Loew's American Theatre
260-62 W. 42nd Street,
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Built for theatrical manager T. Henry French on 8th Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets in 1892-3 by architect Charles Coolidge Haight, the American Theatre at the time featured one of the largest seating capacities in New York, with almost 2,070 seats, not including the rooftop garden theatre.
Though its 42nd Street entrance was rather small and simple, the main entrance and facade on 41st Street was just the opposite, towering and highly ornate. It resembled a Neo-Italian Renaissance palazzo, with red brickwork with white terra-cotta trim, including three sets of two-story high windows above the triple doorways of the main entrance, and a row of arched and terra-cotta lined windows just below the cornice.
Its auditorium, however, was fairly plain, a Victorian music hall with minimal decoration, and, unfortunately, six columns supporting each balcony, which obstructed the views of many theatre-goers, much to their frustration.
The American Theatre opened in May of 1893 with a long-running hit, however, “The Prodigal Daughter”, produced by French himself, but after this show’s run, a run of flops followed, and in 1897, the theater was sold to another manager, and then another, and so on, until 1908, when William Morris changed the theater’s name to the American Music Hall, and began staging vaudeville acts. That same year, Morris hired Thomas W. Lamb to convert the open-air rooftop theater into an indoor second auditorium, seating another 1,400. Lamb decorated the new auditorium in semi-Atmospheric style, with twinkling “stars” on the blue ceiling, and forest scenes decorating the side walls. However, despite its charming decor, the new auditorium never caught on with the public, and the American Music Hall languished for a couple years, until Morris sold it to Marcus Loew in 1912, and it was renamed Loew’s American Theatre.
After Loew’s took over, both auditoriums were switched over to vaudeville, stage revues and movies. Loew’s closed the American Theatre in 1929, and shortly thereafter it was announced the former theater would be torn down and replaced with a large office tower. However, due to the Depression, this plan never came to fruition, and instead, the theater was reopened for burlesque acts for another year. In 1930, a disastrous fire destroyed a large portion of the American Theatre, but the 8th Avenue side of the building, which mostly held offices, was converted into bachelor apartments, but within a couple years, this section was also demolished, and the site used for circus’s for many years.
However, for the past half century, the site was used as a parking lot. In the mid-2000’s the 11 Times Square office building was built on an expanded site.
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