Plaza Theatre

42 East 58th Street,
New York, NY 10022

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Showing 76 - 100 of 146 comments

jay58 on May 30, 2008 at 7:24 am

Astyanax, thanks for mentioning the Fine Arts which was on 58th between Park and Lex. I saw “The Producers” there, first-run.

longislandmovies on May 30, 2008 at 12:13 am

As i was C/O point person on the rialto i can tell you we did spend money there.The theater did ok but C/O could not get the bookings in the times square area.

dave-bronx™ on May 29, 2008 at 7:12 pm

Al, wouldn’t you say that his ‘spending undue expense’ prevented those resources from being available to maintain the facilities that they already built or renovated? For example, wouldn’t the money they threw away on the Rialto, a theatre that even the porno operators didn’t want anymore and only lasted a couple years under CO, would have been better spent fixing the air conditioning at the B/C, or the escalator, or the roof? There were many Rialto’s that shouldn’t have been bothered with that caused the deterioration of many viable theatres like the B/C due to lack of resources.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 28, 2008 at 9:08 am

Whatever one thinks of Cineplex and Garth to accuse him of spending undue expense in preserving, booking and keeping single screens open in major cities is hardly a crime profile on this site.

Astyanax on May 27, 2008 at 10:16 pm

Truth be told, the Plaza was never a conventional venue, and until coming under the Rugoff banner in the ‘60s, specialized in some imports but mostly revivals. Under the deft booking pattern of Cinema 5 it established a clear identity as a prime first run art house in league with the Paris to the west, and the Fine Arts to the east. After the exit of the specialized Rugoff bookings and advertising campaigns, it became just another screen in a marginal location.

dave-bronx™ on May 27, 2008 at 6:40 pm

No I didn’t work for them, thanks be to God, but I was as close to them as you can get without working for them.

But you now make my point: he ignored the economic realities of the business by spending too much money (on the wrong things)and keeping too many single screens.

longislandmovies on May 27, 2008 at 3:33 pm

dave did you work for C/O?

Cineplex was sold like many of the other companys along the way.
Garths main downfall was he spent too much and kept to many single screens.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 27, 2008 at 10:28 am

Cineplex Odeon cared for theatres and kept many sites in good shape and open way past their profitable stage. They used their clout to book first runs films at sites that were no longer viable due to their location between zones. The Plaza was such a location.

Having stated that, they also booked all theatres the same with no care taken to audience profiles. As a result the Plaza often played horror and children’s films and wide release specialty titles such as DRIVING MISS DAISY might end up at the Kenmore in Brooklyn.

jay58 on May 27, 2008 at 8:35 am

Cinema V at 595 Madison Avenue (around the corner) was the last operator of the Plaza. President Don Rugoff was an interesting character.

dave-bronx™ on May 27, 2008 at 2:56 am

“…the guy that new the bsns and cared for theaters….”
um, ok then – I guess that explains why they are such a vibrant, successful company today, right? Oh, and weren’t they listed in the most recent edition of the Fortune 500?

Sorry for the sarcasm, but I’m surprised you say that. Although I don’t know who you are, you have mentioned on other CT pages different people you know or worked for in NY. Several were people who actually did know the business and care for the theatres, but they also understood the economic realities of the business, something that His Arrogance The Grand Pooh-Bah never grasped. This guy was not anywhere near their league.

longislandmovies on May 27, 2008 at 12:46 am

Say what you will….Garth was the guy that new the bsns and cared for theaters….

dave-bronx™ on May 27, 2008 at 12:05 am

The decline of the Plaza began when that company from north of the border inflicted themselves on the New York market in about ‘86. They took over the combined RKO, Century and Cinema 5 (and later Walter Reade) theatre groups and totally ignored the established Manhattan booking patterns. One of their more stellar booking decisions they made for the Plaza was 'License to Drive’. His Arrogance, The Grand Pooh-Bah and all-around Mr. Know-It-All publicly stated that he was going to show the established NY area theatre circuits how to run theatres, and then proceeded to run the theatres he bought and built directly into the ground.

edblank on May 26, 2008 at 10:52 pm

All that woodwork gave the Plaza a warm, especially distinctive feeling even among Manhattan’s nicest art houses. I remember walking past the Plaza in 1996, when “Grumpier Old Men” was still on the marquee, and noting the theater has closed, and thinking, “Omigod, not the Plaza, too!” And, folks, we keep losing the most cherished moviehouses one by one. And why was such a tony theater playing wide-release commercial films in its final year or so? Is it possible no art-film distributor would book its pictures into such a classy house on an exclusive basis?

DixonSteele on September 6, 2007 at 4:14 pm

This theater was truly a beauty! Didn’t go a lot, but saw THE TALL BLONDE MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE. Also Mario Monicelli’s MY FRIENDS in ‘76.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on June 12, 2007 at 12:47 pm

The C/O for this theater – dated January 20, 1930 – lists toilets and lounge in the cellar with a Motion Picture Theatre with accommodations for 266 persons on the 1st story, 202 persons in the “Stadium” and 64 persons in “Boxes.” Total occupancy of 532 (though this should not be necessarily taken as a seat count).

Previous to that, in 1920, a C/O was issued for an Auction Room on the 1st and 2nd stories over cellar storage.

The first temp C/O for an eating and drinking establishment here shows up in 2000.

Per the Buildings Dept records, it appears this building is protected by Landmark status (perhaps exterior only?)

jay58 on June 10, 2007 at 1:07 pm

December 25, 1988
STREETSCAPES: The Plaza Theater; Is the Reel Running Out for a Converted Stable?

LEAD: DEMOLITION work has begun on a handful of small buildings on the north side of 57th Street between Madison and Park Avenues in anticipation of a new commercial project that William Zeckendorf Jr. is developing.

DEMOLITION work has begun on a handful of small buildings on the north side of 57th Street between Madison and Park Avenues in anticipation of a new commercial project that William Zeckendorf Jr. is developing.

Mr. Zeckendorf and his partners control a plot of about 20,000 square feet, and are understood to be attempting to enlarge their zoning lot by acquiring nearby property, or, perhaps, only the unused development rights from those properties. One such property is the 10,000-square-foot plot occupied by the one-story Plaza Theater, at 42-44 East 58th Street, which started life as Cornelius Vanderbilt 2d’s stable.

The death of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1877 dispersed his great fortune in several directions. A major beneficiary was his favorite grandson, Cornelius 2d, who inherited the family portraits and $5 million, according to John Foreman, who is writing a book on the Vanderbilt family houses.

In 1879, when the estate was finally settled, Cornelius 2d began construction of his mansion at the northwest corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue – one of several family houses that helped change Fifth in this section into ‘'Vanderbilt Alley.’‘ He also built a grand stable at 42-44 East 58th Street, neither too close nor too far from his home.

Designed by George B. Post, the stable was French Renaissance in style, of brick and limestone with a peaked roof. Large central doors led to a storage area on the first floor for carriages and a ramp to the basement for the horses. Servants lived on the second floor.

The stable housed not only carriages but also sleighs for winter use in Central Park.

Elizabeth Lehr in her 1935 book, ‘'King Lehr in the Gilded Age,’‘ recalls seeing the Vanderbilt sleigh ’‘flash by in a blaze of red – dark red liveries, red carriagework, crimson plumes, red and gilt.’'

Cornelius 2d died in 1899 and in 1916 the family converted the stable to a dance hall. The Vanderbilt house itself was replaced by the Bergdorf Goodman store in 1928. The next year the Vanderbilts leased the former stable to a theater operator, Leo Brecher.

Brecher retained Harry Creighton Ingalls to design not a new building, but an alteration. The front wall was taken down and an auditorium was inserted in the first two floors. According to Brecher’s son, Walter, the present central stairway to the basement lounge is a reworking of the old cleated horse ramp, and the lines of brick arches that run through the lower floor are actually the remains of the original stall enclosures.

The 500-seat theater opened in January 1930 with an unusual policy. ‘'Better a good old picture than a dull new one,’‘ The New York Sun quoted Brecher, who was competing against giant movie palaces like Proctor’s at 58th Street and Third Avenue. The Sun reported that the Plaza ’‘revived the old Chaplin two-reelers and had dowagers rolling up in limousines’‘ to see them. Indeed, the intimate theater was designed to look antique to appeal to a more moneyed crowd ’‘who didn’t like to be part of a huge mob,’‘ according to Walter Brecher.

Tudor in style, the building has a rough stucco exterior with irregular stone trim, a small balcony over the marquee and six double doors of colored, leaded glass with insets of coats of arms.

The architect gave the lighting fixtures antique finishes, artificially aged the woodwork, installed a timbered ceiling and decorated the rough white walls with colored stencilwork.

IN 1938, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum and the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt 2d, sold the building to Walter Reade, the theater-chain owner, although the Brechers continued to operate the theater through the 40’s.

Now the building is owned by the family of Jules Stein, founder of the Music Corporation of America, known as M.C.A. – and leased to Cineplex Odeon of Toronto. The stencilwork has been covered with dark paint, but the theater is largely intact – the chairs and sofas in the downstairs lounge make it as inviting as a private club.

Representatives for the owner and the lessee would not comment on reported offers to buy out their interests. But Mr. Zeckendorf confirms that the 5,000-square-foot theater parcel would make a nice addition to his assemblage. The Stein family also owns another 5,000-square-foot parcel at 601-603 Madison Avenue – connected to the Zeckendorf site only by the Plaza Theater land.

Mr. Zeckendorf has not yet announced plans for the project he will build on his assemblage. And so the fate of a Vanderbilt stable converted to a mock-Tudor moviehouse that favored the old over the new remains undecided.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 2, 2007 at 10:03 am

Variety April 1, 1959


“With the sole exception of the N.Y. Daily News, every N.Y. newspaper reviewing the German import, “The Third Sex”, last week also noted that the picture had been directed by Veit Harlan, the man who made the anti-semitic “Jew Suess” for the Nazis.

Picture itself, with it’s theme of homosexuality, got panned by the mass circulation press, not on account of Harlan, but because the reviewers considered it an inappropriate attraction for the Easter season….

At United Artists, which is half-owner of the Plaza Theatre, where the import opened, the top echelon was reportedly dismayed as considerable reaction to the booking of the Harlan film began to come in. The house is owned 50-50 by UA and Ilya Lopert, who works for UA. Lopert books the house. Story is that the UA brass wasn’t aware of the booking until it got hit with the reaction. Lopert originally owned “The Third Sex” having acquired it for a reported $35,000.

He later sold it to David Dietz of D. & F. Distribution Corp. for $85,000. Dietz is new to the foreign film field and sez he “didn’t know””….

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 5, 2006 at 8:39 am

I knew I had seen this film at one of the 57th or 58th street theaters in mid-town Manhattan, but until I found this ad, could not be certain it was this theater:
Stripper – NY Post 1/30/86

The film concerns itself with a competition at a Strippers' convention in Las Vegas, focusing on the stories of a handful of the women competing for a title. The actual competition was filmed as a documentary as were interviews with each of the featured strippers. What made the film a bit controversial was that the filmmakers then shot re-enactment footage featuring the ladies as themselves. Funny how today (after years of Court-TV, A&E docu-dramas and even segments on Nightline and 60 Minutes) such a practice wouldn’t even cause a blink.

irajoel on July 23, 2006 at 11:34 am

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Astyanax on January 16, 2006 at 10:33 am

Thanks for the update, Jay58. I did not live in the neighborhood but I remember the Cinema V offices in the Fuller building after visiting art gallery exhibitions there.

As for the Lopert name, it often appeared as the distribution arm for many UA arthouse releases in the 60’s & 70’s, as well as being connected to the Plaza.

jay58 on January 16, 2006 at 8:25 am

Astyanax, the last I remember of Don Rugoff was that he presided over a stockholders meeting of Cinema V at the office at 595 Madison Avenue (the Fuller Building). I think he passed away in the late 80s.

Re your earlier comment abotu Ilya Lopert. Yes, I believe that he was in the chain of title at some point. I think his daughter Tanya went to school with my sister. I have to ask her about that. Rings a bell.

Did you live in the neighborhood?

Astyanax on January 14, 2006 at 8:00 am

Thanks to jay58 for his description of movie-going in a very different time and place, where the theatre owner, in this case Don Rugoff could give you permission to park your bike in the theatre alley. Showmen, owners, exhibitors or whatever you want to call them, played a vital role in making a trip to the movies a personal experience. Sadly there are no Marcus Loews, Walter Reades or Don Rugoffs still on the scene. Dan Talbot stands alone. Any idea what became of Don Rugoff after Cinema 5 was taken over?

jay58 on January 12, 2006 at 5:33 pm

Certainly the lobby was wood paneled, to the best of my recollection. I remember that the interior walls of the theatre were covered with curtains, gold, I believe. The downstairs wating area was also gold-themed. Sorry I can’t really help much with this. Kids don’t pay that much attention… Maybe someone has some photos????

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 12, 2006 at 8:18 am

Can you describe the theater’s original decor, Jay58? A very early post here from RobertR recalls more wood detail than plaster.

jay58 on January 11, 2006 at 4:46 pm

None of the original decor survived.