Dewey Theatre

126 East 14th Street,
New York, NY 10003

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Grand Entrance to the Dewey Theatre (1901)

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Converted from a church and named in honor of a hero of the Spanish-American War, the Dewey Theatre first opened in 1898, with vaudeville and burlesque. The Dewey was owned by Timothy Sullivan, a major player in Tammany Hall politics, and Geroge Krause, who managed the theatre. In 1908, they leased the Dewey to a rising showman named William Fox for what was then a record price for a theatre of that size—$50 per day. Fox gave them a check for $3,500 to cover the first ten weeks.

Charging ten cents for all seats at all times, Fox presented programs of six acts of vaudeville and eight reels of movies (features were then in infancy). At least partly due to its strategic location near Union Square, Fox’s Dewey became a gold mine, with an average daily attendance of 9,000 and setting an all-time record of 16,800 on a national holiday on February 12, 1910. During the summer months, the Dewey boasted of being the coolest place in town, thanks to 25 fans on the ceilings and walls. During the vaudeville turns, the fans had to be switched off because the noise drowned out the performers.

Sullivan and Krause were so delighted with attendance at the Dewey that they leased another of their theatres, the Gotham in Harlem, to William Fox, with an equally successful outcome. Fox’s profits from the Dewey enabled him to become a partner-owner with Sullivan and Krause in a new next-door neighbor called the City Theatre, which opened in April, 1910 as a playhouse but soon switched to vaudeville and movies.

Around that time, William Fox also bought the operating lease of the huge Academy of Music on the opposite side of 14th Street, where for a time he presented plays with a resident stock company before changing to vaudeville and movies. By 1916, the Dewey had been declared a safety menace due to faulty construction work when it was converted from a church. The building was sold and totally demolished, with new owner Solomon Schinasi selling the lease on the underlying round to William Fox for the next 44 years.

Fox announced that he would build a spectacular new theatre on the site, with Thomas Lamb as architect, but nine years passed before that happened. When the New Academy of Music opened in 1926, it used the same street address as the Dewey Theatre. And today, both theatres are no more than memories.

Contributed by Warren G. Harris

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 17, 2008 at 10:21 am

This photo from the Library of Congress Flickr account looks like it might show the Dewey Theatre of this listing. Click “all sizes” to expand.

rsmg
rsmg on April 29, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Leon Schinasi was my grandfather and his father was Solomon!

-Rob Goldsmith, son of Betti Schinasi Goldsmith

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on April 5, 2011 at 7:56 am

More than a century ago, on Sunday, April 5th, 1908, the Dewey Theatre was advertised in The New York Times with eight acts of vaudeville, topped by the Watermelon Trust and Ben Welch, and assorted moving pictures projected via “The Deweyscope.” The matinee started at 2:15pm, and the evening performance at 8:15pm. Tickets were priced at 25 and 50 cents. This was the last day of the engagement. Opening the next day for a week’s run, was a similar program, with the Kentucky Belles heading the vaudeville acts.

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