237 W. 51st Street,
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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 Mark Hellinger Theatre hosted the Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews which opened here in 1956, and lasting for six years, was the first hugely successful stage show at this theatre. By the 1960’s, the theatre’s fortunes began to nosedive. The Nederlander Organization became the new owners in 1970. Some productions were less successful than others and the theatre 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. The last production at the Mark Hellinger Theatre was Peter Allen’s “Legs Diamond” which closed in February 1989. The Nederlander Organization leased the theatre 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.
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