Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre

1481 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on September 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Hello-

i love books about NYC theaters stage or film. one of my favorite’s is Mary C. Henderson’s “42 St.” the book contains 12 chapters or bios one might say for each of the theaters built on 42 st. between 7th and 8th Avenues. the 1st theater built on the block was the American which was on the southside closer to 8th in i believe 1895?

the chapter on the American begins with this statement-“the American has the dubious distinction of being the 1st theater built on the block and the first torn down”. to which i reacted ??????? the 2nd theater built on the block Hammerstein’s Victoria opened in 1899 and was torn down the end of 1915 to built the Rialto the 1st “movie palace” in Times Square which opened in 1916. now the American which was boarded up after a fire in 1930 wasn’t torn down until the spring of 1931 i believe. this being the case how can Henderson say the American was the 1st of the 12 theaters on the block torn down if the Victoria was torn at the end of 1915 a good 16 years before the American. this is where my question comes in.

there seems to be a wide range of opinions as to whether Hammerstein’s Victoria was a)completely torn down/demolished as we would use the term today or if it was b)simply gutted to the bare skeletal structure and the Rialto built within said skeletal frame. so which is it? if its b) that would certainly give some credence to Henderson’s statement about the American.

LouisRugani
LouisRugani on March 28, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Hammerstein’s Victoria figures prominently in the plot of David O. Selznick’s “Portrait of Jennie” and is referenced repeatedly there.

Bway
Bway on May 26, 2009 at 5:10 pm

If it was 1/3, I think a lot of theaters would have to be taken off the site. Especially now when as the buildings age, many of them have been used for retail, churches, etc, longer than they ever were used for movies.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on August 18, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Although I agree with Warren that this was hardly a cinema, the Hammerstein on 53rd street (Ed Sullivan) did premiere the classic Russian film ‘The End of St. Petersburg" in 1928.

Bway
Bway on March 12, 2008 at 12:04 am

Thanks flyman!
I went to a few concerts there over the years and was always interested in it’s history. I figured it never showed film, as it’s not on this site. Anyone know of any photos online of the Manhattan Opera House, aka Hammerstein Ballroom?

Hyford
Hyford on February 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm

To answer Bway’s question: Hammerstein’s Ballrooom, located on 34th Street west of 8th Avenue was oreiginally the Manhattan Opera House. Built by Oscar Hammerstein in 1904. It was used by him solely for presenting opera (in direct competetion with the Metropolitan Opera) who ultimately paid him $10 million in 1910 to stop producting opera (for ten years) as they were both losing money. The theatre was then used as a legititmate theatre. Never for the presentation of films.

shoeshoe14
shoeshoe14 on October 4, 2007 at 12:27 am

There’s a nice picture of this theatre in the first photo section of “No Applause – Just Throw Money, The Book that made Vaudeville Famous” by Trav SD.

Bway
Bway on October 1, 2007 at 3:51 am

Did the theater that now is called the Hammerstein Ballroom, and shows concerts ever show film? And if so, is it listed on this site? I am assuming it may not have ever shown film, as it’s not on the site… Either way, what was it’s name when it was still a theater?

spectrum
spectrum on September 30, 2007 at 10:28 pm

Craig Morrison’s “Theatres” Book (A Library of Congress Sourcebook), captions the photo at the top of this page as Hammerstein’s Venetian Terrace (Victoria Roof Garden). Opened June 26, 1899, 1,000 seats, architect J. B. McElfatrick & Sons. The photograph dated from 1901.

Hammerstein, after having lost his Olympia (1514-1526 Broadway), built the Victoria at the southern end of Times Square at 1451-1481 Broadway. The Victoria Roof Garden/Venetian was described as being ornamental and delibertately ramshackle in appearance, and was quite popular for a number of years, patrons being able to catch cool breezes from the hearby Hudson River in this semi-enclosed venue. Immediately behind the Roof Garden was Hammerstein’s Paradise Garden, atop Hammerstein’s adjoining Republic Theatre. It also accommodated 1,000 patrons and was designed by J. B. McElfatrick & Sons. This was an open garden featuring a minterature farm, one of whose denizens was a lasvicious monkey that would list women’s skirts. The photo from the book also shows a tudor-style farmhouse, and an old-style windmill next to the promenade with tables and chairs.

shoeshoe14
shoeshoe14 on July 10, 2007 at 12:25 am

This was mentioned by Woody Allen and Groucho Marx on the DVD of the Dick Cavett Show along with many other theatres.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on September 14, 2005 at 9:08 am

Variety theatres in the UK also presented films as part of the programme. At the time, in the early days of cinema, they were the only opportunity for the population to experience this new form of entertainment.

When stores/shops and roller skating rinks were being converted into cinemas they initially would only be screening shorts and newsreels. The same in the USA with Nickelodeon’s, which begs the question are these cinemas?

Theatres such as the Hammerstein’s Victoria should be listed on Cinema Treasures as they are an important and a least documented part of the history and evolution of cinema presentation. According to Damien Farley’s posting on Sept 10th, the Victoria was screening ‘motion picture dramas’ in 1914.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on September 11, 2005 at 8:39 pm

Hammerstein’s Victora Theatre, 42nd St & 7th Ave is listed in the American Motion Picture Directory 1914 – 1915.

The same publication also lists the Victoria Theatre, 42nd St & 7th Ave.

bamtino
bamtino on September 11, 2005 at 3:59 am

An addendum to my previous comment: I’ve got no dog in this race. I was just curious about the answer to Warren’s inquiry. (In other words, I had no knowledge of the theatre’s history, other than that provided in the previous posts of others, before doing some investigation in the Times.)
The only reason I’d posted the theatre’s address earlier in the day was my frustration in conducting zip code searches on the site and failing to turn up theatres in their proper locations. I’m working on a list of exact addresses for ALL Manhattan theatres, just to avoid the embarrassment of making any more duplicate Add-A-Theatre additions (as I recently did with the Hollywood, AKA Avenue A theatre).

bamtino
bamtino on September 11, 2005 at 3:45 am

Vitagraphs and “vitagraphic views” are listed as part of the Victoria’s program in the New York Times at least as early as 1905.
According to the Times of 10/23/1910, Hammerstein’s Roof Garden, with an entrance separate from that of the Victoria and with installation of radiators and a moving picture screen, began a program of motion pictures interspersed with vaudeville on the previous day.
The March 4, 1913 edition of that paper makes reference to moving pictures of Scott’s South Pole expedition being exhibited as part of the Victoria’s bill.
On 1/16/1914, the paper reported, “Another moving-picture drama dealing with the white slave traffic was closed yesterday by the police. The newest film to come under the ban was "A Victim of Sin,” which has been one of the features of the programme at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre. The picture was withdrawn yesterday afternoon, and William Hammerstein announced last night that he would not attempt to show the picture again.“
Off-topic, but of interest (at least to me), Houdini was performing in both the Victoria and the Roof Garden in July of 1914.

bamtino
bamtino on September 10, 2005 at 4:27 pm

Like the Rialto which was later built upon its site, this theatre should be listed with an address of 1481 Broadway, New York, NY 10036. (The full address was 1473-1481 Broadway and this site is now alternatively known as “1 Times Square.”)

Benjamin
Benjamin on March 14, 2005 at 9:48 pm

“I have to wonder if the photo at the top of this page (the interior of an auditiorium with apparently at least eight slender cast iron columns placed in the "middle” of the orchestra seating level) is REALLY the interior of Hammerstein’s Victoria … "

Mystery solved!:

I was looking through William Morrison’s “Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture” yesterday. It has a chapter on Hammerstein’s Victoria and a picture of the building’s ROOF GARDEN theater. The photo looks out from the stage (in the opposite direction from that of the photo at the top of this page), through the auditorium’s interior and out onto the rest of the roof (which I believe may have extended over to the roof top of the neighboring Republic / Belasco / Victory).

It seems to me that it is this rooftop theater — and not the building’s main auditorium — that is the one shown at the top of this page. This would help explain why the theater in the photograph at the top of this page has all those columns, seems so unsophisticated and has all that light pouring in through the windows.

One of the things I really liked about the photo in the Morrison book is that it not only shows the interior of the roof top theater, but also the raised terrace on the portion of the roof that is outside the theater (at the back). Other photos I’ve seen of the roof garden only showed the raised terrace. So this photo shows both the roof theater and the roof terraces — and how they related to one another.

By the way, the book itself is terrific. It has many wonderful photos that seem to clear up a lot of similar such “mysteries” about old Broadway theaters. While a reviewer on Amazon said that many of the photos also appear in Nicholas Van Hoogstraten’s “Lost Broadway Theaters,” I don’t remember seeing them there. (But, then again, I don’t own that book and only thumbed through it when it first came out.) The reviewer also 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.)

“Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture” is one of those inexpensive Dover paperback picturebooks. The list price is $17.95, but brand new copies were on sale at the Strand bookstore yesterday for about the same price as they are on Amazon ($12.21).

P.S. — 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).

Benjamin
Benjamin on February 12, 2005 at 7:49 am

I have to wonder if the photo at the top of this page (the interior of an auditiorium with apparently at least eight slender cast iron columns placed in the “middle” of the orchestra seating level) is REALLY the interior of Hammerstein’s Victoria — a theater built in 1899 in our nation’s largest metropolis? It just seems to me that at this “late” date, in such a large sophisticated city like New York, that they didn’t build theaters like this anymore. Plus, the type of decoration at the top of the columns seems to be something that was no longer popular in 1899.

To me, the photo looks like the interior of what I imagine to be some “opera house” in some small town somewhere. (It’s hard to tell from seeing the photo on a computer screen, but it almost looks like there are sun-filled windows along the right side of the photo, which if true, would seem to be further “evidence” that this is not really Hammerstein’s Victoria.)

Also, from photos of the exterior of the Victoria (in, for instance, the Mary Henderson book, the “Theater and the City,” 1973 edition), it seems highly unlikely that such an auditorium as that pictured above was inside a building of the size and style of Hammerstein’s Victoria.


Although the Mary Henderson book says (I believe) that the Victoria was gutted for the new Rialto (thereby implying that much of the building remained), other sources seem to paint a different picture. (I’m inclined to think that this is just sloppy language on her part.)

Comparing photographs of Hammerstein’s Victoria and the second Rialto, and from a history of the second Rialto and Hammerstein’s Victoria provided in Ben Hall’s “Best Remaining Seats” (pgs. 44?-45?), one gets the impression that pretty much the entire Victoria was demolished to make way for the Rialto.

From the photographs, for instance, the buildings seem to be entirely different kinds of structures — with different floor levels, different facades on at least two sides (the Seventh Ave. and 42nd St. sides), etc.

And from the way Ben Hall describes the problems that developed between Hammerstein and the builders of the Rialto (Hammerstein only agreed to sell if he could get space in the new structure) one further gets the impression that most, if not all, of the structure was replaced.

But then again, these kinds of things can be tricky. Near where I live, I once saw them build a modern apartment house, with balconies and everything, that incorporated the brick walls of rowhouses from the 1830s! At first I though they were just restoring the rowhouses until I saw they were actually adding floors and bricking over the original walls!