Liberty Theatre

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

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Liberty Theatre exterior

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

The 100-foot long lobby stretched from W. 42nd Street to the auditorium, which actually sat on W. 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 theatre 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 Theatre’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 and by 2015 the auditorium is used for special events.

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

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 150 comments)

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm

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

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on August 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Tinseltoes, you are a cinema treasure!

oknazevad on June 27, 2013 at 10:08 am

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

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on March 6, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Ziegfeld Frolics in 2015.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 11, 2015 at 8:27 pm

Here’s the website that includes ticket info for the new production. The show, billed as an “immersive event” is called Ziegfelds Midnight Frolic and will begin in April for a very limited engagement.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 11, 2015 at 8:30 pm

The venue is listed as “a forgotten Broadway theatre” which is then further clarified on the ticketing page as “a long hidden Broadway theatre” at 233 West 41st Street. Looks like they’re using one of the old auditorium exit doors, since the Liberty’s lobby was demolished for an eatery.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on March 11, 2015 at 9:14 pm

The lobby may have been gutted (or demolished) but you can walk right through the restaurant to get into the auditorium…

oknazevad on July 10, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Actually, the Liberty’s original lobby became part of the Ripley’s Odditorium. Apparently there is still a connecting door between the two that’s kept locked. But it is possible to go through the restaurant into the auditorium.

DavidZornig on September 5, 2015 at 5:37 pm

1986 photo added courtesy of Steve Thomas.

SingleScreen on July 1, 2017 at 7:37 pm

42ndStreetMemories, you say you didn’t pay $2.00 in the 60s. As late as 1986 or even a couple of years later, the first show on a Saturday morning when the theaters opened at 10:00 AM was only $3.00. And that was often for double or even triple features! Oh, those were the days! I’d grab a coffee and danish from a shop on Broadway around the corner, then head down the duece to check out what was playing and be in my seat watching the first flick by 10:00 AM.

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