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 Shubert Bros., 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.

The Astor Theatre was closed May 30, 1972 with “Hannie Caulder”. Walter Reade Theatres said it was due to maintenance problems with the air conditioning, 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 264 comments)

NYer on June 9, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Closing notice in photo section.

Mikeoaklandpark on June 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm

I didn’t know it was run by Walter Reade theaters. I assumed it was run by Guild theaters

vindanpar on June 12, 2017 at 7:01 pm

I only wish I knew how to post photos.

Just came across a nice one by Joel Meyerowitz of a couple kissing underneath the marquee of Kiss Me Stupid. A terrific movie by the way which I caught up with at FF.

Love the way the couples in Times Square are so nicely dressed. Boy that had changed in 5 years.

Coate on June 13, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Fifty years ago today the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice” opened here (and at Baronet, Orpheum and Victoria). And here’s the link to a new 50th anniversary retrospective article on the movie.

paul baar
paul baar on June 23, 2017 at 10:49 am

coate, can you tell me under what listing The De mille theater is under,that,s were Goldfinger(1964)opened.

DavidZornig on June 23, 2017 at 11:08 am

The Demille became the Embassy 1,2,3.

DavidZornig on June 23, 2017 at 11:12 am

This YouTube link has “Goldfinger” premiere footage from both the Odeon in the UK and the DeMille.

paul baar
paul baar on June 23, 2017 at 11:25 am

DavidZornig,thanks a lot;once I saw the first James Bond movie I was Bonded for life.

DavidZornig on June 23, 2017 at 4:25 pm

You may already know, or find it interesting that the late Oliver Reed was within a sliver of becoming Bond when George Lazenby got the role. But the Broccoli family didn’t feel they had the time or resources to combat Reed’s already growing public drinking image.

vindanpar on August 8, 2017 at 7:13 am

I now see the picture I was referring to was posted March 3rd.

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