Samuel J. Friedman Theater

261 West 47th Street,
New York, NY 10036

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Biltmore

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One of six legitimate theaters built by the Chanin Brothers, the Biltmore Theatre opened on December 7, 1925. It has one balcony. The historic Soviet-era film "The Battleship Potemkin", with live orchestral accompaniment, premiered in December, 1926, and was presented on a reserved-seat basis. "The Battleship Potemkin", one of the greatest of cinema classics is the acme of the career of director Sergei Eisenstein, and unveiled his sophisticated editing techniques which were to revolutionize the industry. Landmark plays presented here include "Brother Rat", "My Sister Eileen", "Kiss and Tell", "No Exit", "The Heiress", "Billy Budd", "Barefoot in the Park", "Hair", and "Deathtrap".

The Biltmore Theatre was little used in the 1980’s and was sold to a developer. In December 1987, just two days after the interior had been given Landmark designation, arsonists set fires on the stage and inside the auditorium. Vandalised over the following years, the theatre was declared unsafe.

In 1993, the Biltmore Theatre was purchased by the Nederlander Organisation, but after four years of inactivity, they sold it on. It was eventually renovated in 2006, and the Manhattan Theater Club has produced the theater’s offerings since then.

Contributed by Paul Noble

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

Roger Katz
Roger Katz on January 19, 2010 at 4:05 am

I wouldn’t consider this a cinema just because they played one film there.

robboehm
robboehm on January 19, 2010 at 5:13 am

The a large number of the remaining Broadway theatres have had some film in their history but have yet to be added to the CT roster.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on January 19, 2010 at 8:23 am

One film engagement, which lasted only a few weeks, does not qualify this as a “cinema treasure” unless a signficant number of other movie bookings can be cited. I somehow doubt that anyone will be able to come up with that evidence.

johndereszewski
johndereszewski on February 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm

My wife and I saw a play here earlier today. The theater is in wonderful shape and is a great place to see either a play or a movie. Due to the recent renovation, the capacity has been reduced to 650. The additional legroom provided was especially appreciated by this long limbed person.

Although the American premiere of the Potemkin was clearly a notable – even an historic – event, I agree that this lone cinematic experience provides a pretty thin justification for the inclusion of this theater on this site. Still, since this was an event that should clearly be noted – and even celebrated – in CT, unless some separate recognition can be provided, I would keep it in.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on March 8, 2010 at 8:01 am

Despite the eminence of “Potemkin,” one film booking doesn’t turn a playhouse into a cinema treasure. “Potemkin” ran at the Biltmore for approximately six weeks, and on a two-a-day roadshow policy which means a total of about 84 unreelings. The engagement was financed by the Soviet government when it couldn’t get a booking at any of the midtown cinemas. The Soviet installed the projection equipment and removed it at the end of the run, and also supplied the orchestra that accompanied the silent movie. On January 18th, 1927, the Biltmore returned to the “legit” fold with “The Barker” and has remained there (except for periods of closure and/or abandonment) to the present day. I suggest that the listing should be removed from this website. Anyone seeking historical information and photos about the Biltmore/Friedman can easily find them at the Internet Broadway Data Base:
http://www.ibdb.com/venue.php?id=1069

johndereszewski
johndereszewski on March 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm

That was a fascinating post, Tinseltoes, that clearly underlines the problematic nature of devoting a page to this theater. (Also, given the fact that only the Biltmore ever hosted a movie here and that the Friedman, with its really deep stage, will very likely only be a live theater venue, the name should definitely be changed to the Biltmore if it is not removed from this site.)

This also brings up the question of including venues that only host occasional cinamatic events. I noticed that, at least for now, there is no CT page dedicated to Alica Tully Hall, even though this theater, for several weeks each year, hosts one of this country’s most important film festivals. Certainly, if we are to include the Friedman/Biltmore, we must do the same for Tully Hall. But where should we draw the line?

LouRugani
LouRugani on December 25, 2012 at 10:34 pm

(New York Times) Theater Fire Damages Interior of the Biltmore Theater By ESTHER IVEREM, December 11, 1987

The interior of the Biltmore Theater in Manhattan, which recently received landmark designation, was damaged by fire early yesterday in a blaze that officials say was deliberately set.

At about 2:30 A.M., firefighters responded to an alarm set off by a sprinkler system at the theater, at 261 West 47th Street. Firefighters found the stage and a portion of the orchestra seating ablaze. Heat damaged the ornate plaster ceiling, sending some slabs falling 60 feet to the floor.

“The chief at the scene has deemed the fire suspicious,” said a spokesman for the Fire Department, Lieut. Frank Martinez. “There was a flammable substance poured onto the stage.”

According to the police, there is evidence that someone broke into the 948-seat theater, which has not been used since the musical “Stardust” closed in May. Hypodermic needles were found inside the theater, indicating that drug users may have been using it as a shooting gallery, and storage lockers had been rifled.

Vagrants and Squatters

No one was seen fleeing the building at the time of the fire, said a Police Department spokesman, Det. Joseph K. McConville.

Lieutenant Martinez said, however, that there has recently been a problem with vagrants and squatters breaking into the building.

One month ago, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the interior of the 52-year-old theater as a city landmark, protecting it against demolition or alteration. The commission praised the Biltmore’s detailed and refined neo-classical architecture.

The commission is still considering designation of the exterior of the theater.

According to city records, the Biltmore is owned by Murray Hill Investments, represented by Sam Pfeiffer, whose address was listed as Madison Investments in Manhattan. There is no phone listing for Murray Hill Investments or Mr. Pfeiffer, and the telephone for Madison Investments has been disconnected.

Lillian Ayala, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Commission, said that despite fire damage, the building’s interior would retain its protected status. Any reconstruction would be reviewed by the commission.

Stephen Paley
Stephen Paley on February 1, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Paul Noble, in your excellent summery of the plays (and one film) that opened at the Biltmore, you left out the first play that opened after the Biltmore had been used as a CBS television studio for nine years (1952-1961). “Take Her, She’s Mine,” starring Art Carney, Phyllis Thaxter and Elizabeth Ashley ran for almost a year, minus a few days, (December 21, 1961 until December 8, 1962 for 404 performance, plus two previews. I was in it too, for 405 of the performances, except for one Wednesday matinee, when I let my understudy play my part, as I felt bad for him having to learn all of my lines and never getting to say them in front of an audience!

Stephen Paley
Stephen Paley on February 1, 2014 at 1:14 pm

To the posters who don’t think the Biltmore ought to be a “Cimema Treasure,” as it was only host to one feature movie, starting with the play “Brother Rat,” in the 1930s, the Biltmore was co-owned by Warner Bros, the film company, along with the director George Abbott. WB and Abbott sold or leased the Biltmore to CBS Television in the early 50s. (“The Big Payoff,” “Strike It Rich” along with tv shows hosted by Ernie Kovacs and Jack Paar originated at the Biltmore when it was designated CBS Studio 62. (My point, which seemed to get because of all of extra my factoids, the theater was owned by Warner Bros. the movie company for about 20 years.)

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on February 1, 2014 at 4:17 pm

The address should be 261 West 47th Street.

http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/

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