International Theatre

5 Columbus Circle,
New York, NY 10023

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International Theatre

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Around the turn of the century, many believed that the new center of New York’s entertainment district would be moving to Columbus Circle, and E.D. Stair and A.L. Wilbur backed up the speculation by erecting a grandiose new theater at the western end of the oval-shaped plaza, Grand Circle, in 1903.

Designed by John H. Duncan, the 1584-seat Majestic Theatre had entrances on both 58th and 59th Streets, as well as its main entrance on Columbus Circle. Featuring a large proscenium arch, two balconies, a double staircase in the lobby and two sets of box seats, the Majestic truly lived up to its name, and was designed to be every bit as impressive and ornate as the finest European opera house.

The lobby and hallway walls were covered in marble wainscoting, while gilded columns lined the upper level of the lobby and also pairs of massive white columns framed the side boxes in the auditorium, capped by statues of trumpeting cherubs and colossal golden eagles.

The stage, at 80 feet wide and 38 feet deep could accommodate the most elaborate of shows, and did just that when it opened in the fall of 1903 with the first musical stage version of “The Wizard of Oz”, which was a tremendous hit. Its then-jaw dropping special effects, such as an on-stage tornado were particularly crowd-pleasing. It would run for over ten months.

In 1911, the Majestic was renamed the Park, which continued to feature legitimate theater, but also Sunday afternoon movie screenings. As the Park Theatre, this is where “Pygmallian” had its debut.

However, in 1922, burlesque came to the Park, and it was again renamed, as Minksy’s Park Music Hall. A year later, William Randolph Hearst acquired the theater, and made it the main venue for his own Cosmopolitan Pictures film company. It was given yet another new name, the Cosmopolitan.

Florenz Ziegfeld took over the Cosmopolitan in 1925, and his house architect, Joseph Urban, updated the interior. For nine months, it returned to legitimate theater, but in 1926, Ziegfeld gave it up to focus on the construction of his self-named theater. Under new management, however, the Cosmopolitan continued to stage legitimate fare until the Depression forced its closing in 1929.

It reopened in 1931, now presenting a mixed bill of vaudeville acts and motion pictures. From 1934-35, it was once more legit, as the Theatre of Young America, but late in 1935, movies and the old name, the Park, returned again.

In 1944, now renamed the International, the theater hosted the Ballet International for several weeks, then a brief run of legitimate theater, the next year. In December 1945, it was a movie house once more, as the Columbus Square, but was the International by the following August, hosting the occasional live performance but mainly sitting vacant until acquired by the NBC network in early 1949, as a television studio premiering the Admiral Broadway Review on January 28, 1949. The stars were Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. The television program was “Your Show of Shows.”

NBC left the International in 1954, and not long afterwards, the former theater, along with most of its neighbors on Columbus Circle, was razed to make way for the New York Convention Center.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

DougDouglass on October 7, 2003 at 4:21 pm

The New York Convetion Center and the connected office tower known as 10 Columbus Circle were demolished in the late ‘90s. Construction is underway on the site for the AOL Time Warner’s world headquarters.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 11, 2008 at 2:33 pm

According to a publicity booklet put out by the Cinema Verdi for the 1944-45 season, this theatre, for a few months starting on January 14, 1944, was renamed the Cinema Verdi, with a policy of Italian films. With the selling of the theatre, “Cinema Verdi” moved to a new home on 8th Avenue at 41st Street in the Arena Theatre.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on September 21, 2008 at 1:14 pm

There was a Columbus Theatre at 981 West 8th Avenue and still showing films in 1938. Does anyone know if it was this same location?

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on February 24, 2010 at 7:52 pm

As the UFA Cosmopolitan, this location was German films until at least 1931.

TLSLOEWS on August 4, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Too bad none of the photo links work anymore.

William on August 4, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Many of Warren’s photo links are no longer working anymore.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on February 20, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Warren’s links posted on May 16, 2008 are still working and are worth checking out. (Where is he, anyway? I miss him.)

I recently saw It Should Happen to You on TCM, starring Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon, and I noticed the “International” theater’s marquee said it was an NBC television studio.

I believe the big billboard that she puts her name on is the one directly to the right of the theater, which billboard is noticable in all the exterior shots posted here.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm

In 1909 this theater, then being operated as the Majestic by the Shubert organization, was converted for a while into a combination movie and vaudeville house. The article about the Majestic in the June 12, 1909, issue of The Moving Picture World is worth quoting in its entirety for the glimpse it offers of the early days of movie exhibition in large theaters:

“The conversion of the Majestic Theater into a moving picture house is an event of first rate importance, for the Majestic, which is situated on Columbus Circle, is pretty well in the heart of New York City and it is a high-class theater, ranking with the best. Presumably the Shuberts, not wishing the house to remain dark in the Summer, are trying an experiment at the Majestic in giving exhibitions of moving pictures sandwiched between chunks of vaudeville. The result of the experiment will, of course, be watched with interest. If it succeeds, then we may expect other Broadway and uptown theaters to follow suit.

“The Majestic is a very large theater and it takes a great number of people to fill it. It is also a beautiful theater. Its situation is unrivaled for tapping a vast section of New York’s population. A little while ago, when writing about a neighboring moving picture house, I suggested that the district of Columbus Circle is one in which a first-class moving picture theater could be profitably placed. I wonder if the Shuberts have adopted my suggestion? If they have and they read this column, they will probably be glad of a few hints as to how to run their theater on a profit-paying basis.

“When I visited the house the other day there was a fair-sized audience. The programme consisted of vaudeville, songs, moving and talking pictures. The vaudeville was just tolerated. It is true that I was present in the afternoon, when things are generally flat and dull, but the audience was sufficiently large to enable me to form an opinion as to how they regarded this innovation at the Majestic. Their interest is chiefly centered in the pictures. These, however, I was sorry to observe, were a month or two old. Nevertheless, the Biograph and Pathe subjects attracted great attention, and, more remarkable still, a phenomenon in the moving picture theater, occasionally elicited considerable applause.

“It is a moot point whether the Majestic is not too large a house for moving pictures—the people at the back of it are a long way from them. Still, the enterprise of the Shuberts should not find any difficulty in filling the place. What is wanted, of course, is less vaudeville, or none at all, and more pictures. Not old subjects, but the very latest releases. Then the manager might try the effect of a little orchestral music, instead of the simple unaccompanied piano.

“Experience shows that the Keith & Proctor houses are successful with moving pictures alone, and there is no reason why the Majestic should not be as successful. Between Columbus Circle and 125th street, on the West Side, there are a large number of people who would, no doubt, be constant visitors to the house if a suitable program of pictures were provided. Then, of course, there is always a floating population of New York City in search of cheap entertainment.

“Evidently, then, the theater magnates of New York City are seriously considering the moving picture as a moneymaking proposition. Let them go about the business on the lines I have indicated and they will be successful. Half-and-half measures are worse than useless. A half-million of people in New York City daily want good pictures. This is probably a larger number than all the visitors to the vaudeville and theater houses combined and it is worth while catering for, in a liberal, intelligent and generous way.”

Jay_Shulman on December 20, 2011 at 9:10 am

In 1934, The Theater of Young America presented “The Chinese Nightingale” with music by my father, Alan Shulman,at the Cosmopolitan Theatre. The show opened on October 5, 1934 and ran for 8 performances. Flora LeBreton starred and the orchestra was conducted by Dr. Francis Gromon. In 1947, as the Majestic Theatre, is was used by International Records to record the Stuyvesant String Quartet and the New Friends of Rhythm.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 18, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Ruth Crosby Dimmick’s 1913 book Our Theatres To-day and Yesterday says that Marcus Lowe took over the Majestic Theatre in December, 1909, and operated it as a movie house until it was taken over by Frank McKee and renamed the Park Theatre in 1911.

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