Comments from Warren G. Harris

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Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Meserole Theatre on Jan 22, 2004 at 8:41 am

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about RKO Greenpoint Theatre on Jan 22, 2004 at 8:28 am

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Capitol Theatre on Jan 22, 2004 at 8:05 am

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

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Loew's Valencia Theatre on Jan 22, 2004 at 7:50 am

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Ridgewood Theatre on Jan 21, 2004 at 1:14 pm

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Jackson Heights Cinema on Jan 21, 2004 at 12:54 pm

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Capitol Theatre on Jan 21, 2004 at 11:58 am

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Ziegfeld Theatre on Jan 20, 2004 at 11:22 am

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Academy of Music on Jan 20, 2004 at 10:16 am

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about UA Duffield Twin Theatre on Jan 18, 2004 at 1:34 pm

I agree that the Duffield was no movie palace— not ever. It was just a side street movie house with second or third run movies. The “Big Four” in downtown Brooklyn were the Albee, Metropolitan, Fox, and Paramount, with the Strand just a notch below that.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Astoria Theatre on Jan 18, 2004 at 1:30 pm

Designed by Thomas Lamb with 2,900 seats, it first opened in 1920 and was the largest theatre in Queens until the building of the Keith-Albee, Flushing, and Loew’s Valencia, Jamaica, near the end of the decade. Originally owned by the vaudeville chain of Ward & Glynne, the Astoria Theatre was purchased by Loew’s in 1923. In 1931, when Loew’s opened the larger and more spectacular Triboro Theatre only a block away on Steinway Street, it continued to operate the Astoria to stem competition. Unfortunately, Loew’s had to reduce the Astoria to move-over status, playing the same movies as the Triboro but two weeks later. That continued until 1940, when Loew’s entered into a secret “pooling” arrangement with Skouras Theatres, which took over the ownership of the Astoria and returned it to first-run status with films that normally played the RKO circuit (which had no outlet in Astoria). The boxoffice takings of the Triboro and Astoria were combined and shared equally by Loew’s and Skouras. This continued into the early 1950s, when, as a result of the federal anti-trust action against most of the major movie companies, the Astoria Theatre landed under the sole ownership of Skouras Theatres (a name eventually phased out in favor of United Artists Theatre Circuit)…I recently visited the Astoria Theatre site and seriously doubt that anything of the original interior remains. Even the backstage area has been converted to stores or offices.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about RKO Alden Theatre on Jan 18, 2004 at 12:50 pm

The theatre was designed by Herbert J. Krapp and first opened in December, 1928, as the Shubert Jamaica, presenting stage plays direct from Broadway or in trial productions. Barely a month later, the spectacular Loew’s Valencia Theatre opened directly across the street. Attendance fell so drastically at the Shubert that its lease was sold to Mutual Burlesque, which was soon shut down by the police after complaints from Jamaica’s many churches. With the onset of the Depression, the theatre went dark until October 17, 1930, when it re-opened under local ownership with movies and vaudeville. To expunge its slightly notorious past, it was re-named the Alden Theatre in honor of John Alden, one of the Puritan fathers. Several years later, RKO Theatres, which had no outlet in Jamaica, took over the Alden and also built a new entrance and marquee on Jamaica Avenue directly opposite the Valencia’s. Previously, the Alden’s entrance had been on 165th Street, though a marquee remained there in addition to the new but smaller one on Jamaica Avenue. Unfortunately, the RKO Alden had to contend not only with competition from Loew’s Valencia but also from the nearby Century’s Merrick, which had contracts with some of the studios that normally played the RKO circuit. A compromise was made whereby Skouras Theatres, which had ties to RKO, took over the Merrick’s operation and the boxoffice takings of the Merrick and Alden were shared equally by RKO, Skouras, and Century. Thus, program changes at the Alden and Merrick tended to be every other week, rather than weekly as at the Valencia.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Loew's Willard Theatre on Jan 18, 2004 at 11:56 am

The Willard Theatre first opened on November 26, 1924, and was the first theatre that the Loew’s circuit actually built in Queens. Its only other theatre in Queens at that time was the Astoria, which Loew’s purchased from its original owners, Ward & Glynne, in 1923. The Astoria first opened in 1920…The shell of the Willard still stands, but the interior was completely gutted in the 1950s for a catering hall that remains in business to this day.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Loew's Canal Theatre on Jan 18, 2004 at 11:25 am

The Canal was in Spanish baroque style, but it did NOT have the “atmospheric” touch of an auditorium ceiling decorated like the midnight sky with floating clouds and twinkling stars. As far as I know, only two theatres in Manhattan were in the true “atmospheric” style, RKO Proctor’s 58th Street (Third Avenue), which was designed by Thomas Lamb, and Loew’s 72nd Street (Third Avenue), which was mostly by Lamb but with some contributions by John Eberson…The Canal was built by Loew’s Theatres, which operated it until the 1960s when it became an “indie” before its eventual closure. As Loew’s Canal it was never successful, probably due to its location east of the Bowery. The movies that played there were usually at the end of their circuit run.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Loew's Valencia Theatre on Jan 18, 2004 at 11:09 am

Loew’s Valencia first opened on January 12th, 1929, and NOT in September of that year. The opening program was MGM’s “White Shadows of the South Seas” on screen and an elaborate stage show comparable to the best being offered on Broadway. Early in 1935, stage shows were dropped and replaced with double features, which was true of all other Loew’s theatres except the flagship State on Broadway. For several decades, the Valencia was the most successful theatre in Queens, due partly to its location in Jamaica, then the shopping hub of Queens and Long Island, and its “exclusive” status. The programs were first-run for Queens, and shown at least a week ahead of all other theatres in the borough. That began to change in the 1960s with the introduction of “Premiere Showcase,” where the new movies opened simultaneously city-wide. The Valencia was suddenly sharing movies with several other Queens theatres, and also could no longer count on a weekly change of program, which was another reason for its success. The Valencia was also hurt by the decline of Jamaica as a shopping and business center…I’m happy to say that I worked at Loew’s Valencia as an usher from 1953-57 while I was attending college and the theatre was still in its prime. Even though the Valencia seated about 3,600 people, we usually had waiting lines in the enormous “hold-out” lobby on Friday and Saturday nights and all day Sundays. On blockbusters like “From Here to Eternity” and a revival of “Gone With the Wind,” the lines were out on the sidewalk and around the corner on Merrick Road.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Elmwood Theatre on Jan 18, 2004 at 10:08 am

The 2,200-seat Elmwood was designed by architect John Schladitz and first opened in 1928 under the name of the Queensboro Theatre. It was the first theatre in Queens in the so-called “atmospheric” style, with the auditorium walls similar to those of a medieval castle, and the ceiling like the midnight sky, with twinkling stars and floating clouds. Due to its independent ownership and the then under-populated neighborhood, the Queensboro was never successful and was closed more often than open during the Depression and the WWII era. In 1946, the Interboro Circuit purchased it and re-opened it as the Elmwood Theatre, with slight change to the auditorium but with a new and modern marquee, boxoffice and entrance lobby. As the neighborhood rapidly grew after WWII, the Elmwood began to prosper, mainly because it could offer free parking in the empty “lots” behind the theatre…The new church ownership seems “solid as a rock,” and I doubt that there is any chance of the building being re-converted into a theatre. But I do know that the new owners are trying to restore some of the original interior decor, which was heavily damaged during the multiplexing.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Palace Theater on Dec 12, 2001 at 4:44 pm

This is NOT an atmospheric theatre.

Designed by Thomas Lamb, it is similar in decor to Loew’s State, New York City, and Loew’s Metropolitan in downtown Brooklyn.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Fox Theatre on Dec 12, 2001 at 4:41 pm

This is NOT an atmospheric theatre. You possibly have it confused with the atmospheric Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Sutton Theater on Dec 12, 2001 at 4:35 pm

Some of this information is incorrect. The Sutton was built before WWII, though I don’t have an exact date. At the time, it might have been the only movie theatre on 57th Street, but there were eventually others: the Festival, south side of 57th between Fifth & Sixth; the Normandie (later Playboy and now Screen Directors Guild) and Little Carnegie, both south side between Sixth & Seventh Avenues); and Lincoln Art (later Bombay and Biograph and now a Morton Williams Associated supermarket),north side between Seventh Avenue & Broadway).

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Loew's 46th Street Theatre on Dec 12, 2001 at 4:24 pm

The Universal Theatre was the first atmospheric in the Greater New York area and was designed by John Eberson. It was supposed to be part of a national circuit owned by Universal Pictures, which unfortunately couldn’t get product other than its own and after just a year sold the theatre to the Loew’s circuit, which re-named it the 46th Street Theatre. As both the Universal and Loew’s 46th, it housed vaudeville + movies until the introduction of talkies, when it started showing movies only.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Hollywood Theatre on Dec 12, 2001 at 4:17 pm

This theatre was designed by Thomas Lamb. Much of your info is incorrect. It was only briefly known as the 51st Street Theatre during some of the Depression years, when Warner Brothers sub-leased it for plays, concerts, etcetera. As soon as the Depression was over, Warners re-claimed it as the Hollywood and made it a showcase for its most-important releases such as “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Casablanca.” When the movie of “Life With Father” in 1947, it was re-named the Warner Theatre and then the Mark Hellinger when it was sold to house stage plays. The Warner Theatre name was then transferred to the Strand Theatre (B'way & 47th Street) when it dropped its stage show + feature film policy for movies only.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about Loew's State Theatre on Dec 11, 2001 at 2:04 pm

Loew’s State was designed by Thomas Lamb in the Adams style. For many years, it was the most famous vaudeville theatre in the USA except for the nearby Palace.

The movies shown at the State were always secondary to the vaudeville program and for the most part were “move-overs” from the Capitol, Paramount, or other Broadway houses. In 1946, vaudeville was finally discontinued at the State and it became a first-run theatre, mostly for MGM product until the studio and Loew’s circuit were “divorced” by Federal decree.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris commented about RKO Keith's Theatre on Dec 11, 2001 at 1:50 pm

This theatre is an atmospheric design by Thomas Lamb and first opened on Christmas Day, 1928. Lamb built it simultaneously with Proctor’s 58th Street in Manhattan (now demolished), which was also an atmospheric but different in decor from Keith’s Flushing.