World Theatre

153 W. 49th Street,
New York, NY 10019

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World Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

When it opened in 1914, the Punch and Judy Theatre was tiny compared to some nearby theaters, seating just 299.

It was built for actor-turned-producer Charles Hopkins by the firm of Murray & Dana, who designed the intimate theater in Old English style, complete with a mural of the theater’s original namesakes fighting it out on the facade overlooking West 49th Street.

The small lobby resembled a 16th Century English pub, and when it first opened, the staff was attired in Elizabethan costume. Inside the eighteen-row auditorium, its seats were once long benches upholstered with black leather. On the mezzanine level, boxes seating two-to-six people each ran down the length of the side and rear walls.

The ceiling was crossed with dark, thick wood beams, and its walls coated in plain white plaster. Medieval-style chandeliers hung over the auditorium with lights which resembled candles.

For a small theater, the Punch and Judy contained a full-size stage and tall proscenium arch, and its curtains carried on the Old English theme. Antique French tapestries also hung from the side of the stage. The auditorium was loosely modeled on the Blackfriars Theatre in London.

The theater’s first production was not a hit and its first decade or so in operation, the Punch and Judy managed to have just a couple of modest successes.

In 1926, Hopkins had the theater renamed for himself, and the theater slowly became a bit more successful. A handful of long runs lasted into the early 1930’s, but with the Depression, Hopkins was no longer able to keep the tiny house open any longer — at least not with legitimate performances. The theater’s final live act was in spring of 1932.

In 1933, Hopkins started to lease out his self-named theater as a movie house. A year later, the name was changed to the Westminster Cinema, and screened British films only. In 1936, it became the World Theatre, showing foreign films. After WWII, it was showing a mix of foreign and second-run features.

By the 1960s, the area around the World Theatre had taken a turn for the worse, and many of its neighboring theaters started to show adult films to stay in business. The World followed suit in 1972, with the New York City premiere of the notorious “Deep Throat”.

When it was discovered that one of the area’s best-known porno theaters was owned by the respected Rockefeller Group in 1982, the World closed down and was taken over by Embassy Theatres, which renamed it the Embassy 49th Street and cleaned things up in a big way — opening with a Walt Disney picture!

The Embassy remained opened another handful of years, screening mostly first-run films, until soaring property costs made the land which the theater sat on far more valuable than the old theater itself.

The Embassy was demolished in 1987, to make way for the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, despite the fact that its charming and unique original Elizabethan-style decor was still mostly intact and in fair shape inside.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 85 comments)

rlrl2010
rlrl2010 on April 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

do you remember the Ramada Inn on Eighth between 48th and 49th—in the mid 90’s it became a Days Inn and a few years ago became a Hilton Garden Inn when the area started to get “swanky”.

When Eighth was down and out back in the 70’s and 80’s before Worldwide Plaza was opened, I always wondered how the Ramada managed to stay in business with peep shows, XXX bookstores across the street, and all the drug selling and hustling in the area. Was that actually a tourist hotel or was it a fleabag? I remembered places like the Fulton Hotel (46th) and the Sherman (47th) were small little dives, but a national chain like Ramada sitting in the middle of all that mess, made me wonder how it survived

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I do remember that Ramada Inn (I thought there might have been a Holiday Inn around, but might be confusing it with the Ramada). I’m sure it survived through the sheer ignorance of out of town visitors who planned their trips to New York unwisely! May have been a fleabag, too, if it flew under Ramada’s corporate policies. I’m sure Ramada did not sanction short-stay or hourly bookings, officially or otherwise.

rlrl2010
rlrl2010 on April 18, 2011 at 5:07 pm

there was a Ho Jo’s Motor Lodge for decades a few blocks up between 51-52 street. recently it became a Hampton Inn

but the old Ho Jo’s Motor Lodge was right at the end of the prostitution district so i figured it was safer to stay there then the old Ramada

there is a Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza on B'way and 48th-49th that opened in the late 80’s, but it is several grades up from both the Ramada and HoJo’s

I just wondered what out of towners did when they arrived at the Ramada and were literally facing peep shows and XXX bookstores right across the street (right by the old Blarney Stone bar). did they go out at night on the town or take a cab back to the hotel?

rlrl2010
rlrl2010 on April 18, 2011 at 5:21 pm

oh yes, and what about between 1978 and 1980 when the old Lincoln Hotel at 700 Eighth Avenue (between 44th and 45th) was renovated into the Milford Plaza which opened in 1980. This is the one with the “M” on the roof you can see when you’re in the general area

do you have any recollection of what the old Lincoln looked like back then? If i had to guess it must have been terrible given the state of the neighborhood. must have looked horrid when undergoing renovation

what got me curious about the Ramada was i always could see the red RAMADA INN insignia logo on the top part of the building, which kind of lent an air of respectability to the street until you saw how awful the surrounding areas was, so i always wondered how that hotel managed

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on April 18, 2011 at 7:11 pm

What did out-of-towners think?

As a 17 year old tourist on my first trip to NY in 1974 I walked from the Port Authority down 8th Avenue to my room at the Edison Hotel on 47th street through a sea of pretty young blonde wigged hookers grabbing my suitcase and asking me if I wanted a date.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

rlrl2010
rlrl2010 on April 18, 2011 at 7:23 pm

you were lucky to have found hetero girls. my first trek down 8th Avenue in 1979 found only tranny hustlers instead of hetero ones. Right at 47th street, it didn’t even occur to me that prostitution was not only about hetero hookers. We ran like bats out of hell because we weren’t prepared for that kind of thing. I was 17 at the time too

in fact it was from that experience that made me leery of that part of 8th(this was by the old Biltmore property which at the time was a row of boarded up buildings) for quite awhile

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on April 18, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Roger, I have no idea if they were ‘hetero’ or even women at all. That would not have bothered me in the least.

rlrl2010
rlrl2010 on April 18, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I think i remember you from the Hollywood Cinema board early last year.

rlrl2010
rlrl2010 on April 19, 2011 at 9:41 am

“HOTEL” “LIQUORS” “XXX BOOKS” “PEEP SHOW” “PARK” “HARDWARE” were the main signs you would see on 8th Avenue in the 40’s

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on November 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm

If anyone has any stories about going to/ working at this threatre in its adult days, I would love to hear them. I am chronicling the histories of adult theatres in the US. Please contact me at Thanks!

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