5 Columbus Circle,
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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.
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