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 378 comments)

PeterApruzzese on November 4, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Great article, Michael. Love seeing that slow rollout and long runs these films had.

DavidZornig on November 26, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Two 1958 photos added. “South Pacific” on the marquee.

Cimarron on November 27, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Nice pic’s! South Pacific .. Great Movie!

michaelkaplan on December 25, 2015 at 9:44 pm

I got to see “South Pacific” at the Criterion in 70mm Todd-AO. Unlike Todd-AO screenings at the Rivoli up the street, the Criterion projected this film on their standard, lightly curved CinemaScope screen. Nevertheless, the image was extremely sharp and sound quality excellent. There was controversy at the time for the director using color filters for the musical numbers. If anything, it was distracting.

vindanpar on April 24, 2016 at 9:33 pm

Saw My Fair Lady here twice. First in the summer of ‘65. Was so young all I remember is that people were dressed up for a movie which was strange to me. The movie was boring.

Saw it again in I believe Jan of ‘71. 70mm presentation but without intermission to allow for continuous performances. Though prices were different mezz and orchestra and balc. I think orch and mezz were $3.50 and balc was $3. Still kind of a snooze.

It wasn’t until I was older and saw it in 70mm at the Warner Cinerama that the film totally floored me. One of the true greats. Though nobody will ever see it like that again. The huge curved screen had a clarity and depth which gave the film an almost 3D feel. When Hepburn makes her first appearance at Ascott the image was almost startling in its beauty.

And the 6 track analogue stereo sound was glorious with Previn’s magnificent conducting.

Met Jeremy Brett years later and told him it was one of my favorite films. He said it was one of his as well.

Even the people who treasure this film on their Blu Ray players have no idea how good it is.

vindanpar on April 24, 2016 at 9:36 pm

Sorry ‘Ascot.’

1964Usher on August 27, 2016 at 10:38 pm

I worked as an usher in the Criterion in the mid 60’s. My brother & sister-in-law also worked there. “Lawrence of Arabia” and “My Fair Lady” were the big box office hits. Both movies were shown with reserved seats. Mr. Schwartz was the General Manager, Mr. Potell [not sure of the spelling] was the Head Treasure, Frank was the Head Usher and Marge the Head Usherette. I remember having to stand out front and “bark” – “seats available for today’s performance.” Actually barking wasn’t that bad. I met a lot of tourists, gave restaurant recommendations & lots of directions. Back then Bonds was open, there was a tie shop on the downtown side of the theater and the Woolworth 5 & 10 was still in operation.

Norman_24 on November 11, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Can anyone verify if “Maximum Overdrive” screened here in July of ‘85. I believe this is where I saw it.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on November 11, 2016 at 9:56 pm

According to the NY Times review dated July 25, 1986, Maximum Overdrive opened in Manhattan at the Criterion, Broadway and 45th Street; Movieland Eighth Street, at University Place; 86th Street Twin, at Lexington Avenue; and Olympia Quad, Broadway at 107th Street.

It took about 90 seconds to find this information. Now my question: why did you need to know?

DavidZornig on May 15, 2017 at 6:09 pm

1940 & 1955 photos added courtesy of Al Ponte’s Time Machine – New York Facebook page.

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