Plaza Theatre

42 East 58th Street,
New York, NY 10022

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Showing 101 - 125 of 159 comments

edblank on May 26, 2008 at 7:52 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 1:14 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 9:47 am

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 10:07 am

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 7:03 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 5:39 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 8:34 am

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Astyanax on January 16, 2006 at 7:33 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 5:25 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 5:00 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 2:33 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 5:18 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 1:46 pm

None of the original decor survived.

jay58 on January 11, 2006 at 1:45 pm

Sorry, that should be “Vanderbilt.”

I must also mention that if what was playing at the Plaza didn’t interest us, we could always go to the RKO 58th Street where I saw Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Time Machine. What a place that was!

BTW, my parents moved in to their apartment in 1943; my Father is still there! Yes, we do know the Plaza!

jay58 on January 11, 2006 at 1:42 pm

My brother, sister and I were raised in the building that is just west of the building that used to be the Plaza Theatre and is now the Tao Restaurant. I was delighted to find this site and hope that readers will be pleased by what I have to offer.

First, to the writer who mentioned Polly, I have quite a vivid recollection of her. She was in vaudeville for many years; I wish that I could remember her stories. Mr. Evans, the long-time manager of our childhoods, confirmed her tales. I remember that in her later years she was especially washed in rouge and ate saltine crackers behind her booth.

We were all quite friendly with Mr. Evans and Robbie, the building’s caretaker and I spent many hours in the building, upstairs and down, during business hours and off-hours. Robbie and Don Rugoff allowed me to store my first bicycle in the alley between the Plaza and my parents' building. I saw Gimme' Shelter in the theatre probably three times. Once from the projection booth and twice in the audience.

Another writer explained the relationship between the Plaza and the Vanderbuilt family’s mansion on 5th Avenue. The writer is quite correct. I spent hours in the basement (beyond the public waiting area) looking at what was left of he stables. There was a lot of plumbing but the archways were absolutely there, clear as day. Do you remember the steps going downstairs? They were built on what used to be the ramp going down to the stalls!

BTW, the short buildings that go from the Plaza to the corner of Madison Avenue used to be separate brownstones that were built in the civil war era. They were combined into a “horizontal multiple dwelling” in the 30s. The corner building, the one that is on the SW corner of 58th and Madison, was the first of these to be built and housed the Vanderbilt’s stablemen!

Mr. Evans was succeeded by Mr. Marks, a tall gentleman who walked with a limp and later worked at other theatres. We lost contact years ago.

The Plaza Theatre was an extraordinary place. We all have many happy memories of it.

By the way, Neil (Doc) Simon was one of the owners of the Theatre property.

William on January 9, 2006 at 5:57 am

The Plaza Theatre was listed as seating 530 people.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 9, 2006 at 5:26 am

Thanks Al!!! That’s been bugging me for a while now. Then I saw the movie at the 57th St. Playhouse. I probably saw another film or two that same day in the city, since my M.O. was usually to squeeze in as much as possible on these solo ventures into Manhattan.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on January 7, 2006 at 10:54 am

Ed, NOT A LOVE STORY, the feminist anti-porn documentary with all the porn scenes plate dthe 57th St. Playhouse in June 1982. The PLAZA was showing an extended run of the hit DIVA.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 5, 2006 at 9:42 am

I’m still curious if anyone knows whether any of the original Plaza Theater decor remains in the current Tao restaurant that occupies the space. I drove past not too long ago and the place is definitely still open, but I couldn’t see much inside. I’m fairly certain I saw the Lindsay Anderson comedy “Brittania Hospital” with Malcom McDowell here in ‘83. And there was a quasi-documentary film in 1986 called “Stripper” that I also saw here. Or so I believe. Does anyone know of any interior photos?

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 8, 2005 at 10:23 am

I’m not sure that I ever attended this theater, but I’m trying to track down if a movie named “Not a Love Story” played here around 1981? This was an un-rated (but definitely graphic) documentary about the porno industry that I definitely saw in one of the small mid-town theaters in the upper ‘50’s. I originally thought I saw this at either the Festival or 57th Street Playhouse but then I got to thinking it might have been here at the Plaza or maybe even the Paris Theater or the Cinema III in the Plaza Hotel.

Does the movie ring a bell with anyone? Anyone familiar with midtown bookings for the film?

RobertR on October 27, 2005 at 12:07 pm

The director of this film used to make pro nazi films. I have never seen this film but remember reading a lot about it in a film class.
View link

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 27, 2005 at 5:16 am

Was the theater completely gutted for the TAO restaurant? I understand the food there is good, and might be interested in making some dinner plans, with camera on hand, particularly if any of the original decor remains.

As hardbop mentioned back in April, there is confusion regarding this theater and the one that was actually located within the Plaza Hotel on Central Park South. I was confused myself about it. That theater (in the hotel) was called Cinema III and was also turned into a restaurant! Here’s the cinematreasures page: /theaters/6461/

ERD on October 27, 2005 at 4:53 am

I remember going with my dad and brother back in the 1950’s to see an Alex Guiness film. It was a charming movie house that added to New York’s charm.

pbenzon on October 27, 2005 at 4:32 am

Does anyone have further information on the Chaplin series that played at the Plaza in the 60s? Or on where The Great Dictator played when it was re-released in 1972?

dave-bronx™ on October 24, 2005 at 6:20 pm

It was a mess over when they were building that Four Seasons hotel.