Liberty Theatre

234 West 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10036

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oknazevad
oknazevad on June 27, 2013 at 5:08 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 libertytheaterny.com

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on August 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Tinseltoes, you are a cinema treasure!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 18, 2012 at 6:41 pm

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

42ndStreetMemories
42ndStreetMemories on January 17, 2012 at 9:59 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.

LuisV
LuisV on January 17, 2012 at 9:08 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?

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 17, 2012 at 7:19 pm

OMG, I stopped in today and it is effin' gorgeous! The former lobby is a seating area, with photos and programs from the old theater gracing the walls; the main auditorium is lovingly restored, to a point. The two balconies are there, and the side boxes and proscenium, and there is seating throughout.

There is a big modern-type chandelier but it doesn’t obscure the details in the ceiling. I only spent about three minutes there (the staff was very accomodating) and I can’t wait to return and leisurely take it all in.

And I can’t wait for our intrepid members to start posting photos here, so I can savor this true cinema treasure even more.

I saw many movies here, notably the cannibal holocaust/Ilsa/faces-of-death type of grindhouse gore that the Liberty seemed to specialize in, and it’s a real kick to be back. I’m truly over the moon about this.

Garth
Garth on January 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Glad to read Ed and LuisV’s info about the renovations and new life as a restaurant. I went to many Manhattan theatres in the 70’s but never had the grindhouse experience. We have the Paramount theatre here in Staten Island that some good people tried to renovate and open as a restaurant/ catering hall. They were well into the renovations but the theatre became a money pit and the project was abandoned. At least the Liberty has a new lease on life.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 6, 2012 at 9:22 am

Hey saps. Sorry to disappoint, but I have not been able to do so yet. I’ll comment in more detail over on that page.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Great news, Ed, and an interesting link to the architectural plans. I hope the reality matches the dream.

(And did you have time to get over to the Fantasy and photograph its restored verticle blade before the elements and inevitable neglect take over?)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I’m surprised that there is no mention in the introductory remarks regarding the NYC premiere and reserved-seat engagement of D.W. Griffith’s controversial epic “Birth of a Nation.” I know it’s been referred to in the comments section – and I believe an image of the opening ad was once provided – but seems that this is a significant enough bit of history for the theater (and, indeed, the history of cinema!) to warrant inclusion in the introduction.

While the film had already been exhibited the previous month in Los Angeles, the Liberty was secured for its NYC premiere on March 3rd, 1915, according to most sources. The top ticket price (in the loge) for evening showings was $2.00 – astronomical for the time. That price was reduced to $1.00 for matinees.

An article from the NY Times, dated January 2nd, 1916, notes that the film’s engagement at the Liberty was scheduled to conclude with that evening’s showing, after an unprecedented run of 45 weeks. The passage about the film reads as follows (all dates, numbers AND punctuations per the original publication):

“After two showings today Griffith’s picture, ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ will end an engagement in the Liberty Theatre that has never been approached in filmland. The picture was first shown there on March 2 of last year, and the man whose business it is to get things in the paper about it has assembled these interesting figures. The run lasted 45 weeks, with a total of 620 consecutive exhibitions. Simultaneously the pitcure was shown in outlying theatres 6266 times. In round numbers 616,000 persons saw the film at the Liberty, while adding those who witnessed it in other metropolitan playhouses brought the figure up to 872,000. This is about one-seventh of the population of New York, and, computing the admission average at 75 cents, $600,000 was paid by New Yorkers for the privilege. Simultaneously the picture was being shown in the larger cities of the country, and it is estimated 5,000,000 have already seen it.”

The Times' calculations don’t quite add up – 872,000 patrons at an average of .75 cents would tally to $654,000 paid admissions for the NY metropolitan area. Also appears they botched the date of the premiere as March 2nd, rather than March 3rd. If the numbers for the Liberty are to be believed (616,000 patrons over 620 showings), then the average attendance per show would have been near capactity at over 990 persons. Of course, coming from what appears to have been a publicist for the theater, I believe these figures should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

Keller
Keller on January 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm

AWESOME NEWS, ED!! I’m absolutely thrilled that they’ve saved the theater and are putting it to use. I was so afraid that the wrecking ball would claim this one- it’s not a good sign when a historical space sits vacant for a decade. Can’t wait to see the finished space…

LuisV
LuisV on January 5, 2012 at 11:53 am

Wow!!!! I was not aware of the DeMille occupancy. I have to poke my head in there when I go to see Follies in Times Sqaure on Saturday. Thanks for the link!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 5, 2012 at 10:54 am

That’s encouraging news, LuisV. Famous Dave’s other location is within the shell of the former Mayfair/DeMille Theater on 47th off Broadway. While that space was not landmarked and most of the interior was gutted, the full vaulted height of the theater was retained and reports are that the auditorium ceiling was left more or less intact. Hopefully, with landmark restrictions in effect here, much more of the Liberty’s historic interior has been preserved and incorporated into the re-use.

This link has some renderings and image or two of the Liberty’s transformation and new floor-plan as well as for the DeMille’s. The page appears to be a space for the designer’s “latest” work, so not sure of the shelf-life on that link.

LuisV
LuisV on January 4, 2012 at 8:46 am

Well, the Liberty Theatre will finally be put back into use, though not as a theater. It will become a restaurant. It was announced in this morning’s NY Post as per below. I am hopeful that the interior has, in fact been restored. If anyone gets in please report back. I will do so if I have the opportunity. Thanks!

NY Post Article below:

In the midst of the holiday bustle, Famous Dave’s BBQ has opened a second location — in Times Square at 234 W. 42nd St. The new 600-seat restaurant takes up the entire 25,000-square-foot landmarked former Liberty Box Theater, which is part of Forest City’s 42nd St. Entertainment Center retail project. Famous Dave’s can accommodate up to 1,500 people for parties, when not everyone is seated. This is the first tenant for the theater since it became part of the redevelopment of Times Square, and it can be found near Madame Tussauds and the eateries Dave & Busters and Applebee’s.

Negotiations for the space, with a blended asking rent of $200 a square foot started in 2007 when Famous Dave’s had already opened a spread on West 47th Street. The pact was finally struck in 2009, but it took all this time to open due to the painstaking historic installation and various required permissions. “It was the longest deal you could ever imagine, because it was a net-lease with both Forest City and the 42nd Street Redevelopment Corp., which is run by the state,” said Andrew A. Pittel of his eponymous company, which represented the Benmoha Restaurant Group in the deal. “Every ‘i’ had to be looked at and every ‘t’ had to be crossed, and they had to hire certain architects and engineers because it was under the jurisdiction of Landmarks.”

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on April 30, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Well, they did tear down Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, The Metropolitan Opera House and the Roxy.

Thank goodness they missed Grand Central, Radio City Music Hall and
the High Line.

WilliamMcQuade
WilliamMcQuade on April 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Times Square theaters were virtually totally destroyed. If the Roman Colisseum were in NY. it would have been torn down years ago for a parking lot or office building.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 30, 2011 at 11:46 am

I agree Keller. What kills me is that the TS interior was supposed to be protected, never mind that Ecko backed out of the deal AFTER the place was butchered to make way for their store. Enjoyed plenty of double features in that old theatre. Heartbreaking.

Keller
Keller on April 30, 2011 at 11:19 am

Thanks Ed.. great page and glad to be here. The last time I got a peek at the TS theater, a crew was inside and had already removed the arches/wings of the stage and were ripping up rows of seats. My jaw dropped and I grabbed the nearest contractor to ask what was happening to the theater. If I recall correctly, he said it was a being turned into an Ecko retail store and that most everything was coming out. (no idea what state it’s in now) The signage for the chain was put up on the street shortly thereafter, but as is common with these old theaters, nothing came of it. I wish I would have had a camera that day- the original box office and concession stand were still there and had prices posted from the 80’s. Corporate greed killed another beautiful building. That one was in excellent shape and completely intact, right down to carpet and light fixtures.
As a sidenote, I lived in Vegas from 93-95 and in that time witnessed the demolition of the Landmark, the Sands, the Desert Inn, etc. These were gorgeous, historical monuments to the glory days of the Strip and yet were ripped down like trash, rather than integrated into the new casinos (or parking lots) that were built in their place. I know I’m ranting here, but it’s infuriating that this country has so little interest in preserving architectural history…

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 29, 2011 at 10:13 am

Welcome to CT, Keller. Did they really gut the Times Square? That’s disappointing. The development corporation really screwed the pooch on these two theaters that were under their “protection.” Too bad they couldn’t wait out the economy.

Keller
Keller on April 29, 2011 at 9:11 am

I’m new to this site but glad I found it. I was the Marketing Mgr then Facilities Mgr for the Empire 25 from 2001-2005 and was fortunate enough to have been given access to the Liberty on several occasions. One day I dragged in two light stand and shot a few rolls of film with my girlfriend. We crawled up ancient stairs to the boxes and found newspapers scattered around dating from the early 80’s. It’s a shame to know that it was never utilized, but given all the setbacks over the years, I knew it was only a matter of time. She was a treasure. The Times Square was another Gem. I snuck in one day before they gutted her.. it was heartbreaking to see. Not sure if you guys are aware of this, but there’s an amazing documentary out there called “Soul of an Empire” that chronicles the physical move of the Empire but also dives into the history and renovation of the entire block. There’s some amazing footage in it and anyone that’s a fan of old theaters and/or Times Square should see this. The director contacted us one day about a screening and she ended up running it at the Anthology Film Archives (AMC, in their typical corporate fashion) wanted to charge her full price to rent a house. They should have let her screen it for FREE and paid her to run the footage in the lobbies. But that’s another battle story. Anyhoo, she and I became friends and I actually have a dub on VHS somewhere. This site has made me want to dig it up and watch it again.. those days working on the “Deuce” were life-changing for me and those theaters will always have a special place in my heart & mind.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on April 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Great thread here on Times Square theatres:

View link

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 3, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Chris… Not sure what you see as the other rear facades on 41st St, but if you mean the two sets of caged fire escapes that seem to be separated by a building between them, both of those belong to the New Amseterdam. In fact, “Mary Poppins” banners fly from both sets of escapes. The wider set closest to 7th Avenue is near the back of the house (serving the balcony and mezzanine as well as the rooftop theatre and gardens) while the narrower to the west probably served the stage fly area and rooftop spaces. The site where the Harris Theatre’s 41st Street facade was located is now occupied by a tall building with an ugly and windowless green facade, sandwiched between the narrow back end of the Candler Building (where the rear entrance of the 42nd Street McDonalds is) and the back of the Hilton Hotel structure that frames the Liberty Theatre facade.

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on February 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Chris, it most likely used as storage space by the museum. Unlike the Liberty, all publications say it was gutted out first.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on February 11, 2011 at 7:56 pm

was the auditorium of the nearby Candler/Harris Theater completely
torn down or is it locked up behind Madame’s Tussaud’s Wax Museum?
the reason i ask is that there seems to be the rear facades of 3
theaters on the north side of 41 St. if two are the Liberty and
the New Amsterdam what’s the third one?

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on January 15, 2011 at 9:58 am

Well… chalk up another lost treasure. Guess the New 42nd Street organization caved in on any hopes of restoring the Liberty – or at least maintaining any of its character in an adaptive re-use. I fear that the same fate awaits the old Times Square Theatre across the street.