Harris Theatre

226 W. 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10036

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Harris Theatre exterior

The Candler Theatre and Building, an early work of Thomas W. Lamb, was opened in 1914, between two larger and longer-established W. 42nd Street theatres, the Liberty Theatre and New Amsterdam Theatre.

It was housed inside a five story office building, its main entrance on W. 42nd Street, which meant that its lobby ended up being long and narrow, leading to the auditorium, which was closer to W. 41st Street. It also meant that the exterior wall of the W. 41st Street side of the Candler Theatre was banal, and devoid of details, other than then fire escapes which criss-crossed it.

Built in the Italian Renaissance style, the Candler Theatre could seat just over 1,200 in an auditorium which, though not overly large, gave the impression of being much more spacious than it actually was, due to Lamb’s ingenious design.

Its ceiling contained an elliptical shallow dome, ringed by Art-Nouveau style chandeliers, in a floral theme, similar to those at the neighboring New Amsterdam Theatre. The two-story auditorium, with a balcony and two sets of opera boxes flanking the proscenium arch, was minimally decorated, but did include gilded plasterwork around the proscenium and a general color scheme of ivory and gold.

Its 25-foot wide lobby, with its liberal use of marble and more gilding, also had 17th Century style wall panels, decorated in floral patterns. Its foyers were decorated with tapestries depicting scenes from Shakespeare (as this was a playhouse, after all).

The Candler family, of Coca-Cola fame, leased the theatre to impresarios Sam H. Harris and George M. Cohan, who would operate the Candler Theatre as a legitimate house.

In 1916, the theatre was renamed the Cohan and Harris Theatre, and the showmen continued their string of successes into 1921, when Cohan left the partnership. Harris took full ownership of the theater, and it was thereafter known as the Harris Theatre.

A year later, the Harris Theatre made history, with John Barrymore portraying Hamlet and 101 nights in a row, beating Edwin Booth’s old record by one.

Throughout the next ten or so years, the Harris Theatre had many more long running stage hits. The last live show, in late-1933, was not successful, and soon afterwards, the Harris Theatre, like so many of its neighbors, was converted into a motion picture house.

For 55 more years, the Harris Theatre remained a first-run movie house, losing most of its original décor as the years went on, including the tapestries, the chandeliers, the side boxes and its large rooftop signage, which had been added during the Harris Theatre’s 1920’s heyday.

When it finally went dark in 1994, there was hope that it might perhaps be restored for legitimate or stage show use, as the nearby New Amsterdam Theatre was, by the Walt Disney Company.

However, with only its facade saved, the Harris Theatre was demolished in 1997, and its site occupied by the first American branch of the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 41 comments)

formerprojectionist on December 28, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Ok, here’s some live footage of the Harris and some of the other theaters on 42nd St that my friend and I shot back in September 1980. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbRVzD71Cno this is part of a longer film, my friend did the music. By the way, my partner and I are currently doing a documentary on the Deuce, and we are very, very interested in interviewing anyone who worked on that street, in particular projectionist, but really anyone who was there in the golden days. We’ve already interviewed Jamie Gillis (male porn star who did live sex shows on the deuce), Joel M. Reed (who directed Bloodsucking Freaks aka Incredible Torture Show) and in January we are interviewing Carter Stevens (Adult Film director) Contact me if you have a story to tell.

KingBiscuits on December 28, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie and The Nude Bomb looked to be the double bill playing at the time.

TLSLOEWS on July 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Looks like a great double-bill.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 4, 2011 at 8:53 am

Hey formerprojectionist… How goes your Duece documentary you referenced back on Dec 28, 2009? Seems like something I’d be quite interested in seeing.

formerprojectionist on April 4, 2011 at 9:43 am

Hello Ed, I really appreciate your posts here, I just want you to know that, great to see you back and actually be able to greet you. We are still pulling together interviews, because this is a self financed project, we have no deadline, other than we promised ourselves 2011 would be the wrap up of any interviews we do. Because we are involved in DVD releases, that eats up most of our time. Right now I’ve been pulling together interviews with Long Island projectionists I know who didn’t quite work the Deuce but did work theaters like the Fine Arts, Calderone !&2, Salsbury theater etc…Most of these guys had trained me when I did my brief stint projecting in the early 90’s.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on July 13, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Street view here is off just a tic. The Harris entrance was actually to the right of the McDonald’s space seen here. A glimpse of the former entrance location can be seen on the extreme right of this view, below the high arch-topped window.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on April 12, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Reposted from Embassy 1,2,3 page:

bigjoe59 posted: Speaking of the legit theaters that once were located on the south side of 42 St. between 7th and 8th Aves…my question is simple – when the renovation for the “new” 42 St. began in earnest in the early 90s what was the state of the Candler Theater? Was it in such bad shape they decided to demolish it or was it in perfectly renovatable shape but no one wanted to spend the money so it was razed.

saps responded: The Candler (known as the Harris since 1921!) was a much nicer house [than the Anco], solid and dependable, and I don’t think I ever heard a satisfactory explanation as to why it was demolished. One of my favorites, and surely missed.

techman707 responded: It’s interesting you [Bigjoe59] should ask about the Candler building, since the union I was in, the projectionists Local 306, was located in the Candler building. The only reason they were FORCED to move was because of the demolition. The building was certainly NOT in bad shape. In fact, like so many of the older buildings that have been razed, it was a building that was built for the ages. Like comparing the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center, which building would you select to be in if were going to be hit by a plane?

Carry on!

schmauch on July 30, 2016 at 8:57 am

There is a pan along the 42nd street block taking in the Harris Theater marquis at the beginning of Conrad Rook’s film “Chappaqua”. I believe the lead film is “The Man From Uncle”, mid-60s.

42ndStreetMemories on July 30, 2016 at 3:52 pm

I have a clear screen capture of the marquee shot and it is 2 Man from UNCLE films…THE SPY WITH MY FACE and TO TRAP A SPY.

DavidZornig on December 4, 2018 at 9:12 am

1972 photo added via Photographs From The 1970s Facebook page.

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