Theatre Unique

136 East 14th Street,
New York, NY 10003

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The Theatre Unique truly lived up to its name with its presentations and spectacular entrance on the south side of East 14th Street, directly opposite Tammany Hall. Built around the turn of the twentieth century, Theatre Unique started as a penny arcade with a small stage where vaudevillians performed to draw crowds.

It was one of the first places in Manhattan to present movies via projection, which meant renovating the interior into a conventional auditorium with seats and fully-equipped stage. For an admission of ten cents, patrons could see several acts of vaudeville and ten reels of the latest movies. Mostly of short duration, the films were usually so new that Variety and other trade journals sent reporters to Theatre Unique to write reviews for their next editions.

Nearby competition from the Dewey, City, Jefferson, and Academy of Music eventually forced the closing and demolition of Theatre Unique. Its underlying ground, as well as that of the demolished Dewey Theatre, was incorporated into the plot used for the New Academy of Music that opened in 1926.

That block-through plot, which measured 200 feet across, covered the addresses of 126-138 on East 14th Street and 123-135 on East 13th.

Contributed by Warren G. Harris

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 16, 2007 at 9:31 pm

Warren… Adolph Zukor’s Automatic Vaudeville (and, later, Crystal Hall) would have also been in competition with the Theatre Unique, just a couple of blocks to the west on East 14th Street. Both theatres started out as penny arcades and each featured a similar vaulted archway entrance, as you can compare with this photo. To be sure, the Unique’s entryway was far more elaborate than that of Zukor’s establishment.

As a side note… I was wondering if you had ever run across any info on the Comedy Theatre depicted in this 1910 image of East 14th on Union Square. I’ve tried researching it online, but I’ve come up empty. It’s possible that the theatre never showed movies and has no place here, but I thought you might have run across it in your studies. Not to be confused, obviously, with William Collier’s Comedy Theatre on West 41st Street.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 16, 2007 at 9:35 pm

Oh, and I don’t know that you’d call it vaudeville proper, but I’ll bet that amongst the shenanigans at Tammany Hall, there were a number of private and intimate, er, burlesque-style performances given for the pleasure of certain political big wigs!

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 19, 2007 at 10:57 am

For whatever reasons, this doesn’t turn up in the search engine if one enters Theatre Unique. But if one enters just Unique, it turns up along with other theatres that have Unique in the name. Strange!

shoeshoe14
shoeshoe14 on October 29, 2007 at 6:50 pm

Regarding my last post…“No Applause – Just Throw Money”, the book that made vaudeville famous by Trav S.D. has on the first pictures section, 2nd page on the bottom, a photo of Tammany Hall with the caption, “New York’s Tammany Hall was home base to no less than two major vaudeville managers. Tony Pastor’s theater was located right in the building. Tammany politician "Big Tim” Sullivan was to start one of the premier circuits of the Pacific Northwest with his partner John Considine."

There you have it.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 30, 2007 at 9:17 am

I would question anything contained in a book written by someone hiding behind a pseudonym like “Trav S.D.” (travesty). Tony Pastor’s Theatre was adjacent to Tammany Hall, and not part of it. It was on the east side of Tammany Hall, with the Academy of Music on the west side of TH. Because some vaudeville managers had offices in Tammany Hall doesn’t mean that vaudeville was actually presented there. Sullivan had his hand in many theatrical enterprises, including the Dewey on 14th Street, the Savoy on 34th Street, and the Gotham in Harlem.

shoeshoe14
shoeshoe14 on November 2, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Sorry, off topic here, but Warren, just because a modern-day vaudevillian who wrote the most complete vaudeville retrospect who goes by a stage name, you write him off. I don’t think that’s fair. What about Dr. Seuss? Do kids write him off because he didn’t put his real name – Theodor Seuss Geisel? No.

“Anyway, Trav S.D.’s writing on theater, art, politics, and culture has appeared in The Village Voice, American Theatre, Time Out New York, The New York Sun, and Reason, among other publications. His plays have been produced in venues throughout New York City and across the country, and since 1996 he has been top banana at the American Vaudeville Theatre. By day, as Travis Stewart, he toils as a mild-mannered director of development at Theater for the New City (NYC). He lives in Brooklyn.”

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on April 25, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Here’s a new direct link to an exterior view that shows how Theatre Unique influenced the styles of later movie “palaces”: View link

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on July 4, 2008 at 1:00 pm

The 1934 Film Daily Yearbook shows a STAR theatre at 136 Third Avenue with 290 seats as well as the larger Lexington STAR location. Does anyone have any more info on this?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 6, 2010 at 10:38 am

An article titled Light and the Moving Picture Show appeared in the February, 1908, issue of a trade journal called The Illuminating Engineer. Several paragraphs are about the Theatre Unique, though for some reason the magazine chose to call it by the slogan that appeared on its vertical electric sign, “The World in Motion” instead of by the name arched over its entrance. There is one photo of the theater, but it is only a daytime view so we don’t get to see the lighting which the article describes so admiringly.

Among the details about the house the article reveals is that the main floor seated 514 patrons, and there was a mezzanine that provided an additional 150 seats. Admission to the main floor was ten cents, but a seat in the mezzanine cost twenty cents.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on September 7, 2011 at 11:05 am

Following this thread (and not the Theatre Unique) this photo shows that the Olympic Theatre was indeed located inside the Tammany Hall building as stated by several sources.

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-pi4KVLbn7qg/TW0pHiAetLI/AAAAAAAAF8w/s8rb6N5qL44/s1600/20100421153102%2521Tammany_Hall_LC-USZ62-101734.jpg

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