226 W. 42nd Street,
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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.
It ended its days briefly as a concert venue named The Academy and 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.
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