Criterion Theatre

1514 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Criterion Theatre exterior

The B.S. Moss' Criterion Theatre opened September 16, 1936 with Kay Francis in “Give Me Your Heart”. Designed in the Art Moderne style with 1,700 seats on part of the site of the old Olympia entertainment complex. This originally included Loew’s New York Theatre and Roof (Cinema Treasures theatre #15178), and the earlier Criterion Theatre (Cinema Treasures theatre #16481) which was built in 1895 as the Lyric Theatre.

All were demolished to make way for the Criterion Theatre, retail stores and the International Casino nightclub. B.S. Moss Enterprises built the Criterion Theatre, but in 1938 leased the theatre to Loew’s for 20 years. The first film to open at Loew’s Criterion Theatre was MGM’s “Spring Madness” starring Maureen O'Sullivan, on November 30, 1938.

Due to divestment of theatres because of antitrust litigation, in 1949, the Criterion Theatre reverted back to B.S. Moss Enterprises. The last film to be shown by Loew’s was Richard Basehart in “He Walked By Night”, which opened on February 5, 1949. During that engagement, Loew’s returned management of the Criterion Theatre to B.S. Moss Enterprises who then operated the theatre until the 1980’s, when it was leased to United Artists Theatre Circuit, operating as the Criterion Center.

With George Montgomery in “Fort Ti”, a Columbia movie that opened on May 29th 1953, the Criterion Theatre claimed to be the first theatre in the world to project a 3-D (with glasses) feature on a giant wide screen, with stereophonic sound and color by Technicolor.

The Criterion Theatre was host to numerous premieres. After the World Premiere of “The Ten Commandments” on November 8, 1956, that movie was shown (with reserved seats) for 17 months. The US premiere in 70mm of “Lawrence of Arabia” was held on December 15, 1962. World Premieres of other 70mm films included “South Pacific” (March 19, 1958), “My Fair Lady”(October 21, 1964), “Thoroughly Modern Millie”(March 21, 1967), “Funny Girl”(September 19, 1968) and “Patton”(February 5, 1970).

On March 20, 1980, the Criterion Theatre was converted into five screens using some space in the former basement lounge. Operating as the Criterion Center it was taken over by United Artists in 1988. Additional seating was added in the front of the former seating area of the balcony so that a new upstairs auditorium had 1,041 seats. The new auditorium in the former orchestra seating area had 1,037 seats, but was split by United Artists left/right to create two 400 seat auditoriums in early-1990. The basement houses seated 156, 198, 193 and 248.

The Criterion Theatre finally closed on May 4, 2000 and was gutted internally to become a massive Toys R Us store, which itself closed in December 2015. A restaurant occupies the space that held the movie screen and the first rows of the original orchestra seating section.

Contributed by William Gabel, Don Weber, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 579 comments)

vindanpar
vindanpar on June 25, 2020 at 4:50 pm

Yes all the theaters showed exploitation fare but the DeMille, Criterion and Cinerama got the worst of it. It was especially bewildering to me about the Criterion. I thought it was the classiest of the bunch on my all time favorite NY block with the spectacular Bonds sign above it and then the Gordon’s Gin above that. At least until the early 70s. Both Tora Tora Tora and Nicholas and Alexandra were both very early 70s blips that had very poor runs. I remember going to Nicholas on a Saturday mat and there was hardly anyone in the audience.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on June 25, 2020 at 5:06 pm

The DeMille, formally the Columbia and then the Mayfair, always seemed like a stepchild in the Times Square movie scene. Looking through old ads when it was part of the Loew’s chain, it rarely had quality exclusives and always seem to be buried in their display ads, probably even worse under Brandt. With no loving parent to watch over it and take care of it, it’s no wonder it eventually sunk.

The Warner/Cinerama was ok as a twin, at least it kept many of the architectural details, especially upstairs was still breathtaking.

The Criterion was not too bad when it was just a twin, but the nadir of Times Square moviegoing had to be those basement screens. I still shudder when I think of my experiences down there.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 25, 2020 at 7:30 pm

I should also note that even the most pedestrian Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme film would gross more on opening weekend at the National than any BACK THE FUTURE sequel in its entire run. And does anyone remember HIP HOP, SALSA and LAMBADA movies.

ridethectrain
ridethectrain on November 2, 2020 at 4:29 pm

Please update, total seats 2600, count includes the 4 basement screens.

ridethectrain
ridethectrain on November 5, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Please update, theatre closed May 4,2000

oknazevad
oknazevad on November 24, 2020 at 9:34 am

The write up seems to lack any mention that one of the auditoriums (post-multiplexing) was converted to live theatre use in 1989 as the “Criterion Center Stage Right”, which originally had exactly 499 seats (the maximum number to be considered off-Broadway) but, after it became the new home base of the Roundabout Theatre Company in 1991 a couple of dozen additional seats were added (probably only a row’s worth) to make it Tony-eligible as Roundabout became a force on Broadway.

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 24, 2020 at 12:13 pm

But I believe though it used the Criterion name it actually was in the space of the very large Bonds clothing store which was next to the movie theater(I am of course not 100% sure.) All the movie theaters were in the actual Criterion space. After the main theater was split horizontally in two I could never go back though I did go to the Roundabout. The elegant oval lounge space in the basement…it’s unfortunate to think of it cut up into black shoebox spaces.

Twice walking on the opposite side of Broadway in the 80s I heard people saying something to the effect ‘I never thought that block would look like that.’ It really had gotten so cheap and tawdry looking after all those years of Bond/The Criterion/Woolworth.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on November 24, 2020 at 12:28 pm

Hello-

to vindanpar- I guess great minds think alike. after reading oknazevad’s 11/24 comment I was just about to note that the live theater space used by the Roundabout Theater Company was never part of the movie theater proper. if I remember correctly at the time the space opened it was stated it was unused storage space or the like. its kind of like the Orleans at the Warner. the theater proper was twined and the Orleans was created from storage space used for when the theater also presented life acts.

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 24, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Indeed. I think the Orleans used the actual stage, wings and dressing rooms of the Strand as well. Lots of space went unused from the time those theaters stopped being presentation houses.

oknazevad
oknazevad on November 25, 2020 at 7:18 am

Yeah, looking into it further the live performance space was part of the ex-Bonds/International Casino space to the left of the movie theatre. Constructed in 1988-89, it opened with 499 seats in one auditorium and 300 seats in the second. After Roundabout took it over the larger Stage Right space was the one that added a couple dozen seats to qualify as a Tony-eligible Broadway house while the smaller Stage Left space was used less frequently but was named for Laura Pels, an early leading figure in the off-Broadway movement. As a non-profit most Roundaboit productions are limited run, but ones that are successful would transfer to larger theatres elsewhere if there was demand for it (such as the 1997-98 production of 1776). After the Criterion Center was vacated for Toys R Us, Roundabout moved their Broadway productions to the American Airlines (née Selwyn) while the off-Broadway shows were moved to the new Laura Pels on 46th St (which had been the former home of the American Pace Theatre company).

However, Roundabout’s off-site productions became a huge hit, especially Cabaret, which started at the Henry Miller’s (chosen because it actually had been a seedy nightclub so made for a good Kit-Kat Klub) until a crane collapse damaged the theatre. Instead of closing outright they moved to another theatre that spent time as a disco. Sorry, I meant THE disco. And the tenure at Studio 54 was so successful that Roundaboit bought the theatre outright so it would stay a theatre.

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