Hippodrome Theatre

1120 6th Avenue,
New York, NY 10036

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Bway on August 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Here is a photo of the Hippodrome in the 1930s

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Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 10, 2010 at 6:42 am

Beautiful shot. Note the Hotel Algonquin in the background.

jflundy on October 28, 2009 at 3:52 pm

A 1939 World’s Fair Guide lists the Hippodrome Theatre as a being a professional Jai Alai venue, the only one in NYC at the time. How long did it last ?

kencmcintyre on August 18, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Here is a 1929 photo currently being advertised on eBay:

jalvar on July 19, 2009 at 8:57 am

There is a segment in NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOWBUSINESS that takes place in the Hippodrome. Probobly special effects but very well done and showing the water tank effects.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on April 23, 2009 at 7:52 am

Charles Chaplin in person, 1916.

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bflonyguy on March 6, 2009 at 6:12 am

When I worked in this dreary, non-descript building in the 1980s, the address was 1120 Avenue of the Americas (in case anyone goes searching for the site).

BrooklynJim on September 17, 2006 at 10:21 am

A half dozen pix of the Hippodrome and interesting text can be found at the link below:


KenFletcher on August 24, 2006 at 8:53 am

Does anyone know about the mural “The Thousand Horses” that was painted in the building by artist J. Charles Schnorr?

BrooklynJim on July 22, 2006 at 7:04 am

1st photo is dated 12-4-38:


2nd photo is a slightly larger shot of the postcard scene at the top of this page:


shoeshoe14 on January 25, 2006 at 12:59 pm

The history of the Hippodrome was played on a radio show on WFMU NYC last night.

Benjamin on May 23, 2005 at 1:34 pm

I’m not sure about this, but I think Gray once did an article on the the spectacular Art Deco, 3,000+ (?) seat, Earl Carroll Theater that once existed on the southeast corner of Seventh Ave. and 50th St. Although the theater had been closed for many years — with a Woolworth’s occupying the ground level space — the structure existed until relatively recently, when it was torn down for the construction of the office tower that ultimately became the Lehman Bros. building.

It seems to me that Gray usually does his articles when something of note is happening to a building (e.g., it’s being sold, refurbished, torn down, etc.). So I think this piece was done when the Earl Carroll was finally scheduled to be torn down. Again, if I remember correctly, Gray got permission from the owners to visit the untouched space that was above the Woolworth’s.

But it is also possible that I’ve misremembered this and that the article that I think I read in the “Times” was actually written by Nicholas Van Hoostraten, the author of “Lost Broadway Theaters,” instead. Hoostraten writes in his book about getting permission from Rockefeller Center, Inc. (the skyscraper’s builders) to visit the areas above the Woolworth before the building was torn down.

By the way, there are great pictures of Earl Carroll Theater (and many others, including some that had also been used as movie theaters) in a Dover paperback, “Broadway Theaters: History and Architecture,” by William Morrison. A few weeks ago at the Strand bookstore, there were stacks of brand new copies of this book being sold for less than the already relatively inexpensive cover price.

If I remember correctly, there are also some great photos of the Hippodrome in the Morrison book, including one of the interior of the auditorium that I haven’t seen in my, admittedly quick, viewing of the links in this thread.

chconnol on May 23, 2005 at 11:52 am

Benjamin, I felt exactly the same way when I turned to Gray’s article on Sunday. I was like “Hmmmmm…interesting.” He might have realized that he hadn’t done anything on theaters in awhile. Or it’s just a weird coincidence.

I’ve been reading his articles for about five years and I think (I could be wrong) that this is the first one I’ve read about a theater.

Benjamin on May 23, 2005 at 10:01 am

Given the very tight space contraints for his column, I thought Gray actually covered the diverse history of the Hippoadrome site very well, particularly here:

“Other theater operators continued Thompson’s spectaculars, but Milton Epstein’s exhaustive "The New York Hippodrome: A Complete Chronology of Performances, From 1905 to 1939” (Theater Library Association, 1993) shows a gradual increase in the number of concerts, sports events, benefits and other more traditional offerings, less expensive to produce."

I think it’s also important to remember that his column is not billed as (or intended to be) an in-depth history of theaters and cinemas, but a brief column/“update” about New York City’s changing streetscape — particularly, it seems to me, it’s architecture.

It’s funny that Gray should have a column published on the Hippodrome just as he was being discussed in the Embassy 2, 3, 4 thread on this site. I briefly met Gray a number of years before he actually started writing his column, and have been a fan of his from the beginning. I think he could have done a really interesting and useful article on the Embassy 2, 3, 4 (I agree it should really be listed as the Mayfair, instead), and I’m about to post on the Embassy 2, 3, 4 thread a suggestion about how I think it might be possible to still get him to do one.

chconnol on May 23, 2005 at 6:29 am

You know Warren, I have to agree with you. I scanned this site quickly and by reading your entry, I got more from that than his article. My guess is (I’m playing devil’s advocate here…) is that he has space constrictions and wanted to also discuss what is going on with the building that replaced it. His articles are very informative when he discusses buildings that have managed to remain through the years. If he does something on The Mayfair, it’s liable to be something on the building The Mayfair resides in as a whole rather than just the theater itself. Disappointing to us but in terms of architecture, that might be way he’d look at it.

chconnol on May 23, 2005 at 5:24 am

Christopher Gray from the New York Times has written an article for this last Sunday’s Times about the Hippodrome. It’s part of his continuing series on New York architecture, “Streetscapes”.

May 22, 2005
From a Palace of Spectacles to an Edifice of Offices

HE new skin going up over the old Hippodrome Building on the west side of the Avenue of the Americas from 43rd to 44th Street is the latest chapter in the building’s complicated construction saga. What is now a 20-story structure was built in 1953 five stories high; it grew the next year to eight, and it attained its present height in 1961.

What was put up on the site 100 years ago, though, was much more complex – a grand palace of theatrical and other spectacles whose name the current building memorializes. Even though the theater was demolished in 1939, the original Hippodrome – a 5,200-seat home for stage spectaculars involving airships, Martians, elephants, Civil War battles and raging rivers – remains to this day one of the most unusual theatrical venues ever built.

The Hippodrome was the creation of Frederic Thompson and Elmer Dundy, who had attained fantastic success with their Luna Park entertainment center in Coney Island. Thompson was only in his 30’s when he conceived Luna Park, a 22-acre assembly of thrilling rides, canals, towers, dance halls and sideshows that opened in 1903 (and that stayed around until the mid-40’s).

In 1904, Thompson began work on an even more ambitious project, the Hippodrome, named for the open-air arenas in ancient Greece and Rome where chariot races were held. The theater was credited to the architect Jay H. Morgan, but he is otherwise known largely for stables and tenements, so it’s reasonable to assume that the physical appearance was mostly Thompson’s work.

To compete with the roaring Sixth Avenue elevated line, the exterior of the theater had to be something special, and it was – a rich Roman Renaissance screen of red brick and delectably lacy terra cotta, topped by a string of flagpoles and with miniature temples at each end capped by globe-shaped frames illuminated by strings of lights.

Giant banded columns flanked the main doorway, which had a keystone formed by a relief sculpture of a huge elephant’s head. The auditorium, 160 by 160 feet, included a promenade consisting of glass cases holding live wild animals. It also had a great water tank, 14 feet deep, within the 200-foot-wide stage. The 1904 permit for the building said its construction cost would be $400,000.

The Hippodrome opened in April 1905 with “A Yankee Circus on Mars,” an improbable drama-ballet-circus-opera in which the King of Mars buys a bankrupt New England circus. Another first-night offering (the evening lasted about four hours) was a Civil War drama, “Andersonville,” in which opposing cavalry members fought a battle across a mountain torrent running under a 30-foot bridge. The evening’s cast was reported to have included 280 chorus girls and 480 “soldiers.” Those attending included Frederick Vanderbilt, Harry Payne Whitney and the architect Stanford White.

Thompson and Dundy envisioned a nationwide network of Hippodromes to send the shows on tour. But their investors were dissatisfied with the high costs of the visionary productions, and according to Woody Register’s biography of Thompson, “The Kid of Coney Island” (Oxford University Press, 2001), the boy wonder was ousted after only 14 months.

Other theater operators continued Thompson’s spectaculars, but Milton Epstein’s exhaustive “The New York Hippodrome: A Complete Chronology of Performances, From 1905 to 1939” (Theater Library Association, 1993) shows a gradual increase in the number of concerts, sports events, benefits and other more traditional offerings, less expensive to produce.

In 1912, Al Jolson and others performed in a benefit after the sinking of the Titanic; in 1917, the religious revivalist Billy Sunday spoke at a benefit for newsboys; in 1920, John D. Rockefeller spoke at a religious meeting.

The New York Times said in 1925 that the Hippodrome had been sold and would become a department store, but that didn’t happen, and in 1929 the developer Fred F. French proposed a $30 million skyscraper of 83 stories, to be called Hippodrome Towers. That didn’t come to pass either.

By that time, large movie palaces were dominating the market, and the Hippodrome was for a time a vaudeville house and also showed movies. The mid- and late-1930’s saw a dizzying mix of events: the weigh-in for the Max Schmeling-Joe Louis fight in 1936; a meeting of the “People’s Committee Against William Randolph Hearst”; a gathering of the German-American Bund opposing a boycott against the Nazi regime; groups gathering in support of the Spanish Republic; a “Keep America Out of the War Rally” in 1938; and jai-alai, fencing, table tennis and wrestling.

But theater was not ignored. In 1935, the producer Billy Rose leased the Hippodrome for Rodgers and Hart’s circus musical, “Jumbo,” which featured Jimmy Durante and a live elephant and ran for 233 performances.

In January 1939, a “Mass Rally Protesting Six Years of Hitler Rule” was held, followed later that year by a swing concert with Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and many others.

The last recorded use of the Hippodrome was in June 1939, for the Emergency Committee to Save Our Children’s Schools, a meeting at which 5,000 parents and teachers protested budget cuts. The theater was torn down later that year and used as a parking lot.

In 1944, five years after the Sixth Avenue elevated line was demolished, the architects Eggers & Higgins designed a 42-story office building for the site that was not built. Then, in 1947, Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith designed a three-story office building. Two years later McKim, Mead & White designed a 30-story building, a slim brick office tower with ribbon windows and a rooftop terrace, set on top of a wide base with space for 1,200 cars.

Neither of these plans came to fruition, but in 1951 the architects Kahn & Jacobs designed a three-story garage and office building, with a metallic front, called the Hippodrome Building. Difficulties in excavation – during which the original Hippodrome water tank was uncovered – soon caused revisions and resulted in a five-story structure, completed in 1953.

This concept seems to have worked, because in 1954 the same architects added three stories to the existing five, leaving the eight-story base as it appeared until recently. Then Kahn & Jacobs designed a major expansion for the building, adding a 12-story setback tower, atop and in the same style as the lower section. It was completed in 1961.

These days the Hippodrome Building looks a bit strange. The installation of a new skin designed by Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects is partly finished and is to be completed in August. Andrew Gottesman, a principal in the ownership group, says that it is rebuilding the lobby – doubling its height by eliminating some of the garage space on the second floor – and installing the new metal and glass skin to give the building “modern, clean lines” to match the neighborhood’s upscale look.

Raul de Armas, a partner in the architecture firm, says that the lobby will feature a 20-foot-wide mural showing the original 1905 Hippodrome. “The site is kind of dynastic,” he says, “and we wanted to honor that.”

One relic will survive – the top-floor mechanical tower of 1961 has an abstract pattern of white metal that looks a bit like an ice floe of piano keys. The new skin will stop just short of that crowning feature, which is a perfect model of jet-age modernism.

sdoerr on November 13, 2003 at 10:43 am

Wow it looks like a stadium, anyone have any pictures or stories of this gem?