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“Bravo” Ed and Davebazooka for taking and posting those terrific photos! It’s a shame that more “unlikely” photographs like yours haven’t been taken — or, if taken, are languishing in someone’s attic somewhere. To my mind, too many photos are taken of the obvious stuff and too few of what’s really interesting — at least, to me!
To answer a question about Lindy’s: Yes, the Lindy’s next to the Mark Hellinger is the second Lindy’s — the one next to the Mark Hellinger was the “big” Lindy’s. The original Lindy’s — this was the small Lindy’s — was just to the north of where the Rivoli Theater was. I believe it closed in the late 1950s, and the Lindy’s next to the Mark Hellinger was then the only Lindy’s. Big Lindy’s closed in the late 1960s or early 1970s and was replaced by a “Brew Berger.” For many, many years, though, they were too “cheap” to replace the windows and revolving doors of Lindy’s, so you could see bits of Lindy’s even when it was a Brew Berger. (The Lindy’s in the One Astor Place Building is not a “true” Lindy’s, but a restaurant that was opened by the Reese (?)Organization years after the original Lindy’s closed. I think they may have also opened one in Rockefeller Center opposite Radio City Music Hall.)
I too think it would be great if someone built an “absolutely perfect” house of worship and traded it with the church for the Mark Hellinger. By the way, Donald Trump did something similar once. The New York Foundling Hospital (run by nuns) had a big, modern (1940s or 1950s) building that was too big and outdated for its needs in the late 1980s. (The mission of the hospital had changed dramatically.) The location of the hospital was perfect, though, for a large luxury apartment house. So Donald Trump built the nuns a brand new, state of the art foundling hospital at a nice, but cheaper, location just north of Greenwich Village, got the site of the Foundling Hospital in return and built a very large luxury apartment house on the site (Trump Plaza?). Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that converting the Hellinger back to theatrical / cinematic uses would be able to generate the same kind of money in order to make such a trade practical, though.
I believe the marquee that was up just before the Hellinger was converted to a church was basically the same marquee that was there when “My Fair Lady” (and later, “the Sound of Music”) was in residence. A number of Broadway marquees were re-done in the late 1950s (e.g., the original Helen Hayes, the Lunt-Fontanne) and the early 1960s, but I got the impression that the Hellinger marquee was original from, at least, the time the main entrance was moved to the side street. (But this is only a guess.)
In the late 1970s(?) I went to a taping of the Dick Cavett show (PBS), and I wonder if it was at this theater. The theater was on the west side of a main avenue, west of Eighth Avenue (probably Ninth Ave.), just somewhere south of 57th St. I think around the corner from the theater, was a small off-Broadway theater that might have been on the south side of 55th St.
Also, by the way, while Merv Griffin may have broadcast from the Ed Sullivan Theater, I’m pretty sure he also broadcast for a while, at least (in the mid-1960s?), from the Little Theater (now known as the Helen Hayes). I believe in the early 1960s, the Little Theater was also used for a while for one of Dick Clark’s Rock ‘n Roll shows — not “American Bandstand,” which was on every day, I believe — but another show that was done as more of a concert, and was done only once a week (maybe Saturdays?). I think it was sponsored by a chewing gum (Spearmint?).
Here’s my two cents:
I too have noticed how slow the site has become and therefore welcome the suspension of the “Recent Comments” feature, as it seems to have sped up the site.
I respectfully disagree, however, with those who feel it would be a good idea to delete posts according to age (i.e., deleting those before a certain date). It seems to me that among the theater listings that I’m most familiar with, it is the older comments that are usually the most germane to the theater, and it is the newer comments that tend to be less germane (and more suitable to a chat room). Plus the older germane comments create a “paper trail” which enables people to evaluate newer “corrections” (i.e., whether they are actually valid corrections or not).
Here are my two suggestions for dealing with the problem of the site being overwhelmed by too many posts:
1) I think you should elimate the “Recent Comments” feature PERMANENTLY. I think it encourages more of a chit-chat “chat room” atmosphere where people are more likely to add comments that have nothing to do with a particularly theater. If people are truly interested in a theater, they can look it up using the search feature.
2) I think you should add two more general features (or “highlight” them for these reasons, if they exist for a slightly other reasons already):
a) Have a section where people can talk about cinema developments in general (rather than having them post such discussion on the page of a particular theater).
For instance people have had some things to say about the presentation of 70 mm movies, Cinerama, etc. — in general — that are very interesting and useful but oftentimes have very little to do with specific theater where the info is posted. Putting them in their own section would not only unclutter a theater’s page, but would also put these interesting comments in an area where people could more easily find them. (And therefore avoid possible multi-entries of similar kinds of info when people don’t realize that this topic has already been discussed at length on another page.)
b) Have a “questions” page (that could be periodically trimmed of outdated questions) where people could ask about the name or listing of a particular theater that they can’t otherwise find. (I’ve noticed that people will post such questions on the page of an unrelated theater — “cluttering” up that page with information extraneous to that theater.
Again, having a central page with questions about “lost” theaters would also make such information easier to find — and raise the liklihood of a helpful answer being posted.
I didn’t see BobT’s post while I was working on mine, and he makes an interesting point. Perhaps the LPC didn’t perserve the interior because it had already been heavily altered?
While, technically speaking, this might have been a legitimate reason for not landmarking the interior and allowing the construction of a replacement theater instead, I wonder if restoring the Henry Miller’s original interior would really have been all that difficult?
My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that the Durst Organization wanted the auditorium torn down because it was easier for them to contruct their large (almost block-sized) project on a blank slate, and then later tuck in a new theater behind the old preserved facade. (In other words, it was easier for them to build from scratch than to build around. But, again, this is only a guess.)
In my previous post, “throughout” should have been “thought out”:
For instance both discos had special effects that were stored in the fly space above the stage / dance floor and would descend on occasion to amuse the customers, but it seemed to me that Studio 54’s were more successfully thought out.
I have somewhat mixed — but mostly negative — feelings about the half-hearted preservation of the Henry Miller.
On the one hand, I think it’s important to be flexible and not overdo preservation — otherwise you’re going to have a stagnating city that is frozen in time. But on the other hand, I think a healthy city also needs to preserve its landmarks — landmarks are important too — and if you’re going to preserve landmarks in the first place, landmarking should be done right. And in this case, I’m not sure that anemic “facadism” (just saving the facade) was the correct approach.
I saw a play in this theater in 1968, and I remember thinking that for some reason (although I can’t remember the details) it was an especially nice Broadway theater. I think it struck me at the time, if I recall correctly, as an unusually comfortable, clean, neat and gracious little theater.
The over-riding impression I had, in my memories at least, is that it was handsome in a somewhat sparse and clean-cut way and, perhaps, a little more spacious and commodious than usual? My seat was in the second balcony and, if I recall correctly, the public spaces for balcony patrons included a modest, but pleasant, little lounge area with a skylight. I believe I felt I was stepping back in time, and not just because the decor was from a different era but because the theater itself seemed to reflect the best of a different era.
(But then again, the play I saw there [on “twofers] was an "arty” play about Queen Victoria, “Portrait of a Queen,” and the second balcony was pretty empty — so maybe this made the theater seem more spacious and comfortable than it would have seemed otherwise. On the other hand, an empty theater can also be seen as shabby, decrepit, desolate and gloomy — and that was not the case with the Henry Miller.)
So I’m saddened that the interior wasn’t also preserved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and I wonder if people may have been a little too quick to bend the rules or to be accommodating and flexible — perhaps negating the benefit of having a landmarks law in the first place?
P.S. — A friend of mine got invitations through his job to both Xenon (the Henry Miller transformed into a discotheque) and Studio 54 (the Gallo Opera House transformed into a discotheque) and took me along.
It seemed to me that as a “place,” Xenon was a very poor imitation of Studio 54. For instance both discos had special effects that were stored in the fly space above the stage / dance floor and would descend on occasion to amuse the customers, but it seemed to me that Studio 54’s were more successfully throughout. At Studio 54 they had some kind of witty cartoon-like cutouts that would descend into view, but stay suspended above the dancers. While at Xenon they had some big objects about the size of refrigerators or standup punching bags(?) (don’t remember what they were really supposed to be) that would descend all the way down to the stage instead. But this set-up was so potentially dangerous that they had to have attendants clearing the area and guiding them down — making the special effect seem more laborious than lighthearted and fun.
P.P.S. — Didn’t the Henry Miller become another disco / nightclub, “Shout,” in the mid- or late- 1980s?
As a kid (especially in the mid-1950s), I remember we used to go by this drive-in all the time, and I suspect that some of my drive-in memories are of this theater (although my more distinct memories are of drive-ins near relatives out on Long Island).
Actually, now that I think about it, I probably do have some memories of going to the Whitestone Drive-In with my relatives from the “old neighborhood” in the South Bronx, too — people whom I doubt would have gone out to the Island with us to a drive-in.
Perhaps the strongest memories of drive-ins that I have, though, are of the little playground area that they all seemed to invariably have, just in front of the screen, for the early (daylight) arrivals. I really looked forward to this part of the drive-in experience. In particular I associated a “kid powered” carousel-like piece of play equipment that I really liked with drive-ins. (Also, since the playgrounds were up front by the screen, maybe it was also fun because it was a way to get to see what it was like being up front and onstage?)
As a little kid, I also liked the excitement of getting out of the car and going to the bustling centrally located refreshment stand.
Drive-ins were a lot of fun. Somehow the fun of going to a drive-in reminds me of the fun of being driven around in a convertible with the top down. (This is something that I rarely got to do, as my family never owned a convertible.) It was just such a different and special “take” on an otherwise commonplace experience.
The info from the 1928 photo that shows a movie playing at the Globe is very interesting. The Internet Broadway Database has the following as the last live shows at the Globe: “She’s My Baby,” opened 1/3/1928; “Three Cheers,” opened 10/15/1928; and “Cat & the Fiddle” (a big time production with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II), 10/15/31. There does seem to be a big break between “Three Cheers” and “Cat & the Fiddle” that would have allowed some movies to play at the Globe before if finally gave up live shows altogether in 1932 (according to the William Morrison book, see below) or 1935 (the introduction at the top of the Lunt-Fontanne page on this website).
Here’s the link to the Internet Broadway Database. Once you are on a theater’s page, if you click on the name of a show that played there, I believe it will tell you the dates the show was at that theater.
Here’s some more info on the Lunt-Fontanne, this time from the William Morrison book, “Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture” (pgs. 63-65).
Sadly, Charles Dillingham [the producer who built the original theater] lost his fortune in the 1929 Crash. His beloved Globe was foreclosed and converted into a motion picture theater in 1932. Thus it remained until Robert Dowling and the City Playhouses Group bought the theatre in 1957 and renamed it Lunt-Fontanne. The architectural firm of Roche & Roche was commissioned to design the remodeling. Among other improvements, they closed the Broadway entrance, installed a new box office eestibule, and reconfigured the auditorium into a single-balcony “shoebox” house … . The Nederlander organization purchased the theater in 1973 and still owns it today .
The book has some terrific photos of both the Globe and the Lunt-Fontanne, including a slightly larger version of the photo found in the Stern book that shows the Mezzanine loung as it looked just after the 1958 renovation.
By the way, “Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture,” by Willliam Morrison, is one of those inexpensive Dover paperback picturebooks. It has many other wonderful photos of old Broadway theaters. Although the primary focus is on Broadway “legit” theaters, many of the theaters in the book also showed movies at one time or another (like the Globe/Lunt-Fontanne) and are thus listed on the Cinema Treasures website.
One Amazon reviewer said the book contained a good number of factual errors, which may be true since I believe I was able to detect a few myself. (But to be fair to the author, I don’t know how the number of errors in his book compares with the the number found in other books — all these books seem to have at least some errors. And the pictures alone are well worth the price, in my opinion.)
The list price is $17.95, but brand new copies were on sale at the Strand bookstore a few months ago for about the same price as they are on Amazon ($12.21). At the Strand, there were also used copies of “Best Remaining Seats” [didn’t check the prices] and a half-priced(?), brand new “reviewer’s copy” of “Cinema Treasures” ($20.00).
When you go to the sachsmorganstudio website that RobertR links to be sure to see all the photos of the Lunt-Fontanne.
The page that is linked to is a “before” photo that is probably the theater just before the renovation. Given what’s been posted about the theater at one time being painted matt black, I doubt this photo reflects the original Arthur Boys decor from the 1950s.
Click on “What Have We done” and then scroll down to the Lunt-Fontanne entry. Click on the Lunt-Fontanne entry and you will see a photo of what the Sachs Morgan Studio is apparently proud of. (Again, maybe I’d like it better in person, or maybe having seen the original Arthur Boys decoration, I would still be dissapointed.)
Also, be sure to click on the picture of the chandelier, and you will see what the new interior looks like from the left balcony (about where I was sitting when I saw “Little Me” — on its last Saturday matinee? — in the early 1960s).
I get the impression from various sources that when the Globe was transformed into the Lunt-Fontanne it was more than “just” redecorated. Although I could be wrong, it seems the theater was virtually gutted and rebuilt and, as can be seen from a quote later in this post, the interior design at the Lunt-Fontanne seems to have been pale-blue from the very beginning (although it may have been a different pale blue, and perhaps it might have been used more discriminatingly).
Of course everyone is entitled to their own taste, but when I first saw the interior of the Lunt-Fontanne for a 1962 (?) performance of the “Sound of Music” (orchestra level) I was enchanted. I thought the interior was magical, and a large part of its charm seemed to me to be due to the wonderful light blue color of the interior. (But then again, I was just a kid!) A year or two later I saw little “Little Me” (balcony) and felt the same way.
As I got to see more and more Broadway theaters, it seemed to me that the Lunt-Fontanne was way up in the top category in terms of beautiful interiors. (And, if I remember correctly, some drama critics like, perhaps, John Chapman of the “Daily News,” felt the same way.)
However, it should also be said that in those days the competition was not all that strong because most Broadway theaters seemed to suffer from indifference and neglect by their owners. For example, if I remember correctly, the ugliest Broadway theater interior in my mind was that of the Eugene O'Neill (last matinee of “She Loves Me”), where the entire interior, ornamentation and all, seemed to be painted over with a dull grey.
So I think even theatergoers who weren’t bowled over by the actual interior decoration of the Lunt-Fontanne might have appreciated the care, money and aspirations that the owner and the interior designer invested in the design — instead of just putting together a “schlock” design, at least they tried to do something special. And even ambitious “bad” taste is better than cheap, thoughtless or callous indifference.
Also, looking back, it’s seems somewhat noteworthy to me that the owner and designers tried to do a modern interpretation of an historical style rather than try to impose flashy, but poorly thought out conventional modernism — which was oftentimes done in those days with storefronts, and sometimes even entire office buildings. In fact, I think one of the the fun things about the design of the Lunt-Fontanne is to see how the designer used historical styles in an updated modern way.
(By the way, two other renovated theaters that I thought were among the most beautiful on Broadway for similar reasons were the St. James and, to a lesser extent, the Broadway [also listed on the Cinema Treasures website]. However I don’t think either of them got the same good “reviews” even at the time as the Lunt-Fontanne did.)
If I remember correctly, though, when I saw the Lunt-Fontanne again in the mid-1980s (“Peter Pan,” “Beatlemania” and revivals of “My Fair Lady” and “Hello Dolly”) I don’t think the interior impressed me quite as much. I don’t recall, however, if this was because my taste had changed or because the original Lunt-Fontanne design was not being maintained properly. (I do know, however, that the owners of the theater never bothered to take down an illuminated “Sound of Music” sign [late 1950s?] from the theater’s exterior until maybe the early 1990s?!)
Thanks RobertR for the link to a photo of the most recent redesign! Judging from the photo at least (and photos can be deceiving), my feeling is that the new interior is far less attractive than the original design — actually, it seems somewhat ugly. It’s as though the celestial powder blue walls were replaced by assertive, basement rec room formica “wood” paneling — and the magic is gone! (But, of course, in person I might have an entirely different feeling about it.)
Here’s some info about the Lunt-Fontanne from “New York, 1960” (pg. 442) by Robert A.M. Stern (the famous architect) et al.:
Some existing legitimate theaters were renovated as well, most notably the former Globe (Carrere & Hastings, 1909), which became the Lunt-Fontanne in 1958. [At this point in the Stern text there is the first of about three footnotes that cite various sources, including a July 1958 Interior Design article and a May 6,1958, “New York Times” article entitled “Broadway Agog as Theater Opens]… . Once the most luxurious of Broadway playhouses but used for movies since the 1930s, the theater was redecorated by the British designer Arthur Boys, who was asked by the new owner, Robert W. Dowling, to base his work on the music room of Frederick the Great’s Sans Souci Palace and on Venice’s Fenice Theater. Because according to Dowling, "Going to the theater should be like visiting a charming and gracious home,” he wanted the redesign to have “a new elegance and comfort.” Marya Mannes said that the original Globe had been considered “the most beautiful” theater of its day, “with Grecian pillars and a balcony promenade that drew such phrases as ‘commodious and handsome.’” Although she acknowledged that this style was “no longer supported by public taste,” she found the renovation showy, lacking the dignity required for serious drama: “Mr. Dowling has spent millions in painting the reconditioned house pale-blue and white, encruting it with rococo, stringing it with crystal chandeliers, upholstering it with damask and carpeting it in deepest pile; and what is his idea of a gracious home is my idea of an inflated poweder room.”
On page 441, there is a nice photo of one of the Lunt-Fontanne’s lobby areas with murals by Cosmo di Salvo.
I used to give walking tours of the theater district and one of the things I used to like to do was to stand on the northwest corner of 50th St. and Broadway and point out all the various theaters, etc. that once were (mostly before my time) on 50th St., or just to the north or south of it.
These days, 50th St. is still somewhat lively, but imagine being on this corner in, let’s say, 1933 just after Radio City Music Hall opened up:
Going from east to west, first on Sixth Ave. you have RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL (approx. 5,950 seats); then before you get to Seventh Ave. you have the ROXY (approx. 5,900 seats); then on the south side of 50th St. you have the former EARL CARROLL Theater (about 3,000? seats) which was transformed into a spectacular nightclub in 1933; on the very shallow block between Seventh and Broadway you have the the stage house and dressing rooms of the WINTER GARDEN theater (approx. 1,500 seats); and just to the south of 50th St. you have the the RIVOLI Theater (approx. 2,100 seats); then between Broadway and Eighth Ave. you have the back of the CAPITOL Theater (approx. 5,200 seats); and all the way over on Eighth Ave. on the north side of 50th you have the back of the TIVOLI Theater (approx. 1,400 seats), and across the street from that you have the third MADISON SQ. GARDEN (approx. 18,000[?] seats).
And that’s not even to mention the restaurants (the original “little” Lindy’s was just to the north of the Rivoli and, somewhere along the line, Jack Demsey’s which was across the street from “little” Lindy’s), hotels, etc. PLUS, before the Port Authority bus terminal was built, Greyhound had it’s main bus terminal, I believe, on 50th St. just east of Eighth Ave.
Boy, on a Friday night in the 1930s, 50th St. must have really been jumping!!!
There were indeed a few instances in my July 18th post where I was thinking “Astor” but typed out “Victoria”! Thanks BoxOfficeBill for pointing it out. (I proofread my post a few times, but this mistake never really registered.) Here’s the corrected (and also slightly amended and extended) version of that section:
Judging from my vague recollections of the Broadway area in the early 1960s, it seems to me that the remodeling of the Astor Theater is a rare example of a wonderful, fully worthwhile remodeling job. (Most remodeling jobs, in my opinion, usually destroy the integrity and beauty of a design without creating anything nearly as good as what has been destroyed.) Whenever I would go to Times Sq. area, it was a real treat to walk by the Astor, and I always wanted to go see a movie at this theater — although, for some reason I never wound up going to the Astor until the early 1970s when a friend took me to a press preview of “A Man Called Horse.”)
As a number of commentators have mentioned, the striking interior of the theater was brought out to the street in this redesign. This was done, by continuing the “wallpaper” (the abstract mural, “New York Summer Night”) outside of the auditorium, through the entrance lobby and out to the area beneath the marquee. (From reading the account in the Stern book, though, it appears that they are saying that the “wallpaper” didn’t quite continue out to beneath the marquee. This may be so. But I think the entrance to the theater was unusually open so that you did get this “effect.” Plus, the terrazo flooring beneath the marquee did extend into the lobby, so that may have contributed to the inside/outside “effect.”)
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(?). (And as the Stern book mentions, it also contained spotches of yellow and white too.)
All of this was very jazzy and glamorous (especially to a kid) in an early-1960s modern kind of way.
A picture of the box office / ticket lobby of the neighboring 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, inside/outside effect in his 1948-1949 remodeling of the Victoria. If I recall correctly the photo in the Stern book correctly, it seems like the lights beneath the marquee also extend into the tunnel entrance lobby.
In terms of the location of the “bulk” of the Victoria Theater, what I really meant to say was that the no part of the theater’s auditorium was really located on Broadway (its official address), and that if the theater auditorium could be said to “front” on any street at all, the bulk of the street frontage was on 46th St., instead — just the way that no part of the Astor’s auditorium was actually located on Broadway, but “fronted” on 45th St. instead. (Similarly, most of the theaters that were located “on” 42nd St. had entrances on 42nd St., but were really located “on” either 41st or 43rd Sts.)
However, it is, indeed, probably true that the short side of the Victoria faced the street, while the long side (especially after the extension) went into the block — and that the long side of the Astor theater ran parallel to 45th St. while the short side went into the block. So, perhaps “bulk” isn’t the right word to convey this meaning.
I was only guessing that the Astor was enlarged and extended in a way that was similar to that of the Victoria’s enlargement because of the following in Bryan Krefft’s intro on the Bijou Theater page:
“In 1959, when the next-door Astor was being remodeled and enlarged, it required cutting into the Bijou’s auditorium and part of its stage, reducing seating to around 300.”
I don’t know the source of the info, so it is hard to determine its accuracy. But the extension onto the Bijou property, if it did happen at all, does seem to be rather dramatic, and it’s hard to imagine why else they would have done it, especially since they were also eliminating the stage and backstage facilities of the Astor (rather than enlarging them).
It’s fascinating — and very informative — to hear BoxOfficeBill’s more detailed first-hand recollections of both the Astor and the Victoria. I think he points out, directly and indirectly, a number of interesting things about these theaters (e.g., the rakes of the two auditoriums) that are overlooked by most books and articles.
And even where this info is available to some degree elsewhere, his info helps put the info into better perspective. For instance, even in photos, some of the strangeness of the Victoria remodeling (like the shape of the resulting auditorium) comes through. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if the strangeness is a result of the photo or if it was really there and perceptible.
By the way, although the most common photo of the interior that I’ve seen [e.g., the one in the Stern book and elsewhere] does not show the existence of any balconies — which makes the auditorium look even stranger (long, narrow, wierdly shaped) — the photo in the Williamson book does show a bit of the front of both the first and second balconies. But it’s also interesting to hear that the wooden floors of the remodeled Victoria’s second balcony still creaked when BoxOfficeBill saw “Paths of Glory” and “Dr. Strangelove” there.
In the books I’ve read they mention that the Edward Durrell Stone remodeled interior of the Victoria was “decorated” with “wall paper” that was essentially “chain mail” made up of discarded metal film reels. I wonder how true this is — and how much extra it cost them to keep this complicated, 3-D “wallpaper” clean and dust free?!
I also wonder about the remodeled marquees of the two theaters. In my recollection, they were identical theater marquee “models” (with the same ornatmental trim) that made the theaters seem like twins — and both of these marquees also seemed to have a slight resemblence to the “twin” marquees that were installed at the Helen Hayes and Lunt-Fontanne around the corner on 46th St. All four marquees seemed to be modernized (circa the late 1950s) versions of ornate turn of the century metal and glass canopies that came out of a single manufacturer’s catalog.
(My guess, if the marquees of the Astor and Victoria did, indeed, mirror one another and bear a resemblance to those around the corner, is that even if all four theaters were owned by different people, all four of the owners probably bought their marquee from the same manufacturer and this kind of marquee was his big seller at the time.)
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.
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.
My condolences to all those who were directly affected. The courage and fortitude shown by Londoners through the Blitz, the IRA bombings and now this latest terrorist attack is an inspiration.
P.S. — One wrinkle, however, is I wonder if any of the Paramount stage shows actually included any chorus girls? I got the impression that during Benny Goodman’s engagement, at least, the performance of the Goodman band was the entire stage show portion of the bill.
But the audiences certainly did seem sufficiently rambunctious!
In the excerpt quoted by Gerald A. DeLuca in his July 6th post (above), I wonder if Hildegrad Knef is describing a visit to the Paramount Theater (on Broadway and 43rd) instead of either the Roxy or Radio City Music Hall?
The reason the Paramount comes to mind is I was just reading about Benny Goodman’s engagement at the Paramount the other day (I forget the name of the book or the website) and what was striking about the description was how “wild” and uninhibited the audiences seemed to be. If I remember correctly — and if the description is to be believed — people were yelling all throughout the concert, dancing in the aisles and even occasionally dancing on the stage!
I wonder if the various mid-Manhattan theaters each had, to a certain degree, their own personalities — or, at least, if a theater’s architectural design, its facilities, the policies of its management, and the kind of shows that were presented in it, when added all together, attracted certain kinds of audiences and elicited certain kinds of behavior?
It also seems to me that the interior of the Paramount as much as the Roxy could be accurately described as “a cross between the public baths and a set for an operetta, between a temple and a railway station … . ”
(If I can find again what I read about Benny Goodman’s engagement at the Paramount, I will post it to the Paramount Theater page of Cinema Treasures. This description really makes it sound amazing.)
Great articles everyone — thanks for sharing! Just a minor correction and some general thoughts:
The very minor correction to the July 1, 2005, AP article by Ula Ilnytsky that was published on Centre Daily.com.(“Tiffany mosaic tiles found during theater’s restoration”) is that I doubt Bob Barker ever did the “Price is Right” from the Hudson Theater. I believe Bob Barker did (or still does?) his version of the “Price is Right” from the West Coast. The original host of the “Price is Right” was, I believe, Bill Cullen. His version of the “Price is Right” was broadcast from the Colonial Theater on Broadway and about 61st (?) St. While it’s possible that he did his show from the Hudson, and I guess it’s possible that Bob Barker at one time did TV from NY, I tend to doubt that either was true. I think Bill Cullen did the show from the Colonial Theater during its entire run in New York.
While this is indeed a very minor correction to the excellent article, I mention it for two reasons:
1) To keep the record straight. Incorrect facts that are uncorrected have a way of becoming set in stone and sometimes even expanding. Before you know it, people will be saying that Bob Barker did “Truth or Consequences” and “This is Your Life” from the Hudson! Then someone will start saying that Art Linkletter did “Houseparty” from there also!!
2) It’s interesting to consider how these errors — which I have also made — get started in the first place. Don’t know who supplied the writer with this info or whatever info that would have led the writer to believe this, but I suspect the writer was told that the theater was an NBC studio (true) and that “The Price is Right” is one of the NBC shows that were being broadcast from New York theaters at the time (true). And since the author is probably too young to remember Bill Cullen in “The Price is Right,” she probably extrapolated backward and wrote that it was Bob Barker who did the show there.
General thought: It’s interesting to me that the Hudson Theater was landmarked at all. Although I happen to like its two facades (44th St. and 45th St.) for my own reasons, the 44th St. facade strikes me as being very modest and not distinguished enough for most preservationists, and the 45th St. facade is essentially just a large brick wall that is actually the back wall of the stage house. (I happen to think that the dressing room windows and the fire escapes give this stagehouse wall an unusually nice urban scale, but I’d be very surprised if this was a reason given for landmarking the building!)
Plus, given the fact that people seem surprised about the hidden tiles, the interior didn’t seem to have all that much going for it either. I realize it had those Tiffany domes, but it seems a lot of similar places have had similar domes, interior decoration removed to other locations. It also had, I realize, its somewhat unusual (but not really all that overwhelming) lighting scheme.
My guess is that the Hudson may have benefitted to some degree from having ownership that was either not powerful or not opposed to landmarking, being modern enough to make landmarking it defensible (e.g., I believe its balcony is cantilevered enough to avoid view obstructing posts below), unchanged enough to maintain whatever architectural distinction it had in the first place, and old enough to be valued as an antique from another era (a time capsule from the Edwardian era).
In a sense, I am reflecting upon the “real” reasons why the Hudson Theater was landmarked and other theaters (and buildings in general) haven’t been as lucky. Four examples that come immediately to mind: the original Ziegfeld (with a far more architecturally distinguished and spectacular exterior and interiors); the original Helen Hayes(a/k/a Follies Bergere or Fulton) Theater (with a far more architecturally spectacular exterior), the Earl Carroll (more spectacular interiors) and the recently demised Beekman (which was just as architecturally distinguished, so it seems to me, and just as well preserved).
While I obviously disagree with davebazooka that a choice even has to be made between breast cancer research/treatment and landmarking the Beekman (that one can’t have both), he brings up another interesting point: who knows how long this site will be used for breast cancer research/treatment?
The really sad thing is to see a landmark destroyed and the site used for its new purpose only a few years and then switched, for one reason or another, to some other purpose. One then thinks, “For THAT (let’s say in a few years it become rental suites for the offices of private physicians) they destroyed such and such wonderful landmark?
The example that comes immediately to mind — and while not a theater, is something that is probably familiar to many Cinema Treasures posters — is the destruction of the ornate original “New York Times Tower” in Times Square (the one with the illuminated news bulletins). This building was essential destroyed by the Allied Chemical Co. so that they could use it as a showcase for their products — but was used for such a purpose only for a few years before being abandoned by Allied Chemical.
Actually, one of the main purposes of the original NYC landmark law was not so much to save buildings from destruction, but to give those concerned at least some time so that buildings weren’t destroyed “thoughtlessly” — to see if, given some time, something else could be worked out.
Thanks for the article ErikH!
While not disputing that saving the Beekman is probably a lost cause, I do question that it is a lost cause because, “[it] will be replaced by a breast and imaging center for outpatient care. Which more or less nullifies the argument for preservation.” (!!!)
Such a statment makes it sound like the Beekman site is the one and only site in all of the Upper East Side that is suitable for a breast and imaging center for outpatient care, and as though no other possible alternatives exist for Memorial Sloan-Kettering. While I’m not familiar with the details of this situation, I am skeptical about this.
In most instances of landmark preservation, someone’s other plan for the property is affected — and people find other economically feasible ways to accomplish their same objectives. For instance, they build the outpatient facility around the theater, they raise the rent or sell the building and use the income for another facility somewhere else in the neighborhood, etc.
Just to give another example: In the mid-1980s people affiliated with Columbia University, I believe, wanted to tear down the Audubon Ballroom in upper Manhattan for a much needed bio-tech facility (which might have been, I’m not sure, affiliated with Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital). The Audubon was an unofficial landmark of upper Manhattan that also had historic significance as it was where Malcom X was assasinated. In the end, a way was found to do both: save the Ballroom and build the bio-tech facility anyway. “Where there is a will there is a way.”
The problem here, so it seems to me, is not that there isn’t a (feasible, economical) “way,” but that there isn’t a (sufficiently powerful) “will.” In other words, the Audubon Ballroom supporters were able to make a stronger “political” case for preservation of the ballroom. In part this may be because of the obvious importance to history and the black community of the Audubon Ballroom and the more “frivolous” importance of a small, upscale movie theater. However, I think if one searches the list of what buildings have been landmarked in Manhattan one can probably find many instances of buildings with less historical and emotional significance than the Audubon Ballroom that have been landmarked (and have inconvenienced the owners of the property).
While I had read about this theater before (mostly in the Mary Henderson book, “The City and the Theater”), I had never really placed it on a “mental map” of the area. But recently I came across some interesting info about it (and some fascinating photos too!) in William Morrison’s “Broadway Theatres, History and Architecture,” and the theater has become a lot more “real” and interesting.
Apparently the theater had a somewhat unusual layout. It seems as though the main body of the theater — including the main facade and main entrance — was along 41st St. This was very unusual, as most theaters had their main entrance and most decorated facade on 42nd St., even if the main body of the theater was on either 41st or 43rd St. (The other exception to this “rule” may be the grand and beautiful 43rd St. facade of the Lyric Theatre.)
It also appears that the American had a third entrance (another tunnel entrance?) on Eighth Ave. This is also unusual. Although there appear to be many theaters that at one time had two entrances on two different streets, I can’t really recall reading about a theater that had three entrance on three different streets!
In the Morrison book, there’s a remarkable photo of the 42nd St. tunnel entrance to the American Theatre. At the time of the photo, neither the Lew Fields Theatre (later the Anco) nor the bank on the corner of 42nd and Eighth Ave. had been built yet. So on either side of the tunnel entrance are brownstones that still appear to be used as residences! In this photo, the 42nd St. tunnel entrance to the American Theatre actually looks like a large townhouse or small apartment house.
The book also includes a picture of a rendering of the much more imposing 41st St. facade of this theater. This facade looks like a mini-version of the Roxy that was built 20 or so years later. (When the American Theatre was built, it was the fifth largest theater in Manhattan.)
In the chapter on the Lew Fields Theatre (which eventually became the Anco) there is another wonderful shot of the 42nd St. tunnel entrance to the American Theatre. I wrote a description of that photo on the Anco page of Cinema Treasures.
By the way, the Morrison book is one of those inexpensive Dover paperbacks. (Brand new copies of the book were $12.71 each at the Strand Bookstore on Bdwy and 12th St. a month or two ago.) It also has many other wonderful photos of old Broadway theaters. Although the primary focus is on Broadway “legit” theaters, many of the theaters in the book also showed movies at one time or another and are thus listed on the Cinema Treasures website.
There’s a terrific profile of the theater that eventually became the Anco in one of those inexpensive Dover paperbacks. (Brand new copies of the book, “Broadway Theaters, History and Architecture,” by William Morrison were $12.71 each at the Strand Bookstore on Bdwy and 12th St. a month or two ago.)
The profile of the Lew Fields Theatre includes a wonderful photo of the south side of 42nd St. around 1905. At that time 42nd St. was still basically just a “regular” crosstown Manhattan street, lined with brownstones, churches, etc. The photo shows that between the Anco (Lew Fields) and the bank on the corner was a (25'or 30' wide) “tunnel entrance” to another large theater, the American Theatre, which was actually located on 41st St.
Going from left to right, here’s what’s in the photo:
A brownstone with a metal “stoop” that goes almost out to the curb. (The paved roadbed of the street seems really wide, and the sidewalk seems rather narrow).
The handsome original facade of the Lew Fields Theatre. The theater has what I guess you’d call a vestibule “extension,” and this little ornate “shack” of a structure goes out to the street as far as the stoop of the neighboring brownstone. Then, after that, there’s a metal and glass canopy, for continued weather protection, that goes out to the curb.
Next to the Lew Fields theater is the tunnel entrance to the American Theatre. This tunnel entrance has what looks like a large townhouse or small apartment house above it and it has an apartment house-like canopy that goes all the way out to the curb. (Except for the illuminated vertical handing off the front of the facade, this building doesn’t really look like a theater entrance at all.)
After the American Theatre is the Beaux-Arts styled bank that was on the corner of 42nd and Eighth Ave.
The American Theatre, the theater next door to the Lew Fields (Anco), is also profiled in the Morrison book. According to the profile in the book, “ … in 1911 [William] Morris sold his interests [in the American Theatre] to Marcus Loew’s organization. Under the name Loew’s American Theatre, both [of] the theatre’s auditoriums were converted to a film-and-small-time-variety format. After a fire in 1930, the American was demolished.”
There’s an even more remarkable photo of the south side of 42nd St. in the American Theatre chapter of this book. At the time of this photo, neither the Lew Fields (Anco) nor the bank had been built yet. So there are brownstones that still appear to be used as residences on either side of the American Theatre’s tunnel entrance! In this photo the tunnel entrance to the American Theatre really does look like a large townhouse or small apartment house. In this chapter, there is also a picture of a rendering of the much more imposing 41st St. facade of this theater. It looks like a mini-version of the much later Roxy. (When it was built, the American Theatre was the fifth largest theater in Manhattan.)
By the way, the Morrison book has many other wonderful photos of old Broadway theaters. Although the primary focus is on Broadway “legit” theaters, many of the theaters in the book also showed movies at one time or another and are thus listed on the Cinema Treasures website.
P.S. — When I wrote my post, I hadn’t noticed that br91975’s had already given a more specific date for the demolition of the Anco. The 1997 date sounds right.
The parking lot on the southeast corner of 42nd St. and Eighth Ave. was the site of one of those columned classically styled bank buildings until around the mid- or late-1960s when the bank that owned it tore it down and moved the branch to a modern concrete/brick building on the northwest corner of 42nd St. and Eighth Ave. (This bank branch is currently a Duane Reade drug store.)
The Anco was the very last theater on the south side of 42nd St. as one walked west between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. According to my Hagstom’s, the major theaters along the south side of 42nd St. were (as one walked west) the New Amsterdam (entrance to theater only), the Harris (entrance only), [the Hubert’s Museum], Liberty (entrance only), the Empire and the Anco.
If I remember correctly the Acno had a mostly blank, extremely plain facade. And in my opinion it was the Anco’s overly plain facade, along with the ugly, bricked-up facade of (I believe) the Hubert’s Museum that were the chief culprits in making 42nd St. look ugly and menacing. (And the parking lot to the west didn’t help either.) Further to the east, by the way, the two other main culprits in my opinion were the ugly Crossroads Building and its perpetually unoccupied six-story cinderblock column for billboards and the windowless 20+ (?) story tower of the Allied Chemical Building. (The windows were eliminated when Allied Chemical remodeled the building, which was originally the ornate “New York Times Building.”)
I don’t think the Acno was torn down until the early- or mid-1990s, in order to make way for the more architecturally distinguished Empire Theater.
There are also photos of the amazing interiors of the Earl Carroll Theater in William Morrison’s “Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture.” This book is one of those inexpensive Dover paperback picturebooks. The list price is $17.95, but brand new copies were on sale at Manhattan’s Strand Bookstore (Bdway & 12th St.) a few weeks ago for about the same price as they are on Amazon ($12.21). (By the way, at the Strand Bookstore there were also a few used copies of one of the great books on movie palaces, “The Best Remaining Seats,” for about $30.00, I think.)
The Morrison book is terrific and has many wonderful photos of old Broadway theaters. Although the primary focus is on Broadway “legit” theaters, many of the theaters in the book also showed movies at one time or another and are thus listed on the Cinema Treasures website.
One Amazon reviewer said the book contained a good number of factual errors, which may be true since I believe I was able to detect a few myself. (But to be fair to the author, I don’t know how the number of errors in his book compares with the the number found in other books — all these books seem to have at least some errors.)
I think the Palace “really” permanently reopened as a “legit” Broadway theater with the opening of “Sweet Charity” on January 29, 1966. If I recall correctly, it was the Nederlander (?) organization’s first New York theater, and at that time they were trying to break into the New York theater scene.
It seems to me that from this point on, the Palace has always been primarily a “legit” theater with, mostly musicals like “Henry Sweet Henry” (1967), “George M” (1968) “Applause” (1970), Lorelei (1974) being booked into the house.
There is an apparently complete list of “legit” shows that have played at this theater at the Internet Broadway Database website. Here’s a link:
RobertR mentions that the Palace also occasionally played movies between “Sweet Charity” and the late 1970’s. I don’t remember this — although it is certainly possible. My guess, though, is that if it did play movies, it was as a special event or a limited engagement and not because the theater owners were back in the movie business. I say this (and it’s only a guess), because after “Sweet Charity,” it seemed to me that the Palace was considered one of Broadway’s “prime” theaters, especially for musicals.
By the way, as a teenager, I stood outside the Palace on its “opening” (as a Broadway theater) night, just to see what it would be like. I vaguely recall also standing outside some other Broadway theaters on other opening nights too (at least until late afternoon or very early in the evening) to see what they were like, and the few that I “attended” were somewhat low-keyed and disappointing. The opening for “Sweet Charity” (and its “new” Broadway theater) however, was a “classic” opening night. I suspect this was because the people connected with the show were considered Broadway “royalty” (Verdon, Fosse, Fields, Simon, Coleman, etc.) and because of the special “fabled” nature of the “new” theater being premiered as a “legit” Broadway playhouse.
For a minute or two, the people standing next to me observing this scene was a young actor-singer whom I had seen on, if I recall correctly, the “Tonight” show and a friend (or agent). The actor-singer was the then up-and-coming John Davidson.