141 W. 44th Street,
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In 1903, Henry B. Harris opened the Hudson Theatre on 44th Street, becoming the first producer to build a playhouse on that street (its side entrance, on 45th Street, was originally for the use of actors only).
Built in a then-mostly residential neighborhood, the four-story theater, with its fairly simple Italian Renaissance style facade, was anything but simple inside. A mix of several styles popular around the turn-of-the-century, including Beaux-Arts, neo-classical, and neo-Renaissance, the Hudson was nothing short of stunning
to its first patrons.
The auditorium could seat about 1100, which included a pair of balconies and two sets of boxes on either side of the proscenium arch. The Hudson was liberally decorated with Roman-themed works, including friezes copied from Nero’s Golden House and the Baths of Titus over the proscenium and lining the walls of the lobby, respectively. Also, Tiffany glass covered the dome of the lobby ceiling and also faced the upper boxes and lower balcony.
Its black marble box office was ecorated with bronze heads of the god Mercury as well as bronze trim around the window decorated in a floral theme.
The Hudson Theatre opened with a play starring Ethel Barrymore, which only ran a few weeks, but within a few years, the theater began to have a number of successes, becoming one of the city’s premier playhouses.
Harris himself died on the Titanic, but his wife, who was among the last rescued, went on to run the Hudson herself until being forced to sell it during the Depression.
In 1934, the CBS network purchased the vacant theater, and used it as a radio studio. However, by 1937, it had returned to legitimate use again, and a few years later, playwrights Russell Crouse and Howard Lindsay purchased the Hudson. In 1950, after a pair of successful long runs (“Arsenic and Old Lace” and “State of the Union”) the theater was sold to NBC for use as a television studio. Among the many classic shows broadcast from the Hudson was “The Tonight Show”.
In 1959, after it decided to move its operations to Los Angeles, NBC spent over $100,000 restoring the Hudson Theatre to its original appearance, and it was given back over to legitimate theater, though the network continued to own the theater until 1962.
During the 1960’s, the Hudson Theatre frequently was dark, and even more frequently threatened with demolition, but live performances continued on and off until 1968, when it was acquired by the Avon chain of pornographic theaters, which continued to run it until 1976, as the Avon-at-the-Hudson. After adult fare, the theater became just another second-run house, but only briefly, since by the end of the decade, it was closed.
Reopened in 1980 after a remodeling as the Savoy, a nightclub and venue for rock concerts, it never became popular and closed after a few years. During the mid-1980’s, the stage was used by developers to hold a full-sized model of a luxury condominium for a short time.
Fortunately for the Hudson Theatre, in 1987, the Landmarks Commission declared both its interior and exterior a landmark, thus when Harry Macklowe built a large hotel next door to the theater, it could not be razed, so the former theater was incorporated into the hotel, for use as a conference center and venue for special events, as it continues to be used today, recently refurbished to its 1903 appearance by its current owners, the Millennium Hotel Broadway.
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