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 1,179 comments)

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 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?

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on December 14, 2018 at 10:00 am

Two ads for “King Kong” have just been uploaded to the WRONG listing. The film opened at the New Roxy in Rockefeller Center, simultaneously with Radio City Music Hall. Due to legal protests from the original Roxy, the New Roxy was renamed as the Center Theatre, under which it is listed at Cinema Treasures.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on March 14, 2019 at 6:19 am

Curiously, the list of the Roxy’s “Nearby Theaters” doesn’t include Radio City Music Hall, which was just one block away and its largest and most serious competition.

robboehm on March 14, 2019 at 7:05 am

Nearby theaters is not reliable. Period.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on March 14, 2019 at 7:29 am

I think in the case of Manhattan, it’s just based on actual distance. Three street blocks here are almost as far as one block of avenues. Those other five theatres are simply closer.

vindanpar on March 14, 2019 at 10:12 am

Anybody know if Disney’s Cinderella opened here? I’ve seen ads for the NY openings of all the Disney classic animated films until even Sword in the Stone except for this one. If the ad has been posted I don’t recall seeing it. For some reason like Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp it seems like a Roxy film. In fact if the Music Hall could show Snow White and Bambi Cinderella would have been a good fit. But after Bambi it seemed it turned to a no animated film policy until they were forced to with Charlie Brown as the Christmas movie because there were no other family friendly G rated films in late ‘69. And Charlie Brown was so famous and so much a part of the Zeitgeist of the time. It certainly wasn’t because of quality. I’m sure if Dolly or Mr. Chips had been available they would have been happy to have either as a holiday film.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on March 14, 2019 at 10:35 am

“Cinderella” opened at the Mayfair.

vindanpar on March 14, 2019 at 10:58 am

Thanks. Didn’t know a Disney film ever played there. Not a very prestigious house for such a major release.

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