153 W. 49th Street,
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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.
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