Criterion Theatre

NE corner of Broadway & 44th Street,
New York, NY 10036

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New York Theatre & Criterian Theatre

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Broadway’s first Criterion Theatre was originally called the Lyric Theatre, opening in 1895 as part of Oscar Hammerstein’s block-wide entertainment complex, the Olympia (see the listing here for Loew’s New York for more details). The Lyric Theatre was decorated in Louis XVI-style and had about 1,700 seats, many in five tiers of boxes that flanked both sides of the stage. In 1898, Hammerstein’s numerous creditors forced him to sell the Olympia at an auction in which the components were sold separately.

Stage producer Charles Frohman took over the Lyric Theatre and re-named it the Criterion Theatre in honor of the famous playhouse in London’s Piccadilly Circus. The ex-Lyric’s seating capacity was substantially reduced to about 900 by removing many of the boxes. In 1914, the Criterion Theatre became one of Broadway’s first “movie palaces” when the Vitagraph Company took over and turned it into a self-named showcase for its major releases. The Vitagraph Theatre opened on February 7th, 1914, with the Vitagraph feature “A Million Dollar Bid” and some Vitagraph short subjects. Music was provided by a Wurlitzer organ capable of sounding like a full orchestra. Although the Vitagraph Theatre proved successful, rival exhibitors were outraged by a producer-distributor operating its own theatre and began to boycott Vitagraph product.

When its lease came up for renewal in 1916, Vitagraph gave in to the pressure and withdrew from the theatre, which was returned to the “legit” fold under its previous name of Criterion Theatre. In 1920, Paramount-Famous Players, which also ran the Rialto Theatre and Rivoli Theatre, took over the Criterion Theatre and made it a reserved-seat showcase for some of its most important releases, including “Beau Geste”, “The Covered Wagon”, and DeMille’s first “Ten Commandments”. With the opening of the flagship Paramount Theatre in Times Square in 1926, the Criterion Theatre started showing films from other distributors as well.

The Criterion Theatre survived the arrival of “talkies” and operated almost to the time of its demolition in 1935, when the entire Olympia complex was razed to make way for new buildings that included a modern cinema of the same name.

Contributed by Warren G. Harris

Recent comments (view all 39 comments)

Dav1dJeffers on October 31, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Paul Wegener’s terrifying Expressionist masterpiece, “The Golem: How He Came Into the World,” made it’s US premier at the Criterion (New York Times, June 19, 1921 p. 67). Also featured in that program, the third chapter of Tony’s Sarg’s Almanac; “Wandering Tribes of the Sahara,” a Kineto review and “Scenes of Prague,” a Prizma scenic. At a time when the best feature films typically ran for one or two weeks, “The Golem” enjoyed a three and one-half month stay at the Criterion.

daziedag on July 28, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I, Daisy Gonzalez, worked at the Criterion Theatre for almost 10years as it’s manager. We had some of the best movies open there on Fridays, Terminator, which allowed me to meet Arnold. Lethal Weapon, I meet Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, plus Michael Mann. Die Head. I walked Andy Warhol into the theatre. Played Arthur for a year. Meet Roger Moore, had my picture taken with Sugar Ray Leonard and the list goes on.

It was the best 10 years of my life. I worked with a great staff, Mr. Simmons, Ms. Esther and Effie. I loved working on Broadway and watching 42nd street change. Now it’s gone and Broadway is not the same.

William on July 28, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Hi Daisy you posted your comment on the Criterion Theatre that closed back in 1935. It was at the same location as the one you worked at.
Here is the right link for your theatre.


Tinseltoes on April 10, 2011 at 10:13 am

Seventy-seven years ago tonight, MGM’s “Viva Villa!,” a huge outdoor epic with Wallace Beery in the title role, opened its world premiere engagement at the Criterion Theatre on a reserved-seat roadshow policy. Two performances were given daily, with a third added on Saturday, Sunday, and holidays. Tickets were scaled from 50 cents to a top of $2. The B&W David O. Selznick production was being promoted as MGM’s mightiest since the record-breaking (and silent) “The Big Parade.”

Tinseltoes on April 11, 2012 at 11:19 am

Here’s a 1924 view of the Criterion’s corner entrance: cuny

Tinseltoes on June 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Here’s a 1934 trade ad for a reserved-seat attraction at the Criterion which would later “move-over” to Radio City Music Hall (supported by a stage show): archive

Tinseltoes on August 13, 2012 at 7:45 am

Described as Vitagraph showcase in this 1914 trade article: archive

Tinseltoes on August 22, 2012 at 8:29 am

Pictured in this 1930 trade ad: Boxoffice

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