Astor Theatre

1531 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Benjamin
Benjamin on July 19, 2005 at 5:17 pm

Here is most of the interesting stuff on the Astor Theater from “New York, 1960”:

“On December 17, 1959, the fifty-three-year old Astor Theater (George Keister, 1906) was reopened after undergoing a million-dollar renovation to transform it into what was described as a ‘complete composition in abstract art.’ [there is a footnote that cites a number of sources] … . As redesigned by John McNamara, the veteran theater architect, and the artist Buffie Johnson, the theater now presented Times Square with a marquee of tiny, twinkling white lights that brought to glittering life a sidewalk of Venetian glass terrazzo squares. The same flooring was carried through to the lobby, which also contained a twenty-five-by-ten foot continuation of Johnson’s "New York Summer Night, a huge abstract oil painting covering both side walls of the auditorium. Forty-five feet high and ninety-seven feet long, it was made up of 209 sections executed in a range of blues, intersected by a network of black lines and white, yellow and red spotches.”

The book also mentions that, “The remodeled interior featured a cantilevered mezzanine in place of the old boxes and a new proscenium installed to accommodate the fifty-by-twenty-foot wall-to-wall screen, which could be configured as either flat or curved in accordance with the projection requirements of a given film.”

By the way, although this book may seem like a coffee table-type book, it is also a scholarly and well-researched book. Nevertheless, in a work of this size (the last page of text is page 1,213!) there are bound to be errors and oversimplifications, and I believe I have found a few myself. Apparently a good portion of the info comes from things like contemporary newspaper accounts, for instance, and such accounts can themselves be inaccurate, poorly written or poorly edited. So although I think most of what they say is accurate, chances are that it is second- or third-hand info — and written up by people who aren’t necessarily theater or movie buffs.

Benjamin
Benjamin on July 18, 2005 at 8:27 pm

More information about the remodeling of the Astor (and also about the 1948-1949 remodeling of the Victoria — a/k/a the Gaiety) can be found in “New York, 1960” by Robert A.M. Stern (the famous architect) et al.

On page 441, there is a photo of the interior of the Astor after the 1959 remodeling. It shows the fantastic abstract mural, “New York Summer Night,” by Buffie Johnson that covered the eggshell (?) interior of the theater like wall paper. (I believe it was made up of hundreds of smaller panels.)

On page 442 of this book, Stern et al. have a paragraph or two that discusses the remodeling of the theater with some detail.

From the Stern book, as well as from some other sources (like a Hagstom map I have and the William Morrison book, “Broadway Theatres: History and Architecture,” that is mentioned on the Victoria/Gaiety page), here’s my understanding of the relationship of the Astor to the Victoria:

The bulk of the auditorium of the Astor Theater was really on 45th St. The seats faced to the west, away from Broadway. (If I recall correctly, the emergency exits along the left side of the orchestra level of the auditorium led directly out onto 45th St.) There was a small, thin office building filling in the space between the back of the auditorium and Broadway. A “tunnel entrance lobby” led through the ground floor of the office building, from Broadway to the back of the orchestra of this auditorium.

The bulk of the Victoria (Gaiety) Theater was really on 46th St., and, in this case, the auditorium faced to the south. A small, thin office building filled in the space between the auditorium and Broadway itself. As with the Astor, a tunnel entrance lobby went through the ground floor of the office building — but in the case of the Victoria it appears to have led to the left side of the auditorium, rather then to the back of the auditorium.

The 46th St. facade of the Victoria Theater was very handsome, and I wonder if this was the original main entrance to the theater when it was a “legit” theater, and if the Broadway entrance (through the office building) was a secondary entrance — or even a later addition. (I believe there is a photo of this facade in the William Morrison book.)

From various photographs that I’ve seen (I don’t recall exactly where, however), it seems that each of the office buildings originally had a small billboard and that these billboards became larger and larger over time. Eventually both office buildings were covered by the very same billboard, and the very last billboard was enormous — it covered the entire blockfront and even, I believe, wrapped around to the sides of the buildings. (This is the billboard that advertised, among other movies, “The Bible.”)

Looking back at my own feelings, and looking at old photographs of what was there in the early days, this billboard was actually too large in my opinion. For one thing, since it was a painted billboard (and not one made up of lights, for instance) it was kind of drab and ugly. But even if it had been made of lights, I still think it was too large as it towered over Times Sq. — at its narrowest point, yet! — and made you feel like you were at the foot of a gigantic ugly wall. Looking at the photos of old Broadway, I think the Times Sq. was much nicer before this gigantic billboard — in the earlier photos, Times Sq. still look like a real city intersection, and it still had some sort of human scale.

When the Victoria was remodeled in 1948-1949 (see the Victoria / Gaiety page for more details), the theater was extended and enlarged by moving the rear stage wall further back to add more seats. This put the screen of the Victoria virtually on the right side wall of the Astor Theater.

When the Astor Theater was remodeled (not sure if this was the 1959 remodeling), the Astor was extended and enlarged in a similar way, I believe. (This info is mentioned on the the Bijou Theater page of Cinema Treasures.)

From my vague recollections of the Broadway area in the early 1960s, it seems to me that the remodeling of the Victoria Theater is a rare example of a wonderful, fully worthwhile remodeling job. (In my opinion, remodeling jobs usually destroy the integrity and beauty of a design without creating anything nearly as good as what was destroyed.) Whenever I would go to Times Sq. area, it was a real treat to walk by the Victoria, and I always wanted to go see a movie at this theater — although, for some reason I never wound up going to the Victoria until the early 1970s when a friend took me to a press preview of “A Man Called Horse” [correct name?].)

As a number of commentators have mentioned, the interior of the theater was brought out to the street in this redesign. This was done, by carrying the wallpaper (the abstract mural, “New York Summer Night”) out of the auditorium, through the entrance lobby and out to the area beneath the marquee. They also did this, I think, with the Venetian glass terrazzo flooring. I believe both the wallpaper mural and the Ventian glass terrazzo flooring were abstract compositions that used lots of cobalt blue, lots of black and maybe some bits of red(?).

All of this was very jazzy, modern glamorous (especially to a kid) in a early 1960s kind of way.

A picture of the box office / ticket lobby of the Victoria can be seen on page 447 of the Stern book, and it seems that Edward Durrell Stone created a somewhat similar, but more modest, effect in his 1948-1949 remodeling of the Victoria. If I recall correctly, in the photo it seems like the lights beneath the marquee also extend into the tunnel entrance lobby.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on July 18, 2005 at 9:47 am

Joe-Boston,MA;
The Gaiety Theatre is listed here /theaters/2945/

JoeMcKendry
JoeMcKendry on July 18, 2005 at 9:41 am

I am interested in finding out some information about the Gaiety theater, and wondered if anyone knows much about it’s history or could direct me to a book that does. It seems like it went through a bunch of changes in the late 30’s and early 40’s. I’ve seen pictures with the Minsky name, and a big burlesque sign. Then it’s simply the Gaiety with smaller letters on the marquee that I couldn’t make out in the photo (c. 1938). I also read from an earlier posting that it was Laffmovie by 1942. Can anyone clarify what type of place this was – stage, theater, etc – and what changes it went through?

CelluloidHero2
CelluloidHero2 on July 18, 2005 at 5:38 am

TC – Excellent photo of the Astor

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on July 14, 2005 at 10:03 am

The Astor and the Victoria were two separate theaters until Marriott slaughtered them.
The street long sign above them often advertised films that played at neither theater. However it seems that Loews State across the Street would advertise there frequently(The Bible, Dr Dolittle, the Godfather, Great Gatsby etc.)

br91975
br91975 on July 14, 2005 at 9:38 am

One place to turn for a photo of the modernized Astor auditorium, mlobel, is the 1997 edition of Nicholas Van Hoogstraten’s book, ‘Lost Broadway Theatres’. Several copies are available throughout the NYPL system (http://www.nypl.org); if you want to purchase one, I’d recommend checking any Shakespeare & Company, Barnes & Noble, or Borders location in the city (the Strand, which would normally be my personal first choice, only has in stock at the moment one copy of the 1991 edition, which I cannot attest contains the same photo as the 1997 edition).

mlobel
mlobel on July 14, 2005 at 8:46 am

Vincent et al. – Thanks for the helpful replies. Just so I get this right, even after the 1959 modernization the Astor and Victoria were still two separate theatres, yes? (That is to say they were two distinct physical spaces.) But they shared the same enlarged billboard? Was it always dual engagement, or did they at times show different films? I know this is pretty specific, but does anyone know when exactly (what months) the Astor was shut down for the modernization? It seems like it was a pretty radical modernization, both interior and exterior; I’ve seen photos of the original theater (James Dean, etc.), but does anyone know of photos taken after the modernization? Thanks!

moviesmovies
moviesmovies on July 14, 2005 at 4:35 am

saw ‘There’s A Girl In My Soup’ here.

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on July 12, 2005 at 12:25 pm

To Mlobel
See the first(Warren’s) posting on this page.
One of the most iconic of all NY photos is the shot of James Dean in Times Square with 20,000 Leagues on the Astor marquee.
The Astor and the Victoria were two separate theaters which had their own billboards until unification.

teecee
teecee on July 12, 2005 at 11:58 am

Nice close up image from 1955:

View link

Source: MPTV

mlobel
mlobel on July 12, 2005 at 7:34 am

As an art historian, I’m duly impressed by all the knowledge and insight evident in the postings on this site. So I’m turning to all of you to see if I can get some help with my current research. I’m currently working on a book on the Pop artist James Rosenquist; some of you may know that Rosenquist was a billboard painter in New York City in the 1950s. My sense is that he worked on some of the major Times Square billboards; I’ve seen a photograph of one he did for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which a caption indicates was done in 1957 at 49th St. and Broadway (any guesses as to which theatre that was?). In any case, I’m particularly interested in a 1959 painting by Rosenquist titled “Astor Victoria.” It’s a mostly abstract canvas of paintstrokes and hatchmark with some fragmentary letters – probably supposed to represent a close-up view of a billboard. But after reading the posts on this site I’m struck by the timing of the painting, since the posts indicate that the Astor Theatre was modernized in 1959. So, my questions: 1) Was there an “Astor Victoria” theatre, or are those two entirely separate theatres? 2) Depending on the answer to #1, could “Astor Victoria” refer to the billboard shared between the two theatres, which I’m assuming would have been on B'way between 45th & 46th? If so, when was that enlarged billboard first used? 3) Did the 1959 modernization of the interior of the Astor theatre also affect the exterior in any way? I’m asking these questions because I think Rosenquist was concerned with the modernization of NYC and the destruction of its architectural past, and this may be registered in his paintings of the time. (He also painted a 1962 painting entitled “Mayfair,” which I’m also thinking referred to the Mayfair theatre; hadn’t this been recently modernized as well?) Sorry for the long post – any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated. You can also e-mail me at if that’s easier for you. Many thanks! -Michael Lobel, Assistant Professor, SUNY Purchase

RobertR
RobertR on June 11, 2005 at 1:46 pm

August 1941 the Astor was playing the MGM hit “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman.

CelluloidHero2
CelluloidHero2 on June 7, 2005 at 10:20 pm

The just released 2 disc DVD of East of Eden contains a 15 minute TV special of the World Premiere at the Astor Theater. You see some nice views of Time Square and the Astor Marquee. However, what is really nice is that about 9 minutes into the show they switch to inside the theater where you see some great views of the auditorium as the cameraman scans back and forth across the theater.

RobertR
RobertR on June 7, 2005 at 9:32 am

A NY Times ad for 10/5/52 shows the Astor playing Warner Bros. “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” in its 7th spectacular week.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on May 13, 2005 at 11:07 am

I saw that film on CUNY, too. Fascinating look at New York, in startling color.

RobertR
RobertR on April 18, 2005 at 10:03 pm

Here is the Astor again in 1948.

View link

RobertR
RobertR on April 18, 2005 at 9:38 pm

Check out the neon on the Astor and Victoria, you will never see the likes of it again.

View link

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on April 13, 2005 at 2:12 pm

What an incredible year, that 1939!

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on March 14, 2005 at 10:33 am

So how did a Goldwyn/Wyler film like Wuthering Heights miss the Music Hall and what was Powell at her height as an MGM star doing headlining a vaudeville bill for a second run feature at the State?

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on January 26, 2005 at 10:54 am

Does anybody remember like me that when they were tearing down the marquee one saw that underneath was the curved frame of the marquee that one sees in photos of the exterior of the theater from the early 30s? Who would have thought that it still existed for 50 years hidden away.

BoxOfficeBill
BoxOfficeBill on January 26, 2005 at 10:36 am

Warren— whew! that’s quite a tale of the thuggish ‘30s. I remember the '37-'59 decor of the Astor as being curtained-over with pale blue draperies. The entire proscenium was covered by them, and they extended over the tapered area where box-seats had been (the boxes had been removed). There are photos of the pre-'37 Astor in Nicholas von Hoogstraden’s book about theater architecture, no? The wide screen that the Astor installed in '53 was much too big for the theater— so big that an annoying shutter flicker spoiled every film I saw there from then until “On the Beach.” (A few weeks ago I vowed not to name films on this page, but now that I’ve broken my own rule I’ll mention Rita Hayworth in “Separate Tables” and Katherine Hepburn in “The Rainmaker."among thosepresentations.) Thanks for this incursion into the Astor’s history.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 26, 2005 at 10:27 am

I remember those blue sidewalks! Except when I saw them, they were the floor of a souvenir shop. By the time I got to Times Square the Astor was closed, although I knew that the shop had once been a theater, or at least its lobby. I wish I had the wherewithal to try to get a peek inside, but I didn’t.

RCMH
RCMH on January 6, 2005 at 3:02 pm

Many Tony Awards presentations where held at the old Astor Hotel Ballroom. For many years, the Broadway Ballroom at the Marquis hosted the post-Tony Awards banquet.

RCMH
RCMH on January 6, 2005 at 3:00 pm

The ballroom at the Astor Hotel was world-famous, but management at the Marquis in 1985 didn’t want to name one of the rooms after another hotel, even if that hotel was no longer there. The same reson there is not a room named after the Piccadilly Hotel that stood between the Music Box & the Morosco. They equated Times Square with theaters, not other hotels.