was sold prior to opening to Loew’s Theatres, which changed the name to Avalon. But Loew’s was very disappointed by the Avalon’s boxoffice takings and at the same time covetous of the Century-owned Prospect Theatre in Flushing, Queens, where Loew’s had no outlet. Loew’s offered to swap the Avalon for the Prospect, but Century considered it an unequal trade. Loew’s finally offered to add another of its lesser Brooklyn theatres, the Manor, to the deal. Century agreed, but only under the condition that the grosses of all three theatres would be “pooled” and that Loew’s and Century shared 50-50 in any profits that were made. That arrangement lasted from 1928 until the early 1950s, when Loew’s had to “divest” the Prospect because of the Federal anti-trust decree against the company. The Prospect reverted to Century, which also kept the Avalon and Manor (by then re-named the Vogue) because Loew’s couldn’t have taken them back even if it had wanted to.
Loew’s Pitkin was one of architect Thomas Lamb’s most beautiful “atmospheric” designs and first opened in November, 1929, with a combination policy of feature movie and vaudeville. As far as I know, the Pitkin was one of only three Brooklyn theatres in the “atmospheric” style, the others being the Loew’s 46th Street (originally known as the Universal Theatre) and the Fortway. Have I missed any?
The correct name of this theatre is the Meserole, not the Mezzerole. It was named for nearby Meserole Street and is located at 723 Manhattan Avenue. Most of the interior has been converted into a chain drug store, and you can see portions of the original auditorium if you walk all the way to the back of the premises…For most of its life, the Meserole was operated by the Randforce Circuit, and its chief rival in the neighborhood was the RKO Greenpoint.
The RKO Greenpoint Theatre was totally demolished years ago. You may have it confused with the Meserole Theatre, which was further down Manhattan Avenue at #723. The Meserole’s interior has been converted into a chain drug store. You can still see portions of the domed auditorium ceiling if you walk all the way to the back of the store.
Marquee, a quarterly magazine published by Theatre Historical Society of America, has published quite a few photos of the Capitol Theatre in recent years. You can probably order copies of those issues by contacting them through the THS website at www.historictheatres.org
Yes, it could be used as a cinema again, but I doubt that it ever will for as long as the current church owns it. Their services are usually packed to capacity. I’m sure that some people go just to see the theatre’s interior decor, which is mostly intact though garishly re-painted in colors that would probably make John Eberson turn over in his grave. There is also a huge chandelier hanging from the center of the auditorium ceiling, which ruins the “atmospheric” effect.
The Ridgewood may well be the longest continuously operated movie theatre in the Greater New York area, if not the entire USA. Designed by Thomas Lamb, it first opened in 1913 as the Fox Ridgewood, with William Fox as owner-builder. For its first decades, it presented vaudeville as well as movies. After William Fox’s bankruptcy in 1930, the Ridgewood landed in the Randforce Circuit. The theatre was always first-run for its neighborhood, though never for the borough of Brooklyn until the era of saturation release. In all of its 91 years, I don’t think that the Ridgewood ever closed, even for multiplexing. I have never been inside the theatre, but judging by the current decrepit appearance of its entrance and exterior, I’m surprised that it’s even standing, let alone operating…I hope that I’m correct in stating that the Ridgewood Theatre is in Brooklyn. It has always been advertised as such, though part of the area known as Ridgewood is actually in Queens.
The Jackson Theatre was designed by Herbert J. Krapp and opened in the 1920s with movies only. It had no stage facilities and never presented vaudeville, though during silent days it had a resident orhestra that played accompaniment to the movies. It also never had a balcony. It was designed in the so-called “stadium” style, with a raised section of seats at the rear of the orchestra floor. It was this “stadium” section that formed the basis for the two additional auditoriums…The Jackson was originally built and operated by Grob & Knobel, a small circuit also responsible for the Boulevard Theatre in Jackson Heights and the Sunnyside Theatre (both also designed by Herbert J. Krapp). In 1928, Grob & Knobel sold all three theatres to William Fox, who lost them in bankruptcy in 1930. In a liquidation of the Fox properties, the Jackson and Boulevard were taken over by Skouras Theatres and the Sunnyside by Century. The Boulevard still stands, but turned into an Hispanic restaurant/theatre. The Sunnyside was totally demolished in the 1960s to make way for a supermarket and its parking lot.
The Capitol was one of the most important theatres in the entire history of movie palaces. When the 5,300-seat theatre first opened in 1919, it was the largest in the USA and probably the world, remaining so until the 1927 debut of NYC’s Roxy, which exceded it by only 700 seats. Designed by Thomas Lamb in a blend of Adam and Empire styles, the Capitol was far less flamboyant than the palaces that started rising in the mid-1920s, but made up for it in elegance. Among its most striking features were a glorious white marble staircase that connected the mahogany-paneled lobby to the mezzanine and 16 dazzling rock-crystal chandeliers that were salvaged from the legendary Sherry’s Fifth Avenue restaurant before its demolition. With Major Edward Bowes as its managing director and Samuel “Roxy” Rothapfel as producer of the stage shows, the Capitol set standards for all the big “presentation” houses that followed. Although “Roxy” eventually quit to build his own theatre only a block away, the Capitol continued to thrive, thanks partially to its affiliation with Loew’s, Inc., which gained control in 1924 when it acquired Goldwyn Pictures and the latter’s financial interest in the theatre. The Capitol showed MGM movies almost exclusively, but the supporting stage shows continued until 1935, when, as an economy measure, the Loew’s theatre division dropped them from all of its New York houses except the State (Broadway & 45th Street), which had always presented traditional vaudeville with a second-run movie. During this period, the Capitol’s seating capacity was reduced to about 4,400 by draping off portions of the upper balcony (which could easily be re-opened if needed). Due to the WWII boom in theatre attendance, the Capitol resumed stage shows in 1943, this time hiring the biggest “name” entertainers in order to compete with similar presentations at the Roxy, Paramount, and Strand, not to mention the vaudeville at Loew’s State and the in-house extravaganzas at Radio City Music Hall. In 1946, however, theatre attendance suffered a post-war leveling-off, and Loew’s decided to make the Capitol its only theatre with stage shows. The smaller State, with 3,300 seats, switched to movies only. The Capitol continued with stage shows until 1952, when their popularity expired due to similar fare that could be seen for free on television. The Capitol struggled on with movies only, and for the first time became known as Loew’s Capitol as Loew’s Theatres, now separated by federal anti-trust decree from MGM Studios, tried to establish its own identity. Although the Capitol could no longer book MGM movies without bidding for them against other theatres, in 1962 its vast stage space was MGM’s own choice for the presentation of its two Cinerama movies, “Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” and “How the West Was Won.” For those engagements, the Capitol became Loew’s Cinerama, and the name remained for several more wide-screen movies in other systems before it was declared consumer fraud and reverted to Loew’s Capitol. Unlike Loew’s State, the Capitol was never multiplexed because Loew’s thought the theatre had a future as a wide-screen, reserved-seat venue. But that proved difficult as fewer such movies were made and New York City exhibition shifted to “Premiere Showcase” whereby the new movies no longer opened exclusively on Broadway. In its final years, the huge Capitol was sometimes running the same movie as a 400-seater on the East Side. It was a sad and demeaning end to a great theatre.
The current Ziegfeld Theatre is a joke in comparison to the original one, which was designed by Joseph Urban and Thomas Lamb and first opened in February,1927 with the namesake producer’s stage musical, “Rio Rita,” followed later that year by “Show Boat.” The 1,600-seat auditorium broke convention by being egg-shaped, with the stage opening at the narrow end. A huge and exquisitely-colored mural, “The Joy of Life,” a stylized version of a medieval tapestry, covered the ceiling and side walls. To pay for its $2.5 million cost, Ziegfeld had to borrow from newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, who took control of the theatre when the producer died in 1932. Hearst rashly leased the Ziegfeld to Loew’s Theatres, which for nearly ten years ran it as a movie house. Due to its location on the west side of Sixth Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets, the Ziegfeld was considered too far from the Broadway-Times Square theatre district for first-run product, so Loew’s showed double features with program changes twice a week. Finally, in 1943, producer Billy Rose bought the Ziegfeld and returned it to stage plays, also repairing whatever damage Loew’s had done to the interior decor. After more failures than hits, from 1955-63 Rose leased the theatre to NBC for use as a TV studio. Rose then once more tried stage bookings, but in 1965, the short-lived “Anya” proved the Ziegfeld’s last attraction. Rose decided to sell the property to a real estate developer. Ironically, he died while negotiations were going on, but his executors finally made a deal for $17.1 million with Fisher Brothers, which demolished the Ziegfeld in September,1966 to make way for an office tower.
The second Academy of Music was built by William Fox, with Thomas Lamb as architect. It was never intended as a concert hall, and first opened in 1927 as a deluxe “presentation” house with a feature movie and vaudeville. Fox had been shut out of building in the Broadway-Times Square area, so he hoped that crowds would flock to 14th Street to attend this beautifully appointed 3,600-seat theatre, but that didn’t happen. With the onset of the Depression, Fox lost his entire theatre empire, including the Academy of Music. In the bankruptcy proceedings that followed, the Academy became part of the Skouras circuit, which operated it for the rest of its four decades as a movie theatre. Skouras was notorious for its housekeeping, and the Academy became increasingly shabby and uncomfortable with the passing of time…Interestingly, simultaneously with the Academy of Music, Fox and Lamb built a slightly smaller version in Brooklyn on Bedford Avenue near Eastern Parkway. The 3,200-seat Savoy Theatre had a similar auditorium, but without a grand lobby connecting it to the entrance. Happily, the Savoy still stands and is used as an evangelical church, with most of the interior decor intact except for whitewashing of some areas. Some of the original “drops” used for vaudeville are still hanging in the stage loft.