Trans-Lux Modern Theatre
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This was the second Trans-Lux to open in Manhattan, and probably the city’s very first purpose-built “twin cinema”. It occupied what had been intended for retail space in the new Lefcourt (soon Brill) Building on the west side of Broadway between 49th and 50th Streets. The Trans-Lux had two small auditoriums (with 210 and 161 seats), each with its own boxoffice and turnstile entrance, and sharing a wide marquee. It first opened on May 16th, 1931, with one auditorium showing mostly newsreels and the other presenting only shorts and cartoons. The programs lasted about 45 minutes, with an admission charge of 25 cents at all times. The patented Trans-Lux Rear Projection System was used.
In the wake of the Depression, the twin cinema failed to prosper. Its weekly operating “nut” of $6,500 required an attendance of 26,000 just to break even, and that number soared to 43,333 when cut-throat competition among Broadway theatres forced a price cut from 25 cents to 15 cents. The Trans-Lux struggled on until 1937, when boxing champion Jack Dempsey and his millionaire business partner, Jack Amiel, became interested in the site for a branch of the nearby Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant (Eighth Avenue and 50th Street, opposite Madison Square Garden). All of the Trans-Lux’s facilities were removed from the space, which was converted into Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Bar and Cocktail Lounge.
With help from money received for its sale of the lease, and using some of the seats and equipment from the twin cinema, Trans-Lux built a new, single-screen newsreeler a block south at 1607 Broadway. Known as the Trans-Lux 49th Street, it began to prosper with the easing of the Depression and the public’s dependence on newsreels for graphic coverage of local, national and world events. That theatre is listed here as Trans-Lux West, a name taken when it switched from a newsreel policy to feature movies in 1967.
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