Ziegfeld Theatre

141 W. 54th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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Curtained screen

Built just a few hundred feet from the site of original Ziegfeld Theatre (demolished in 1966), this ‘new’ Ziegfeld Theatre opened December 17, 1969 with a gala premiere of “Marooned” starring Gregory Peck. The movie house was one of the last big palaces built in the United States.

It was built from plans by the architectural firm of Emery Roth & Sons, with designs by Irving Gershon and interior design by John McNamara. The Ziegfeld Theatre was built for Walter Reade for his chain’s flagship, and was later operated by Cineplex Odeon from 1987, Clearview from 1998, and Bow Tie from June 2013.

The letter ‘Z’ appears on the door handles and in the terrazzo floor of the ticket lobby. The main lobby has an elephant sculpture, also some memorabilia of the prior Ziegfeld Theatre and of the Ziegfeld girls, a ticket taker who cheerily welcomes customers. There is a grand stairs of marble and ornate metalwork, and an escalator. Upstairs is a foyer panelled in wood in which displays busts of Florenz Ziegfeld and Fanny Brice. “Story of this Wood” plaques in the lobby and upstairs state that the wood changed colors from oak to rich charcoal by virtue of being in a peat bog for 4,000 years outside Cambridge, England. Doors lead to the concessions foyer which has elegant restrooms, a huge framed poster from the movie “My Fair Lady” since Clearview placed it there, a bust of Will Rogers, and the entryways to the auditorium.

The auditorium features 1,131 seats: 825 seats in the front section, 306 seats in the raised stadium section at the rear. There are two sets of curtains over the screen, one gold, the other closer to the screen is a sheer white curtain. The huge screen measures 52ft x 22.7ft. The Ziegfeld Theatre’s interior is decorated with sumptuous red carpeting, abundant gold trim, crystal chandeliers, and ornamentation that ranges from sconces to door handles and exit signs.

The longest movie run at the Ziegfeld Theatre was “Ryan’s Daughter” (1970) 33 weeks. “Gandhi” (1982) was shown for 31 weeks. There were probably more world premieres in recent decades at the Ziegfeld Theatre than any US movie theatre outside of Los Angeles, too many to list here except for some that had long runs at the Ziegfeld Theatre: “Cabaret” had its 1972 world premiere and ran for 26 weeks. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” had its 1977 world premiere and ran for 23 weeks. “Apocalypse Now” had its world premiere in 1979 and ran for 12 weeks. In 1988 “The Last Temptation of Christ” had its 1988 world premiere here and drew protests. The Ziegfeld Theatre was also a beloved showplace for classic screenings such as “Lawrence of Arabia”.

The Ziegfeld Theatre was, arguably, the last movie palace still showing films in Manhattan. Sadly, due to fewer premiers and with competition with multiplexes hosting the same movies, in January 2016 news was announced that the Ziegfeld Theatre would imminently close and after a renovation, reopen in 2017 as the Ziegfeld Ballroom, an event facility. The final movie to play the Ziegfeld Theatre was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on January 28, 2016.

Recent comments (view all 4,532 comments)

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on October 7, 2020 at 11:03 am

I just posted a photo of the marquee on the final day. It does indeed say A WALTER READE THEATRE.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on October 7, 2020 at 11:04 am

Nice photo you just posted, showing “A Walter Reade Theater” right on the front face of the marquee

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on October 7, 2020 at 11:30 am

Hello-

to ReadeLegacy- my friends and I always referred to the
Ziegfeld’s décor as Victorian Bordello.

also on pg. 2 of the photo section second row is a photo of the marquee for Les Misérables. I saw the film the day after Christmas(Dec.26) 2012 and all the marquee had was
plain block letters spelling out the title. I thought to myself they could have at least had big block letters in the same type face as used in the as. but here we have the marquee with a full panel which was not up the day I saw it. wouldn’t they have put up a full panel before the film opened not after?

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on October 7, 2020 at 12:59 pm

Glad you liked the photo, Mike. Isn’t all this Ziegfeld activity great? 4,532 comments and counting. I think that’s still the Cinema Treasures record. Radio City Music Hall is probably #2.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on October 29, 2020 at 11:14 am

The Ridgewood Theater in Queens, NY has 2,852 comments. For a while, it was on track to surpass the Ziegfeld. But a lot of them were from local people reminiscing about the old neighborhood, and not actually talking about the theater, or any theater for that matter.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on January 31, 2021 at 12:28 pm

Hello-

on pg. 5 of the photo section is an ad for Ryan’s Daughter which ran here on a reserved performance engagement. now shows were every 4 hrs. the film was 3hrs. 12mins. so with an intermission a performance was 3 ½ hrs.. this was a large theater so would 30mins. have been sufficient to get the old audience out and the new one in before the next screening started?

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on January 31, 2021 at 6:03 pm

Walter Reade Theatres did not have concession stands, so cleaning time was minimal. The concessions stands were added by later owners.

ridethectrain
ridethectrain on January 31, 2021 at 11:47 pm

The only theatre that did not sell concessions was the Paris and Cinema 3. Showtimes before 1988 were tight less trailers and you could come in during the middle of the film. Big chains like Loews gave only 10 minutes between showings.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on February 1, 2021 at 9:01 am

But not during hard-ticket, reserved-seats performances…

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on February 1, 2021 at 11:59 am

Hello-

to Al A. thanks for your reply. I was a regular patron at this theater since Marooned opened on a roadshow engagement Dec. 1969. to which I though the concessions stand was always there. so if this theater never had a concession stand the entire time it was a Walter Reade theater than I’m guessing neither did the Coronet or the Baronet?

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