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 theater that has seemingly outlasted his own legend.

With its nearly 6,000 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 Gloria Swanson in “The Loves of Sonya”. 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.

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 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 theater itself once was. The name ‘Roxy’ has since adorned movie theaters, 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 1,103 comments)

bigjoe59 on September 20, 2014 at 1:42 pm

to LorinW.–

while its sad that a gorgeous movie palace like the Roxy was demolished people forget one very simple fact. at the time it was decided to raze the theater it was a HUGE financial liability for the owners. once t.v. became commonplace in the American home HUGE theaters like the Roxy were doomed. i’m sure in 1960 when it was torn down the weekly operating costs were astronomical.

MarkDHite on September 20, 2014 at 2:06 pm

What you say is true. The Roxy must have had huge operating expenses, and while I don’t think it ever lost money it must have been clear by 1960 that it’s days as a big moneymaker were quickly dwindling. However, I think the Roxy was doomed more by the value of its Midtown Manhattan real estate. From the time it was acquired by Rockefeller Center in the early 50s I imagine the plan was to just keep it going until the most advantageous deal could be made to capitalize on its location as Rock Ctr developed the west side of Sixth Ave. First the air rights were used for other development and then the lot was finally used for a new office building. Rock Ctr already had Radio City Music Hall and had no interest in keeping two huge movie palaces going. It probably never had a chance to survive after about 1952.

bigjoe59 on September 22, 2014 at 1:31 pm

to Mark D.–

thanks for your reply. it certainly says it all. people how decry the demolishing of grand movie palaces react as if some big orge is specifically targeting grand old movie palaces. the same thing happened with San Francisco’s The Fox which was as large as beloved as the Roxy. it was torn down in 1963 since it had become a huge financial liability which could simply not make it as a single screen movie theater because it was to frigging big.

jamestv on September 22, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Radio City Music Hall has Rockefeller Center behind it, the Roxy and the Capitol had no one.

KCB3Player on September 26, 2014 at 8:01 am

The Roxy and the Fox were horrible losses for North America.

dotty64 on October 30, 2014 at 3:13 am

Can anyone tell me if there were female ushers at the Roxy. If not, what jobs were available for girls in the early 1950s?

Joseph on October 30, 2014 at 5:21 pm

to dotty64:

Yes female ushers became common during the WW2 era.

dotty64 on October 31, 2014 at 2:55 am

what did the female usherette uniforms in the 1950s look like?

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on October 31, 2014 at 7:58 am

You’re romance, You’re the steppes of Russia, You’re the pants, on a Roxy usher, I’m a broken doll, a fol-de-rol, a blop,

But if, baby, I’m the bottom, You’re the top!

— Cole Porter

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on October 31, 2014 at 10:59 am

As a Roxy usher in 1956 and 1957, I can tell you that there were no women ushers during that time. I recall a couple of women in uniforms who worked at the candy concession.

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