RKO 81st Street Theatre

2248 Broadway,
New York, NY 10024

Unfavorite 3 people favorited this theater

Keith's 81st Street Theatre - New York City

Viewing: Photo | Street View

This theater became part of the Keith-Orpheum Circuit. James Cagney made his acting debut here as a chorus girl. The theater was later known as the RKO 81st Street Theatre when the Keith-Orpheum became part of RKO.

Today, the original theater entrance has been preserved as a grand lobby for a 21 story high rise apartment building.

"Love Sydney" and "Sesame Street" were shot here in later years.

Last known information was that Conran’s home supply store occupied the former theater’s upper level.

The former theater was demolished in 1986 except for its facade to make way for an apartment building.

Contributed by Jean

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 27, 2004 at 8:15 am

The theatre was located at 2248 Broadway, and had a reported 2,015 seats. It first opened in 1913 as Keith’s 81st Street, with the emphasis on vaudeville and stage plays. The auditorium ceiling was noted for a gorgeous mural, “Music & Dancing,” painted on the sounding board above the proscenium. The oval mural was covered by mottled glass that produced a rich, golden glow. The theatre's
interior was renovated several times, in 1926, 1939 and 1951. In 1954, RKO sold the 81st Street to CBS for conversion into a TV studio. All but the facade were demolished in 1986 to make way for an apartment building.

stepale2
stepale2 on May 27, 2005 at 11:31 am

This theater was CBS’s first color television studio in New York. It was taken over by CBS in 1954. (In fact, it was the second, but it was the first CBS facility to use RCA color cameras, as opposed to their converted black and white cameras that were used for CBS’s own color television system, which was abandoned in 1951.) Probaby the most famous program to originate from this facility, CBS Studio 72, was the live 1957 color broadcast of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. If you want to know more about the early years of color television, check out this link: http://www.novia.net/~ereitan/index.html

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 19, 2005 at 3:31 am

Here are two 1944 images of the RKO Keith’s 81st Street, which was the main rival to Loew’s 83rd Street in that part of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Both theatres were designed by Thomas W. Lamb. The program at RKO Keith’s at the time was “Between Two Worlds” & “Make Your Own Bed,” both WB releases. The theatre’s auditorium was demolished in 1986 to make way for an apartment building, but portions of the white marble facade on Broadway were retained for retail space:
www.i8.photobucket.com/albums/a18/Warrengwhiz/127-2710_IMG.jpg
www.i8.photobucket.com/albums/a18/Warrengwhiz/127-2712_IMG.jpg

stepale2
stepale2 on July 20, 2005 at 5:42 am

If anyone is interested, below is a desciption of the technical facilities in CBS’s (Color) Studio 72.
The description comes from Ed Reitan’s website regarding the history of early color television:

Studio 72 (1954)
New York, Broadway and 81st St.
Theater purchased in early 1954.
Two Control Rooms (Color and B&W with TK-11’s)
Live Cameras (4 – TK-40A’s); Slide, 35mm and 16mm Film Scanners (DuMont 16mm and Philco 35mm). The studio had side by side Monochrome and Color control rooms. Later, 3-vidicon RCA TK-26 Film/Slide chains replaced film scanners in this studio.
This was the first major CBS NTSC color studio. CBS featured a rotating schedule of one-time New York program colorizations including the “Ed Sullivan Show” from Studio 72. The December 25, 1958 “Nutcracker” on “Playhouse 90”, the first color video-taped CBS show, originated from this studio. As colorcasting was progressively slowed on CBS during the late 1950’s, only the monochrome equipment in this studio was used for origination of a number of black and white telecasts including “The Verdict Is Yours”. Harold Deppe worked for CBS at Studio 72. He reported in March, 1997 that between the infrequent CBS colorcasts, none of the color equipment was even regularly powered – so much equipment maintenance had to be done when a rare colorcast was scheduled.

It was not known when Studio 72 was retired. Eventually, only the TK-26 Film Chains from Studio 72 were moved to the Broadcast Center on West 57th Street in the early 60’s. Thus, the only CBS East Coast color capability in the early 1960’s was from film and video tape.

Bway
Bway on October 8, 2008 at 8:54 am

A great article was in the New York Times on Thomas Lamb. The 81st St is one of the theaters pictured in the article:

View link

Bway
Bway on May 28, 2009 at 11:19 am

Here’s a great street view of the old facade of the theater:

View link

AlAlvarez
AlAlvarez on February 24, 2010 at 8:59 pm

The last film was “The Robe” in Christmas 1953.

NeonSky
NeonSky on December 29, 2011 at 9:06 am

The Electric Company was filmed here from ‘71-77.

jtuptown
jtuptown on July 18, 2012 at 9:41 am

In 1966, it had a short run as an off-Broadway theatre, showing Isaac Babel’s “Sunset”, Arnold Wesker’s “The Kitchen” (with Rip Torn and Sylvia Miles), and “GI” – after which it became Reeves Teletape Studio, eventually hosting “Sesame Street”. Downstairs is now Staple’s. I was an ASM on “The Kitchen”, and one day while we were hanging lights, an old gentleman in a straw boater walked in and told us he remembered seeing Jimmy Cagney and Rudy Valee on that stage, 30-foot proscenium, runway kind of stage, spiral iron staircase up to the chorus dressing rooms, 60' flies, hemp system in place (and workable). CBS had filled the orchestra with cement to level it for cameras. seats had been removed. Bleachers were put up for Off-B'way shows.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater