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 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 theaters 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 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, the Helen Hayes, the Bijou and Morosco theatre’s, 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 theater’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 theater venue.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 320 comments)

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on October 10, 2012 at 8:24 am

In the Photos Section, I’ve posted images of the Astor’s original auditorium and the 1959 modernization. In the interim, the original design with boxes and two balconies remained, but with periodic refurbishments of decor and seating.

Mikeoaklandpark
Mikeoaklandpark on October 10, 2012 at 11:00 am

Great pictures Tinseltoes. Where did you find them? I didn’t realize that theater was so large. The first time I went to NYC in 1975 it was a flea market but I dont; rememebr seeing the two balcony’s

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on February 1, 2013 at 9:05 am

Astor Theatre versus Hotel in 1947 “War of Nerves”: Boxoffice

RichHamel
RichHamel on February 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Interesting article. I wonder what a post-war, 6,000+ seat movie palace in Times Square would have looked like?

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on May 29, 2013 at 8:17 am

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Greater New York-New Jersey “Premiere Showcase” launching of UA’s “Dr. No,” which included the Astor and Murray Hill as the exclusive sites in Manhattan. I’ve posted an ad in the Photos Section.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on May 29, 2013 at 10:36 am

16 of the 17 theaters listed in the Dr. No ad are gone, except for the Roosevelt Field, which is now a multiplex. (The Green Acres was around until last year, though.)

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 18, 2013 at 10:49 am

April 21st of this year marked the 100th anniversary of the first movie to ever be booked into the “legit” Astor Theatre. The Italian-made “Quo Vadis?” was shown in three acts, which took more than two hours including reel changes. “Incidental music was provided on a mechanical orchestral player,” according to a report in The New York Times. “If a feature moving-picture production can fill a Broadway theatre, ‘Quo Vadis?’ ought to be able to do it.”

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on August 18, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Here’s a curious ad for “Quo Vadis?” from October, 1913, when the picture was making its rounds in markets much smaller than New York City. This particular ad is for a small theater, in a tiny western New York state hamlet, and it exclaims the feature was to be shown “in Talking Pictures.” I imagine this bit of showmanship was accomplished by having actors speaking the lines (and perhaps with a few select sound effects produced) from behind the screen, in accompaniment with the exhibition. I wonder if this gimmick was featured at any time during its engagement at the Astor – or if it was dreamed up by exhibitors on the road for secondary and tertiary markets (and beyond)?

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 21, 2013 at 11:33 am

After “Quo Vadis?” in 1913, the Astor returned to the “legit” fold. Although it had some film bookings after that, it was primarily a stage playhouse until 1925, when it closed for the summer for revamping into a cinema. The Astor re-opened on September 6th, 1925, with a reserved-seat roadshow of Universal’s Lon Chaney epic, “The Phantom of the Opera,” and remained a cinema for the rest of its existence.

Cimarron
Cimarron on April 5, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Pic upload of 1936 Ad “The Great Zigfield” see Photo Section.

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