Liberty Theatre

234 West 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10036

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Liberty Theatre exterior

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Liberty Theatre, built in 1904 on 41st Street, was designed by the firm of Herts & Tallant in Beaux-Arts style for Klaw and Erlanger. Its lobby opened onto 42nd Street, as it was at the time the more desired address.

The 100-foot long lobby stretched from 42nd Street to the auditorium, which actually sat on 41st Street.

The Neo-Classical inspired facade, with a set of caryatides flanking the main entry four stories tall. A huge arched window was surmounted by a carving of the Liberty Bell, and at the summit of the facade was a large stone American eagle, its wings spread and staring downwards to the sidewalk below.

A stunning ticket counter was located in a vestibule in the lobby, which was topped with a large dome, covered in gilding and aluminum. A promenade led to the staircase leading to the balconies and the orchestra seating, with an ivory, amber and gold color theme.

Its auditorium, which could seat well over 1,000, continued the patriotic theme of the exterior, with Liberty Bells and eagles covered with gilt circling the huge ceiling dome and the towering proscenium arch. Again, the ivory and amber color scheme continued into the auditiorium. Each side wall featured four sets of opera boxes.

In the basement, luxurious lounges catered to each sex, with the ladies lounge carrying a garden theme, complete with pastel shades and floral patterns, and the men’s being designed in a Spanish countryside theme, with leather and oak highlights.

The Liberty Theatre remained a legitimate theater until 1933.

Like most of its neighboring theaters, the Liberty Theatre, rather than go dark, converted from stage shows to movies, and remained a movie house for well over half a century until the revival of 42nd Street began in the early-1990’s.

By 1996, the Liberty Theatre of old was gone, its magnificent Beaux-Arts elements mostly removed, and the rest hidden behind a very ugly boxy marquee. Its front entrance was remodeled in a late Streamline style facade. The interior of the Liberty Theatre had suffered just as badly over the 50 years since its golden days ended, and was decrepit and dirty. Its balconies and side boxes long since closed off, and its original color scheme painted many times over.

However, it was just the appearance that a theater company was looking for for a short run of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” which was the Liberty’s first legitimate use in over six decades. However, it was shuttered as soon as the play closed.

In 1997, plans were announced to convert the Liberty Theatre into a virtual reality arcade. However, this plan fell through. After over a decade laying empty and unused, it was restored and converted into a Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant which opened at Christmas 2011, but was closed in 2013. A bar operates from the foyer area.


Excerpted from “Lost Broadway Theatres” by Nicholas Van Hoogstraten, 1997

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 154 comments)

LuisV
LuisV on January 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Wow Saps, what a great commentary! I will have to make it there soon to have me some Famous Dave’s Grub. It’s not realisitic to expect any of New York’s remaining Movie Palaces to be returned to showing films; as much as we all want at least ONE to be. That said, the next best thing is have them restored and put back into a use that the public is able to see the glory of what once was. A sample of how America used to spend its leisure time. I hope the restaurant is a great success as I prefer this use than any church. Of course, I still very much appreciate the churches that have saved some of our best palaces and restored them so that future generations can enjoy them. A special thank you to the churches that saved the Stanley in Jersey City, the Valencia and the Elmwood in Queens, the Gates and Metropolitan in Brooklyn, and of course, the 175th Street and Hollywood Theatres in Manhattan. The theaters that were prolonged in life by conversion to Discos didn’t fare as well, BUT it did result in many of these palaces surviving way longer than they otherwise would have. I was because of these conversions that I had the chance to see such stunners as the Academy of Music (Palladium), Club USA (The Forum) Xenon’s (Henry Miller), The Saint (Loews Commodore) and, of course, the most famous of them all, Studio 54 (Gallo Opera House). Technically, Studio 54 doesn’t count because it was never a movie house, but in my mind, a theater is a theater and I hold all of the old Broadway Legit stages in equal high regard to the other palaces. But I digress. :–) I’m thrilled to have The Liberty back in the public realm. What’s next? The Times Square? Loew’s Canal? The Brooklyn Paramount? The Coliseum? RKO Keiths Flushing? RKO Keiths Richmond Hill? What other palaces are still hidden?

42ndStreetMemories
42ndStreetMemories on January 17, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I just posted two photos of the Liberty’s new interior. My daughter and son-in-law attended a Christmas party there last month. Being an old regular of The Deuce, I was thrilled that my daughter got to experience the Liberty albeit a somewhat altered version.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on January 18, 2012 at 11:56 am

The very top line of the introduction needs to be corrected. The 42nd Street theatres are not considered part of the Garment District!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm

According to Cinema Treasures, New York City has a garment district and a midtown, but no Times Square.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on January 19, 2012 at 4:33 am

Well then, it should be midtown rather than the garment district, which runs south from about 39th Street. “Midtown” has become a no-brainer because the news media now uses it for anything from the Hudson to East Rivers between 59th Street/Central Park South and 42nd Streets. In the old days, “midtown” was synonomous with the entertainment district including Times Square and bounded by Eighth & Sixth Avenues and 57th to 42nd Streets.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 1, 2012 at 8:45 am

Here’s an undated view, but probably 1935 since “George White’s 1935 Scandals” marked the screen debut of Eleanor Powell: nypl

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 1, 2012 at 8:51 am

And here’s a closer view of the entrance: nypl

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on August 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Tinseltoes, you are a cinema treasure!

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 13, 2012 at 7:44 am

Here’s a 1915 trade ad for a cinema landmark: archive

oknazevad
oknazevad on June 26, 2013 at 11:08 pm

So it seems the Famous Dave’s has closed (I went there once on a Friday night just after all the shows got out; it was pretty empty, so I’m not surprised.) But the front portion, where the bar is, is still operating as the “Liberty Diner”, while the main auditorium is available as a rental reception space. See libertytheaterny.com

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