World Theatre

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

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World Theatre

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 88 comments)

rlrl2010 on April 18, 2011 at 3:21 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

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on April 18, 2011 at 5:11 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 on April 18, 2011 at 5:23 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

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on April 18, 2011 at 6:57 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 on April 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm

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

rlrl2010 on April 19, 2011 at 7:41 am

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

ECreech on January 16, 2016 at 8:39 am

I have come across a 4 page advertisement for the World Theatre dated May 27th, 1944 for “Goyescas” an R.K.O. picture. If anyone is interested in purchase or donation this flier is in mint condition. Thanks. Contact me at

DavidZornig on January 20, 2020 at 12:01 pm

1978 photo added credit Frank Fournier, from below website.

Guodone on September 24, 2020 at 11:04 am

I used to work nights in New York occasionally in the early 80’s and part of my job was to get dinner for the other workers at the company. (I had the least seniority) I used to walk down 49th street to Time Square to get the food and would pass by this theater. What was interesting to me was it seemed like a regular ‘legitimate’ theater, (clean, well maintained) not like the hole in the wall adult theaters on 42nd street. I remember one of Seka’s movies playing there for a while. (Inside Seka, Rockin’ with Seka, one of those films) It was several years later that I found out that it had been a ‘legit’ theater 20-30 years prior to that time.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on September 24, 2020 at 12:55 pm

A “legit” movie theater, yes, but it always did play the offbeat, foreign language, and somewhat sensational motion picture fare; its eventual move to hard-core adult films was not surprising or unexpected.

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