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The Criterion Theatre opened September 1936 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 (Cinematreasures theater #15178), and the earlier Criterion Theatre (Cinematreasures 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, 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 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 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 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. A restaurant occupies the space that held the movie screen and the first rows of the original orchestra seating section.
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