Astor Theatre

1531 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Astor Theatre exterior

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Astor Theatre, opened on September 21, 1906 with Annie Russell starring in a production of “A Midsummer Nights Dream”. It was built and operated by producers Wagenhais and Kemper, at the corner of Broadway and W. 45th Street, seated 1,600 patrons and was considered one of Broadway’s premier venues for decades among the top actors of the era who aspired to play its stage.

Located just next to the Hotel Astor, and later surrounded by theatres like the adjoining Victoria Theatre on Broadway, and on W. 45th Street, the Morosco Theatre, Bijou Theatre and the first Helen Hayes Theatre (which opened as the Folies-Bergere, but quickly became the Fulton Theatre). The Astor Theatre was designed by George W. Keister, who decorated its interior in simple-yet-elegant Greek Revival style.

Red, gold and ivory were the original predominant colors. Outside, the five-floor building, which also contained shops and offices, was a blend of Neo-Classical and Second Empire styles, including a bronze-domed tower at the entrance at Broadway and W. 45th Street.

In 1912, Sam Harris and George M. Cohan took over the Astor Theatre, continuing legitimate fare (except for a 1913 presentation of the hit motion picture “Quo Vadis”) until 1916, when the theatre was acquired by the Shuberts, who would run the Astor Theatre until the Depression.

During the times when there were no legitimate bookings, motion pictures were also screened. Starting in 1925, movies replaced live entertainment on a permanent basis at the Astor Theatre, and remained so for the remainder of its existence.

By the 1940’s, the Astor Theatre was the theatre that MGM premiered its big-screen Technicolor musicals on Broadway, and remained so for over a decade. The New York premiere of Warner Bros. “East of Eden” starring James Dean was held here on March 9, 1955.

In 1959, a radical modernization of the Astor Theatre to the plans of architect John J. McNamara resulted in a dramatically stark-looking interior, with all of its original decor torn out in favor of expanded orchestra seating. Modernistic murals on its side walls and the removal of the boxes and its set of balconies, replaced by a smaller, single balcony.

The gilded proscenium arch was removed to make way for a huge curving wall-to-wall screen. The exterior was also greatly simplified and its original facade covered by a wall of marble, and given a rather plain, boxy marquee.

In 1972, the Astor Theatre was closed due to maintenance problems, and not long afterwards, both it and its neighbors, the Victoria Theatre, the Helen Hayes Theatre, the Bijou Theatre and Morosco Theatre, were all earmarked for demolition to be replaced with an office tower. Plans were delayed, however, and as preservationists fought for nearly a decade to keep the theatre’s standing, the Astor Theatre’s old lobby was used for retail space.

In 1982, however, despite the valiant efforts of preservation organizations, the Astor Theatre and its four neighbors were razed to construct the Marriott Marquis New York Hotel, which contains its own legitimate theatre venue.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 243 comments)

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on September 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm

The implication I would get from the above language is that the film was the 1st to open at a theater primarily still being used as a legit theater. Other theaters may have switched full time to movies, or built as nickelodeons.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on September 30, 2014 at 3:10 pm

to Howard B. –

i thank you for your take on the statement made in the doc. and the souvenir program. you have to admit said statement could have been worded better since it does give the impression that there were purpose built movie theaters in Manhattan prior to the Spring of 1913.

patryan6019
patryan6019 on October 6, 2014 at 10:37 pm

bigjoe59….About your 9/29 Quo Vadis comments—the program is wrong. Tickets cost 25 and 50 cents, which you can see for yourself in Astor photo #19. Also, there were no feature films before QV.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on November 26, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Photo added of a shuttered Astor Theatre in 1972. Photo courtesy of the History In Pictures Facebook page.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on January 1, 2016 at 7:27 am

Original uncropped wide shot of the 1948 photo added 8/16/11, courtesy of the AmeriCar The Beautiful Facebook page. Showing full marquee.

Coate
Coate on April 12, 2016 at 10:28 pm

As cited in my retrospective article, “The Box-Office Champ”, the Astor held the longest-running engagement of “Gone With the Wind” in the United States.

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on May 5, 2016 at 4:52 pm

1947 photo added courtesy of the Hemmings Motor News Facebook page.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on May 24, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Hello to Ed S.–

you have been most helpful in the past so i am a new question. in the intro at top it states that the Astor closed down as a movie theater due to “maintenance problems”. what exactly were said problems?

dallasmovietheaters
dallasmovietheaters on July 5, 2016 at 6:52 pm

Architect John J. McNamara handled the 1959 modernization. Some interior shots are in photos from the December 17, 1959 reboot of the Astor.

NYer
NYer on November 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Comfortably Cool (great ads, truly appreciated, thanks!) and I have posted various ads where genuine Oscar winning movie stars would jump in a car and spend opening weekends touring theaters that have opened their picture. Way before my time, but I would have been there front row and center.

Who would expect to meet Shirley MacLaine at a Drive-in in upstate NY on Thanksgiving night? (ad in photo section) Or have Bob Hope and Lucille Ball show up at my neighborhood theater on Saturday night? Has anyone have any stories, or experience, or maybe their parents stories with these personal appearances?

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