Hollywood Theatre

237 W. 51st Street,
New York, NY 10019

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Hollywood Theatre

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Designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb for Warner Brothers as a showcase for ‘talkie’ movies, the Hollywood Theatre was one of the last movie palaces to be built in mid-town Manhattan. The gala opening was on April 22, 1930 with the movie “Hold Everything”. Originally the main entry was a narrow Art Deco style lobby on Broadway, that cut through an office building, but by the mid-1930’s, the side entry on W. 51st Street had become the only entrance. Inspired by French Baroque and Rococo styles, the three story rotunda foyer and the 1,603 seat auditorium are exquisitely ornate and awesome, perfect for a Golden Age Hollywood movie palace. The theatre was built with a stage, but while showing movies did not present live entertainment.

In October, 1930, the Hollywood Theatre was the only New York theatre to employ Warner Bros. wide screen process, 65mm Vitascope, to show the feature film “Kismet”. Starting in 1934, during some years of the Great Depression, Warner Bros. leased out the theatre for stage shows and concerts, and during that time it was known as the 51st Street Theatre. During World War II, again known as the Hollywood Theatre, movies succeeded well here.

With a new name, though one that didn’t last long, the Warner Theatre, on August 15, 1947, hosted the world premiere of the movie version of “Life With Father”. On May 16, 1948, the Warner Theatre closed. The theatre was sold and the movie screen was removed. On January 22, 1949, the theatre reopened for stage shows with “All For Love”, renamed Mark Hellinger Theatre, after the producer. The Warner name was then transferred to the Strand Theatre at Broadway and W. 47th Street.

The Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews opened here in 1956, and lasting for six years, was the first hugely successful stage show at this theatre. By the 1960’s, the theater’s fortunes began to nosedive. The Nederlander Organization became the new owners in 1970. Some productions were less successful than others and the theater barely eeked through the 1970’s and 1980’s. The last successful production was Mickey Rooney and Anne Miller in “Sugar Babes”, which ran from 1979 to 1982. By 1989, the Nederlander Organization leased the theater to a church group. Three years later, the building was sold for $17 million and became the home for the Times Square Church. The church has well maintained the theatre. Both the exterior and interior are protected by New York City landmark law.

Contributed by Ross Melnick, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 147 comments)

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on April 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm

This auditorium photo suggests that many of the draperies on the stage and in surrounding wall areas are either original or excellent copies:
View link

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on May 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm

In the introduction, Status is given as “Closed.” Why? Public church services are held there frequently throughout the week.

robboehm
robboehm on May 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Closed as a theatre, Tinseltoes, per the discussion above. Remember the Katherine Hepburn story when she was going to do Coco? She noticed the construction across the street and said it would be a problem with the noise for the Wednesday matinee. She was particularly concerned about the number “Gabrielle” and was reported to have arranged for construction work to be shut down during that number. And so, each matinee, just as the intro to the piece began, a hush came over the building site. Kate the Great, indeed!

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on May 7, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Listing it as “closed” is a no-brainer, discouraging people who read the listing from trying to visit the theatre, which is one of the last remaining Thomas Lamb movie palaces still standing anywhere in the world in close to its original decor.

ron1screen
ron1screen on November 13, 2011 at 9:54 pm

What an amazing theater. So nice to see it has been so well taken care of. A cinema treasure indeed!

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on June 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Here are two pages of photos taken at a 1935 premiere at the Hollywood Theatre: boxofficemagazine

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Broadway entrance pictured in this 1937 trade ad: Boxoffice

robboehm
robboehm on August 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Mr. Paul Muni. That wasn’t too common.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on November 25, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Seventy-years ago tomorrow (November 26th), Warner Bros.‘ now classic “Casablanca,” with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman heading a superb cast, opened its NYC premiere engagment at the Hollywood Theatre. Performances were continuous, with doors opening early except for 11:30am on the first day, which just happened to be Thanksgiving Day itself (and the first since America entered World War II).

rivest266
rivest266 on September 23, 2013 at 11:53 pm

April 22nd, grand opening ad uploaded here.

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