Loew's Capitol Theatre

1645 Broadway,
New York, NY 10019

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Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on February 19, 2004 at 4:14 pm

The following is forwarded to this website from a long time friend, SDH, formerly managing director of the Chicago Theater, q.v.

My one visit to the Loew’s Capitol was in the early 1960’s. It was located almost next door to the Warner Brothers Hollywood, which was almost next door to the Mark Strand. Loew’s had converted the Capitol to Cinerama and it was completely draped. I understand, though, that the original decor was still there behind the curtains. I remember it had one of those Loew’s new-style New York marquee: Stainless steel and shadow letters with the theatre name (Just like the Loew’s State two blocks down Broadway). Those new Times Square marquees had no changeable letter boards on them because every one of those theatres had immense electric false fronts from Artcraft-Strauss. The orchestra seats under the balcony had been removed (you couldn’t see Cinerama from under thebalcony), and a Japanese Garden was built at the back of the floor, a ridiculous sight indeed. Since the balcony was the best place to sit, they had put escalators in the center of the famous marble stairs. That was the only theatre I ever saw with escalators except for the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. Now, of course, all these new downtown Loew’s multiplexes have escalators galore: What better place to put a theatre auditorium than in the windowless center of a building?
I have seen pictures of the Capitol interior before Cinerama and it was Loew-Lamb Adam style. Very stately, very simple ornament.

The organ was an Estey which originally had the lighted cash register stop controls. It is an apocryphal story that G. D. Harrison, who was servicing the organ in the days before he reached the pinnacle of Aeolian-Skinner) set every piston to spell out dirty words which were clearly visible from the balcony. Later on, Loew’s did spring for a beautiful standard horseshoe console, but the organ was still an Estey which had a very bland residence-organ character with nothing really theatrical about it. It didn’t sound very good I’m told, but did any Estey ever sound very good? Very bland, and nothing which could possibly offend!

You know, of course, that Roxy was at the Capitol before the Roxy Theatre was built, in the capacity of grand high poobah of ridiculous stage shows, describing the stage show over WOR, the Loew’s-owned radio station in Secaucus. Major Bowes replaced him, very pleased to have Roxy out. Bowes, after the stage show era was gone, was the host of “Major Bowes' Amateur Hour” on CBS. This show was the direct predecessor of the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour.”

VincentParisi on January 22, 2004 at 11:56 am

Thank you Warren for your advice, I will check their archives. The really difficult thing is getting color photos of these theaters. As I said the color photo of the Capitol was pretty amazing. And the one of the Bronx Paradise in Time-Life’s This Fabulous Century is not to be missed. Does anyone know of color photos of the interiors of the Capitol, Paramount, Roxy, SF Fox, Grauman’s Million Dollar or Chi Paradise? One can recreate an architectural effect in the theaters that remain but how do you match the color and lighting of masters long dead who did not pass on their art? And this was an enormous part of their impact.

VincentParisi on January 21, 2004 at 6:01 pm

But the Loew’s State and Warner Cinerama were twinned in ‘68(the year the Capitol was closed) and were still used as road show houses. Also from what I gather that despite the twinning the screen sizes remained the same(Vincent Canby mentions it in is review of Oliver.) I was in the State 1 after it was twinned and found the size of the screen disappointing in relation to the house. The Warner Cinerama orchestra however was still an excellent 70mm house and it is sorely missed as NY does not have a single theater like it today. The Capitol is one theater I wish I could have seen. Pictures of its original untouched auditorium seem to be as rare as hens teeth.Though the Loew’s State 2 entrance had a partial color photo of it and that image fragment was very beautiful. They also had a large marble planter or pedestal that had been saved.

theatrefan on November 2, 2003 at 12:55 pm

The Capitol Theatre opened on October 24, 1919, on Broadway in New York City. The central feature of the Capitols expansive lobby was a white marble staircase. Designed by Thomas Lamb, the lush auditorium seated 5,300. Crystal chandeliers, walnut paneling and elaborated gold ceilings created the illusion that this was indeed a palace. The Capitol was demolished in 1967.

richarddziadzio on June 11, 2002 at 4:43 pm

I was in this theatre first time in 1962 after they remodeled for 3 projector Cinerama. The original theatre had 5 sections of seats even in the balcony. They hung curtains blocking off the outer 2 sections leaving the middle 3 sections. They also draped off the rear third of the balcony. You could stand on the railing in the balcony, lift the curtain, and see the original theatre intact. They created an temporary huge theatre inside even a bigger one. This must have been a beautiful house.

SethLewis on April 25, 2002 at 1:25 am

I saw Planet of the Apes and 2001 here…An awesome multi aisle theatre the likes of which we will never see again

Stannorton on December 8, 2001 at 5:43 pm

The Capitol was managed by Samuel"Roxy" Rothafel before he built his own Roxy. MgM opened many of its pictures here.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on September 30, 2001 at 11:04 pm

I was lucky enough to see 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY here in June 1968. I’ve never forgotten the movie, or the theater. New York sure could use another one like it right now.