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 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 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.

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 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).

On March 20, 1980, the Criterion Theatre was converted into five screens using some space in the former basement lounge. 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 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 558 comments)

vindanpar on October 23, 2019 at 1:30 am

DEFG Let me put you straight. You clearly have missed quite a bit. On this site we discuss many things. Not only the theaters, but the movies that played there, the memorabilia that was sold in the theater and how the movies are presented to us in the present day. Sometimes we go off on tangents but that is because we all find ourselves on the same page and the thought of one film that played here might bring us to a film that played at a theater close by. But if you switched to that theater no one would know you had written a response.

In case you are unaware these theaters sold such important memorabilia as souvenir books. I had remarked that when I saw Nick and Alex at this theater the book was not available and found it strange as it exists. This brought us to a discussion of the film itself and I was informed by bigjoe that it was available on bluray. Sadly I missed it as it sold out but he is now informing me of what he found to be an excellent bluray of Anne. If he had informed me of this on the Plaza page I very probably would have missed it.

The Criterion stopped being a treasure in 1980 when it was sliced and diced which is now 40 years ago. There are precious few of us left who can offer our experiences of what it was like to enter into these magical places to see films.

Earlier in the month I talked about Marni Nixon dubbing in the film of My Fair Lady. My Fair Lady had its world premiere at this theater in Oct of ‘64. This started a discussion of dubbing in films. Now we couldn’t go jumping about to all the theaters that featured movies in which actors were dubbed could we?

I hope you can join us in these somewhat wandering nostalgic threads as longtime contributors are inevitably joining the Roxy and Carthay Circle in the sky. But lay off Funny Girl. It is a Criterion Theater classic and its last hit roadshow film. If you feel a deep need to trash it go to Amazon where your type are welcomed though admittedly by very few.

vindanpar on October 23, 2019 at 1:45 am

May I add that you have given us a wonderful shot of the world premiere of this film in front of the Criterion. May you post many more but without the tart observations which definitely put a crimp in your contributions. I may not like a crude trashy racist graphic exploitation film like Mandingo which turned the Criterion into a sleazy 42nd street grind house a couple of blocks north but as a gentleman I simply stay clear of discussing it.

DavidZornig on October 23, 2019 at 12:24 pm

A 10 year member with only two comments, and that critique was one of them. And now the photo posted and profile have disappeared…

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 24, 2019 at 3:38 am

Such is the way with many of the fussier CT members, it seems. They are extraordinarily thin skinned, and when taken to task on how the game should be played, they take their ball and run home!

bigjoe59 on October 24, 2019 at 3:39 pm


to vindanpar- I compliment you on your Oct. 23 post.

speaking of souvenir programs. I went to see Star Wars 1st screening opening day May25, 1977 at the Loews Astor Plaza. programs were kind of on the way out but I hoped they’d have one anyway. when i entered theater and didn’t see anyone at a table hawking the program i went “ohm well”. as I approached the refreshment stand what did i see but a huge stack of programs on a counter behind the stand.

interestingly four and a half years later at the 1st screening opening day of Reds they had a person at a table hawking the souvenir program.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 26, 2019 at 5:35 am

Star Wars and Reds are among the several souvenir programs I still have in my possession.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on October 26, 2019 at 6:10 pm

Let’s see ‘em…

vindanpar on October 26, 2019 at 6:20 pm

Reds had a souvenir program? Didn’t even know Star Wars had one when it opened. In fact last one I remember seeing on sale at a counter was Cabaret at the Ziegfeld.

bigjoe59 on October 27, 2019 at 3:33 pm


in the case of Star Wars and Reds I’m guessing the souvenir programs might have been sold only at the Loews Astor Plaza. I saw both films again at other 1st run theaters in Manhattan and don’t remember the programs being sold.

also there were films that had exclusive 1st runs at the Ziegfeld after Cabaret that had souvenir programs- The Rose which opened Nov. 1979 and Gandhi which opened Dec. 1982.

the last two souvenir programs I purchased at a theater when I saw the film were The Lion King(June'94) at RCMH and Hercules(June'97)at the New Amsterdam. both were special 2 week engagements were stage shows that played at the theaters noted before the films opened wide. the souvenir program for The Lion King which was beautifully designed is one of the great film souvenir programs ever.

DavidZornig on December 23, 2019 at 8:05 pm

Criterion in 1971 among other in below link.

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