Roxy Theatre

153 W. 50th Street,
New York, NY 10020

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Roxy Theatre

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one look at photos of this palatial movie palace is worth about a million. Often cited as the most impressive movie palace ever built, the Roxy Theatre was called “The Cathedral of the Motion Picture” by its creator and namesake, Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel. Roxy was arguably the greatest showmen of his time and he built a theatre that has seemingly outlasted his own legend.

With its 6,214 seats and multi-tiered balconies, the Roxy Theatre was the showplace of New York City and of the nation. Construction began on March 22, 1926 and it opened on March 11, 1927 with a world premiere presentation of United Artists “The Loves of Sonya” starring Gloria Swanson. It was designed by architect Walter W. Ahlschlager of Chicago (who also designed New York’s Beacon Theatre), with interior decoration by Harold W. Rambusch of New York. Its rather modest entrance at the corner of the Taft Hotel building disguised one of the most cavernous lobbies ever built and a magnificent auditorium that has lived on in its patrons' imagination. Whatever adjectives can be used for the Roxy Theatre, they all fail to signify the theatre’s achievement.

The Roxy Theatre was equipped with three Kimball organs. The auditorium organ had 29 ranks installed under the stage and 3 ‘fanfare’ ranks above the proscenium. This magnificent instrument had three consoles. The main console had 5 manuals and was opened by organist C.A.J. Parmentier, while the two 3 manual consoles were opened by organists Dezso Von D'Antalffy and Emile Velazco. There was also a Kimball organ in the Grand Foyer Rotunda which had 3 manuals and was opened by organist Lew White. A 2 manual Kimball organ was located in the theatres' recording studio located on the roof above the proscenium. There was an 110-piece Roxy Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Erno Rapee.

Sadly, the decline in attendance that had begun in the 1950’s spilled over into the early-1960’s and the Roxy Theatre closed with Dirk Bogarde in “The Wind Cannot Read” which began its run on March 9, 1960. Despite numerous protests, it was razed in the summer of 1960 and demolition was completed by the end of 1960. In its place sits a nondescript and unremarkable office building. The neighboring Taft Hotel survives to this day (now the Michelangelo Hotel) and is the only evidence that this epic structure was ever here. A TGI Friday’s restaurant and a KFC restaurant now occupy the theatres' original entrance.

The legacy of the Roxy Theatre is almost as impressive as the theatre itself once was. The name ‘Roxy’ has since adorned movie theatres, nightclubs, restaurants and a host of other establishments around the world all attempting to give to their patrons what Roxy always brought to his own: entertainment.

The end of the Roxy Theatre signified the beginning of the end for thousands of movie palaces across the country. With its destruction, New York City began to destroy its past for urban renewal and the city, and movie palaces, have never been the same.

Contributed by Cinema Treasures

Recent comments (view all 1,172 comments)

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on June 28, 2018 at 6:59 pm

As per the NY Times article, Thursday April 21, 1955. The Roxy screen was 64 ½ x 26 ½ and curved. The Paramount VistaVision was 64 x 35 and curved.

The Warner Cinerama was 67 and 24 ½ and seriously curved.

vindanpar
vindanpar on June 28, 2018 at 7:11 pm

And the Paramount and the Roxy screens had to be flown when there were stage shows so I’m sure that kept the stage hands busy. Interesting that the Music Hall kept it flat. I guess the extra 6 ft was too unwieldy or they were worried about sightlines.

The Paramount Vistavision must have been really impressive.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on June 29, 2018 at 9:42 am

I could be wrong but as I remember the Vista Vision screen at the Paramount it was not only curved from the horizontal perspective but also appeared to be curved forward slightly at the top which gave additional illusion of depth. I hope it isn’t my imagination, but the feeling of depth was also increased by being in the Paramount which was a more intimate theater (about 3600 seats)than the Music Hall (5900 seats). The Paramount also had greatly superior sound than RCMH.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on July 18, 2018 at 1:19 pm

Hello-

I’m guessing like the Music Hall the Roxy handed out a two page leaflet with each film playing there. to which my question. did many of the films that played the Roxy sell souvenir programs?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on July 19, 2018 at 6:51 am

The Roxy always had a free (at least) two page sepia-toned program. Patrons could pick up program on a table near the entrance of the rotunda. The only paid program might have been for Windjammer which played on a reserved seat basis.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on July 19, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Hello-

thank you to Simon S. for your reply. the reason I asked is simple. I’ve always considered souvenir programs an integral part of a roadshow engagement. this is especially true in the prime Sept. 1952 to Dec. 1972 period. to which I wonder how many films the studio involved thought highly enough of that they had a souvenir program as well even though they were being released on as regular continuous performance basis to use an old term.

moviebuff82
moviebuff82 on September 12, 2018 at 4:19 pm

Didn’t Roxy Music name themselves after this venue?

MSC77
MSC77 on September 16, 2018 at 8:53 pm

“The Robe,” the first film in CinemaScope, premiered here sixty-five years ago today.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on September 17, 2018 at 9:42 am

Prior to the 1953 debut of “The Robe,” the Roxy’s final stage-and-screen offering was Clifton Webb’s B&W “Mr. Scoutmaster” and an ice-skating revue with a dude ranch theme. After the last performances on Sunday, September 6th, dismantling of the “Ice Colorama” equipment began, but “Mr. Scoutmaster” remained as the bottom half of a double-bill. Taking top position was a “preview” of 20th-Fox’s soon-to-be released “Vicki,” a B&W suspenser starring Jeanne Crain and Jean Peters. This combination continued until the Roxy closed for several days to complete refurbishments for the “Robe” premiere.

vindanpar
vindanpar on September 17, 2018 at 10:53 am

Was The Robe CinemaScope screen wide enough to stretch beyond the sides of the proscenium or was it the same screen to be used for the CinemaScope films that played along with a stage show and had to be raised into the flies above?

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