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. “Ghandi” (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 4,504 comments)

moviebuff82 on November 21, 2017 at 8:10 am

We need a petition to make it a movie theater again this time with reserved seating and recliners!!!

StanMalone on November 21, 2017 at 8:19 am

Thanks Michael for another interesting article. The excellent book “Indecent Exposure” by David McLintick deals with Columbia Pictures and the David Begelman episode. There is a good bit of narrative about Close Encounters as well as the events surrounding its World Premiere at the Ziegfeld.

The day after the premiere the board was due to meet to finally decide to either reinstate Begelman or fire him. The board wanted to keep Begelman. The Chairman, Alan Hirschfield wanted him out, and while in the lobby of the Ziegfeld prior to the screening Hirschfield was informed that Beagelman’s allies on the board were launching a conflict of interest investigation concerning Hirschfield’s wife.

Great news to get right before speaking to the invitation only audience of the biggest Columbia release in years. There is also an interesting story of how a reviewer was able to sneak into one of the test screenings two months earlier in Dallas and wrote such a negative review that it drove the stock price of Columbia down 20%.

As for this theater, it had an exclusive run for four weeks followed by an exclusive in Manhattan for the remainder of its 23 week run. By the time it left, Close Encounters had grossed over $2,000,000 at the Ziegfeld alone.

CF100 on March 12, 2018 at 4:22 am

“Photosphere” 360° photo.

Berefit of any quality design other than (what I assume to be) a nice custom-made carpet, this fine theatre has been converted into a nightmare, what I would regard to be the very opposite of “escape to the movies”: a tacky socialites' cavern. :–(

BobbyS on March 12, 2018 at 10:30 pm

Too bad disco is dead……Would make a great new “Studio 54” with those panels changing LED colors!!!

CF100 on March 25, 2018 at 2:16 pm

You, too, can hire it out for a disco night!

YouTube video of the Ziegfeld Ballroom.

(IMO… tacky in all respects…)

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on March 25, 2018 at 2:36 pm

At least they left the marquee up. Small consolation, I know.

vindanpar on May 30, 2018 at 2:50 am

As per the discussion of the ‘73 Cinerama screen. Though the presentation of this Is Cinerama was very poor and in 70mm the screen should have been kept. The theater finally had a screen worthy of it’s size. Like the Cinerama screen that was kept at the Warner and I assume at the Capitol different film ratios could have been presented on it with proper masking and the use of curtains. Films like the epics that were to play there in the future and the restored films done by Harris would have been so much more impressive.

HowardBHaas on August 2, 2018 at 4:47 am

Sunday, after enjoying a movie at the Paris, I went to see the Ziegfeld exterior. I was delighted to see “Ziegfeld, A Walter Reade Theatre” still on the marquee. The Ziegfeld -Ballroom- flag was nice.The left & right sections of the marquee were changing graphics with jazzy Art Deco details, in white & black- “Z” and “The legend lives on” (in caps). Much of the former entry was walled off with a blank wall with flower boxes so current entry is narrower. No poster cases. An elevator has an entry at the front area. The redone lobby & stairs can be seen from outside. Alongside the fountains on the plaza that runs with the former auditorium had been gutted & that space fenced off to be redone to whatever. I’m not happy with the quality of my photos so maybe in the future I will photo again & post better photos.

Mark_L on October 28, 2018 at 12:33 pm

According to an Associated Press article from 12/1967, it was planned that Saturday night screenings would require formal evening dress.

moviebuff82 on May 19, 2019 at 3:29 pm

On this date 20 years ago, the phantom menace premiered to a sold out crowd.

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