Criterion Theatre

1514 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036

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Criterion Theatre exterior

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The B.S. Moss Criterion Theatre opened September 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 theater #15178), and the earlier Criterion Theatre (Cinema Treasures theater #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 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” on November 30, 1938.

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

With “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 streophonic 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).

In March 1980, the Criterion Theatre was converted into five screens using some space in the former basement lounge. 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 later split left/right to create two 400 seat auditoriums. The basement houses seated 156, 198, 193 and 248.

The Criterion Theatre finally closed in the spring of 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 405 comments)

vindanpar on October 15, 2017 at 12:21 pm

Well I don’t know. I just know that everytime I was in it until Alien it was flat. As I said I only read of a huge ‘arcing screen’ in the place was in the Times review of South Pacific available on line even if you don’t have a subscription.

edblank on October 15, 2017 at 12:34 pm

While it may be true (and probably is) that the Criterion never had a stage or dressing rooms during its decades as a major moviehouse, it definitely had at least one stage at the end, after the theater had been subdivided into many smaller auditoriums. One of the plays I saw there was an off-Broadway political satire called “MasterGate.”

NYer on October 16, 2017 at 4:09 am

edblank, in the 90’s the owners of The Criterion built two theaters in empty space in the building (some say the old Bonds space) calling them The Criterion Center Stage Right & Left. One had 499 seats which is the least amount to be deemed a Broadway House and considered for Tony Awards. The second, a 399 seat house was considered Off-Broadway. Roundabout used the theater for many major productions. This theater was separate from the Criterion Theater, by then a multiplex.

edblank on October 16, 2017 at 6:36 am

Thank you, NYer. Your response clarifies my fuzzy recollection of what happened. Were the two stage auditoriums to the left of the original Criterion Theater? Were they both at street level? Both one level down? One of each? I think I was in there only once. And neither was in the original Criterion moviehouse space?

NYer on October 16, 2017 at 8:25 am

They were right next door. If you stood facing The Criterion, the entrance and marquee were to the left. The theaters were up on the second floor next to each other. When MTV was using their studios live at One Astor Plaza, you could see their marquee across the street. Here is a shot of the marquee when they did a revival of “1776”.

Mikeoaklandpark on October 16, 2017 at 11:29 am

I thought for sure that when I saw the Omen in the downstairs theater after it was twinned the screen was on what appeared to be a stage. I know it had a red curtain. I know upstairs wasn’t. I saw 9 To 5 up there. That was many years ago so I could be confused.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on October 16, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Some of those older cinema screens had space behind them for giant speakers on what appeared to be a stage but the area was actually only about five feet deep. When the curved screen was installed for “South Pacific” they probably removed some front seats to accommodate the screen curvature.

vindanpar on October 16, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Though it’s impossible at this point I imagine I’d like to know what the size of the Criterion screen was for 70 MM films like Lawrence and MFL and the size of the South Pacific ‘arcing panel.’

The Variety reviewer said something to the effect that looking at the heads in SP was like looking at Mt Rushmore.

Though he didn’t mean it as a compliment I would have loved to have seen that.

I feel fortunate to have seen a Todd AO print(maybe an original? Boy those cans were big) with magnificent 6 track analog sound at the Warner Cinerama. A great experience as was seeing there MFL and Paint Your Wagon(I know blow-up but the sound blew you out of the theater.) I must be the only person on the planet who loves Marvin singing Wanderin Star with that huge men’s chorus behind him. On stage it could never be like that(and it wasn’t at Encores.) Worth the entire film.

MSC77 on October 19, 2017 at 4:01 pm

I detect some timeline discrepancies or mistaken recollections in some of the recent comments. A comment was made that a member saw “Divine Madness” here (presumably in autumn 1980) while it was still a single screener. But in another comment the member recollects seeing “The Omen” (presumably in 1976 if they were referring to the first run of the original movie) after the theater had been plexed. To further confuse matters, the overview includes a blurb about the 5-plex renovation occurring in early 1980. As well, in this article about the 70mm presentations of “Divine Madness” the Criterion is listed as a 5-plex. And the “Divine Madness” newspaper ad posted in the Photos section refers to the theater as Criterion Center implying plurality with the screen count. Can anyone familiar with this venue clarify its screen count timeline history?

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on October 19, 2017 at 6:19 pm

“THE OMEN” opened at the National in 1976. The Criterion became a five-plex in 1980. “DIVINE MADNESS” opened there after the ‘plexing’. In 1981 it became a six-plex. In 1991 it became a seven-plex.

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