Crystal Hall

46 East 14th Street,
New York, NY 10003

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Showing 19 comments

AlAlvarez on January 29, 2010 at 6:07 pm

J.F. Lundy, I just stumbled onto that image you posted.


Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 2, 2008 at 10:08 am

Warren… I was able to locate a couple of the titles listed on the marquees in the cowboy-themed photo you date around 1910-11. Both “Falsely Accused” and “The Ranchman’s Son” were short films released in 1911 per IMDB.COM. I couldn’t find any information on the other titles. However, since I have been able to identity the title “The Ranchman’s Son” (assuming the match is not purely coincidental), we now know that the Comedy Theatre adjacent to the Automatic Vaudeville did indeed operate as an early cinema – at least for a time.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on April 25, 2008 at 10:13 am

Here are new direct links to previously posted images:
View link
View link

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 16, 2008 at 11:20 am

Cowboys were all the rage when this photo was taken in Union Square, circa 1910-11:

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 24, 2007 at 7:30 am

This image shows the original Automatic Vaudeville, before the addition of Crystal Hall on the second floor. The store to the right, then occupied by a diamond merchant, would be converted into Hale’s Tours and then the Comedy Theatre:

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 19, 2007 at 11:16 am

This illustration from Adolph Zukor’s memoir, “The Public Is Never Wrong,” shows the glass staircase that led to the Crystal Hall on the second floor. The ground floor Automatic Vaudeville was a penny arcade with peep shows and other coin-operated amusements. The first two letters of signage for the adjacent Comedy Theatre can be seen at the extreme right:

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 19, 2007 at 10:33 am

The 14th Street Comedy Theatre was originally a store that William A. Brady leased in the early 1900s for conversion into a “Hale’s Tours” location. Scenic movies of famous places were shown in a simulated railroad coach. When the novelty wore off, Adolph Zukor and Marcus Loew took over the lease and converted the premises into the Comedy Theatre. Though they were competing with their own Crystal Hall nickelodeon next door, the Comedy would be a classier venture, charging ten cents for movies and several acts of vaudeville. When Zukor and Loew ended their business partnership, the Comedy’s lease was sold, but I don’t know what happened to the Comedy after that. But I would guess that whatever remained was consumed in the 1923 fire that destroyed the adjacent Crystal Hall.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 7, 2006 at 10:03 am

My mistake about the midtown Comedy Theatre. It was located at 108 West 41st Street and built in 1909. It became the Mercury Theatre in 1937 and was home to the troupe of the same name founded by Orson Welles and John Houseman, before being demolished in 1942.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 7, 2006 at 7:48 am

I’m trying to research that Comedy Theatre, but I’m guessing you might be right about it possibly being a live performance space exclusively. There was a live performance Comedy Theatre run by William Collier up on W. 36th Street circa 1910 into at least the late 1920’s. I wonder if this was an earlier incarnation, from before the theater district migrated north to Longacre Square (later known as Times Square).

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on December 6, 2006 at 9:42 am

Thanks Ed. The Cyburbia site has some nice photos. I saw the 1910 photo showing Automatic Vaudeville and the Comedy Theater. I wonder if the Comedy Theater was a moving picture theater or a live performance theater. Maybe it was an early comedy club. :)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 6, 2006 at 9:33 am

Lost… I didn’t register for the Cyburbia link. If you give it a moment to load, you may still scroll down through the photos on that page despite the message advising that you have not logged in.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Zukor and his partners formed “The Automatic Vaudeville Company” to operate this arcade, and it seems from the images I just posted that Automatic Vaudeville was used as the name of the establishment. However, once the theater was installed on the second floor, the name Crystal Hall was instituted. I don’t know that Automatic Vaudeville ever applied to anything other than the penny-operated mutascopes on the ground floor, so I’m not convinced that it should be listed as a previous name. Ceartainly the “one cent” sign did not apply to the theater. According to my research, a separate 5 cents admission was charged to view the two-reel projections in the upstairs auditorium.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on December 6, 2006 at 8:36 am

The Cyburbia link doesn’t work. You have to register to use it. The other photos are great. Was this theater ever named “Automatic Vaudeville”? The interior photo reminds me of the old peep shows on 42nd street.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 6, 2006 at 8:10 am

Trolling around the web, I found some old images of the Crystal Hall. Here’s an exterior shot taken very early on (the caption reads 1900, but this may just be an approximation) when the establishment was merely a penny arcade. This interior shot of the arcade is also dated 1900. It appears to have been much larger than I assumed.

Here’s a wider angle that is dated 1910. It appears that by this time, the theater had been added on the second floor and the name Crystal Hall advertised at the top of the facade. Note the “Comedy Theatre” sign next door. Looks like a separate establishment and I wonder if it’s listed here on CT. I lifted that photo from the Cyburbia Forum website, where it may be found about a quarter of the way down the page.

Finally, at the top of this page is a 1909 evening shot of the facade with the words “Crystal Hall” clearly visible on the arch above the entrance alcove.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 7, 2006 at 8:14 am

Thanks, Tom Moran. The title “Crippled Trouble” came from a NY Times article that was published on 3/5/23, the day after the fire. The reporter or typist must have misheard the title or misread his notes.

Feuillade on November 6, 2006 at 7:35 pm

This is from Theodore Huff’s book “Charlie Chaplin”:

“Some idea of the traffic in Chaplin films may be gained from the records of the little Crystal Hall on 14th Street in New York. From 1914 to 1923, when the theater burned down, Chaplin was on its screen continuously except for one week, when he management tried out an imitator, with disastrous results.”

Also, I believe the account of the fire is inaccurate in at least one detail. Chaplin never made a film called “Crippled Trouble.” Although some of Chaplin’s early films did go by multiple titles, it is far more likely that the film that was on the screen when the first started was “Triple Trouble.”

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 20, 2006 at 4:36 pm

Yes. I thought I entered that as well, but I did have to go back and edit the description so I must have deleted it.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on October 20, 2006 at 4:43 am

You could probably put one screen. I doubt that it had more than that. :)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 20, 2006 at 4:29 am

Sorry… Thought I entered a status of closed/demolished. The building that the Crystal Hall occupied was gutted by fire in 1923 and then completely demolished and built over in 1965.