Rivoli Theatre

1620 Broadway,
New York, NY 10019

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Rivoli Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

A “sister” to the nearby Rialto Theatre, this lost theatre was a palatial early delight and once one of the grandest theatres on the east coast. The Rivoli Theatre opened December 28, 1917 with Douglas Fairbanks in “A Modern Musketeer”.

In its middle years, the Rivoli Theatre was one of New York City’s finest ‘roadshow’ theatres and was converted to 70mm Todd-AO with a deeply curved screen by Michael Todd for his feature, “Oklahoma!” which had its World Premiere on October 13, 1955 and was shown for 51 weeks. Other World Premieres of 70mm films included “Around the World in 80 Days”(October 17, 1956 and was showcased for 103 weeks), “The Big Fisherman”(August 4, 1959), “West Side Story”(October 18, 1961 and was screened for 77 weeks), “Cleopatra” (June 12, 1963 and was shown for 64 weeks), “The Sound of Music”(March 2, 1965 and was screened for 93 weeks), “The Sand Pebbles”(December 20, 1966), “Hello Dolly”(December 16,1969), “Fiddler on the Roof”(November 3, 1971) and “Man of La Mancha”(December 11, 1972).

The 1950’s deeply curved screen was enormous and generated the illusion of peripheral vision. The Rivoli Theatre, along with the nearby Capitol Theatre, showed event films and both movie houses showed “2001” on their giant screens. Patrons also recall that the sound quality of the six track stereo was as impressive as it’s visuals.

After it was twinned in December 1981, and the curved screen was removed. It became the United Artists Twin from October 26, 1984. One of the last features to play there was Richard Haines' low budget movie, “The Class of Nuke ‘Em High”. It was closed as the United Artists Twin in June 1987.

Where urban blight had at once shuttered, but saved the Rivoli Theatre from development, a turn around in the city’s fortune made the site too tempting for developers. The Rivoli Theatre, one of the greatest of all New York City theatres, was demolished after closing in June 1987. It has been replaced by a black glass skyscraper.

Contributed by Richard Haines, William Gabel

Recent comments (view all 745 comments)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 17, 2014 at 9:35 am

The shot of Tony Curtis, as Falco, watching Hunsecker’s sister enter the theater, was filmed at the corner of W. 54th Street and Sixth Avenue. The bar and restaurant behind him is now the site where the New York Hilton is located. That would make it appear that the theater itself was the original Ziegfeld Theatre. However, neither the interior shots of the theater, nor the exterior showing the sister entering (and later the Marty Milner character in the outside foyer) were shot at the Ziegfeld.

Suggesting it was the Ziegfeld actually makes sense, since at the time of the filming, that theater had been used by NBC as a television studio. But the exterior shots are of a different facade, just judging from the windows and storefront immediately to the right of the marquee.

As for the Rivoli, by this time (1957) the interior had already been streamlined for its wide-screen road show retrofit. The interior shots in the film show far too much original vintage ornamentation to be the Rivoli – not to mention the design around the proscenium is a bit different. I don’t know where they filmed those shots, but it is definitely an old movie palace that had been retrofitted for direct-throw wide-screen projection (you can glimpse the new booth, cut into center of the loge, in the background), just not the Rivoli.

bufffilmbuff on April 17, 2014 at 10:17 am

Thanks Ed. The lowered projection ports is what made me think it was the Rivoli. I guess this was not that uncommon in the 50’s as various widescreen processes caused changes in the theater layouts. I will say that SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS probably gives us one of the best looks at what parts of NYC looked like in the fifties.

techman707 on May 4, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Demolishing the Rivoli Theatre is just FURTHER PROOF that the NYC Landmarks & Preservation Commission is not only WORTHLESS, but, quite possibly corrupt.

You can only wonder WHAT THEY WERE THINKING to allow a theatre with the historic significance of the “Rivoli Theatre” to be torn down. Yet, try tearing down one of the legit (live performance house)theaters on 44th Street and see if you could get away with it. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that ANY OF THOSE THEATERS should be eliminated, because I’m not. I view those as just as historic and should be protected. It just seems that motion picture theatres appear to have no historic value in the minds of the L&PC members.

For over two decades, the RKO Keith’s-Flushing, a spectacular “atmospheric theatre”. A theatre that uses twinkling stars and a special ceiling that utilizes a special projector that projects clouds that slowly changing shape as it moves across the ceiling. The end result makes you feel (and it really works) like you are sitting out in the open watching the movie.

They say there are only 5 functioning atmospheric theatres left in the United States. Here in NYC, we probably had one of the BEST examples, but we’re letting it just ROT!

robboehm on May 5, 2014 at 6:46 am

techman, apparently you do not recall the demolition of the Bijou, Helen Hayes and Morosco legits, three in a row, as well as the Astor some 25 years ago. Big shiny building went up which now houses the Marquis.

techman707 on September 14, 2014 at 10:18 am

robboehm on May 5, 2014 at 9:46 am “techman, apparently you do not recall the demolition of the Bijou, Helen Hayes and Morosco legits, three in a row, as well as the Astor some 25 years ago. Big shiny building went up which now houses the Marquis.” =–=–=–=–=–=–=–=– My interest is in MOVIE THEATRES! When you compare how many “very special” movie theatres were destroyed or demolished, verses legitimate theaters, virtually NO LEGIT theaters were demolished (and probably NONE were destroyed.

When you say the Astor, I assume you’re referring to the old Astor and the Victoria to the right of it down the street? As for “Loew’s Astor Plaza”, that is NO GREAT LOSS! Thanks to the consent decrees beginning in 1940 onward, the Loews/MGM relationship was ended. Not only did it HURT the industry (including the independent exhibitors, it forced Loews to shut down, sell or permanently close HUNDREDS if theatres across the country. Today, ANYTHING GOES. With everything going on today, we will either wind up with NO THEATRES, or ONE COMPANY running virtually every theatre that’s left. Does a particular company or two come to mind? And finally, does ANYONE care?

markp on September 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm

techman707, when I lost my job as projectionist in May of 2013 (after 37 years) the owner I was working for said that the film companies would love to see all theatres gone and have everything go to pay per view. Now I dont know if this could happen, but you never know.

RogerA on October 18, 2014 at 1:31 pm

markp yes the studios are destroying the biz they have been wanting to eliminate the theaters and go to pay per view for years and they are succeeding

Coate on March 2, 2015 at 9:20 am

Happy 50th to “The Sound of Music,” which world premiered at the Rivoli on this day in 1965.

On a related note, some longtime Cinema Treasures readers might recall a Sound of Music 45th anniversary retrospective article I posted here five years ago. I’m in the process of updating it for the 50th anniversary, so please contact me (or post here or on the article’s page) if you note anything that ought to be added, deleted, updated, corrected, etc. Thank you.

robboehm on March 2, 2015 at 7:34 pm

Re several comments back. Maybe going pay for view would be a good idea. Movies come and go without any distribution. Contenders for Golden Globe Big Eyes and Cake had almost zip distribution. Before Academy Awards Birdman was a tough film to find.

DavidZornig on September 25, 2015 at 1:12 pm

1932 “White Zombie” marquee photo added courtesy of Doug Simmons.

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