Roxy Theatre

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

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Roxy Theatre

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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 1961. In its place sits a nondescript and unremarkable office building. The neighboring Taft Hotel survives to this day (now the Michangelo Hotel) and is the only evidence that this epic structure was ever here. A TGI Friday’s restaurant occupies 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 1,159 comments)

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on October 23, 2017 at 3:59 pm

Hello-

the often pined for Golden Age of Hollywood lasted from the beginning of the sound era to approx. the early 60s which is where my question comes in. it is my impression that during this roughly 34 year period Hollywood operated very much on the A movie and B movie production levels. so for someone who has a detailed knowledge of the Roxy’s bookings would you say the theater played as many B movies as A movies?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on October 23, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Bigjoe59, You need to purchase and read and memorize every word in “American Showman” by Ross Melnick, the story of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel. In it you will see that the first years the theater concentrated on its lavish stage productions and booked often B product (but sometimes A move-overs from other first-run B'way houses)… mixed in with A. It wasn’t until after the British Gaumont relationship ended in the mid (during the Great Depression) to the late thirties that the theater then again played strictly A product mostly from TCF. The Roxy was strictly an A house until it closed.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on October 23, 2017 at 5:25 pm

Hello-

I thank Simon S. for his reply. but it prompts another question. exactly how was an A movie differentiated from a B movie? for instance I had never heard of “The Wind Can Not Read” until I went thru the photo pages for this theater. so since I had never heard of it I assumed it was B movie.

vindanpar
vindanpar on October 23, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Even an A house occasionally would have to play a B picture. Also didn’t the Roxy shortly before this play a double bill of Waterfront and another perhaps Brando film? Normally at this time what you’d find on 42nd Street.

An ignominious end to a glorious theater but they pretty much all ended that way. Especially if they made it to the 70s. They became mausoleums for exploitation films.

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on October 23, 2017 at 6:02 pm

We actually had this exact discussion before. Scroll up to the comments from November 2014. (Geez I thought it was a few months ago.) The Wind Cannot Read which was the last movie at the Roxy was a relatively obscure British film, but not a B movie. The last few weeks, once the Roxy was officially slated to close, it showed a revival double bill and this British film. Prior to that it showed strictly first-run major studio releases, as Simon explained. Cheers.

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on October 23, 2017 at 6:26 pm

You can find this on Wikipedia or many other sources, but just quickly: A so-called A movie was one with a large budget, major stars and directors, top original story or book adaptation. It was released to the top theatres owned by the studios across the country, then it went to the small towns and finally the second-run neighborhood theatres and drive-ins before winding up their- run.

An A movie could be anything from a routine programmer on a tight budget but still with excellent acting and production to an all-out massive epic.

The B movie usually had a small budget, limited production values, very good but lesser known actors and directors. They were made quickly and cheaply to fill out the programs at theatres. They would most often be released as the second feature on a double bill along with an A movie at major chain theatres but also might be the main attraction at second-run and rural theatres.

That’s just the major and minor films made by the major studios. Over time the B movie on the lower half of a double feature replaced most (but not all) of the short subjects that had been popular earlier in the studio era. Newsreels and cartoons were the exceptions and continued into the early 60s.

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on October 23, 2017 at 7:14 pm

What vindanpar says is true. Even if somehow the Roxy had survived and continued as a first-run theatre, it would soon have been divided into two and later 3 or more screens/theaters. The only midtown movie palace to avoid this fate was Radio City and that was because of its special status as the centerpiece of Rockefeller Center. Well, the much smaller Rivoli also remained a single screen venue, showing mostly long-run roadshow attractions.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on October 23, 2017 at 8:09 pm

The Rivoli was twinned in 1981.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on November 1, 2017 at 10:56 am

The Capitol, the world’s largest cinema prior to the opening of the Roxy, was reduced in seating capacity over the years, but never sub-divided. Nor was the Paramount in Times Square.

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm

When the Capitol was torn down I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the auditorium was intact. It looked like they just built a smaller capacity Cinerama theater within it. Same with the Strand.

Like what happened with the El Capitan when it was modernized. Sad to think those great original auditoriums were unseen for so many years and then demolished before anyone could see them again. Who knows what treasures the demolitionists found and then destroyed.

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