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 236 comments)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on July 16, 2012 at 5:46 am

Did they really bridge the two marquees to appear as one, as depicted in the sketch? I’d love to see a photo of that treatment. Also an interesting item in the lower right regarding the reduction of seating at the Roxy Theatre, during renovations for Cinemiracle exhibition.

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

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?

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.)

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)?

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

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

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on September 29, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Hello-

I recently watched the Blu-ray disc of Quo Vadis from 1951 and own the souvenir program. now both contain a bit of info that doesn’t make sense hence my question.

both the doc. on the Blu-ray disc and the souvenir program state something about the 1912 Italian version of Quo Vadis that doesn’t make sense. both state that the 1912 Italian version which opened in New York in 1913 was the 1st feature film to charge a $1 and the first to open at a legitimate theater. this would imply whatever feature films opened in Manhattan previous to the Spring of 1913 opened in actual purpose built “movie theaters”.

so what purpose built movie theaters existed in Manhattan previous to the Spring of 1913?

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.

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