Roxy Theatre

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

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Roxy Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 1,122 comments)

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on November 2, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Simon, thanks for clarifying this point once again. It’s interesting to remember that during the original five year run under Roxy himself it was the theatre itself that was the main attraction with its huge orchestra, organ, and stage spectaculars including the ballet corps, the male choir, and the Roxyettes. For those who don’t already know, these shows were created by the same people who later made the Radio City Music Hall famous for its stage spectacles: producer Leon Leonidoff and choreographer Russell Markert. The movie was just one piece of the whole amazing show.

After the exit of Roxy and all of his staff and performers to the Music Hall the Roxy Theatre really struggled for a few years, as Simon tells us. It’s parent company Fox Pictures was in receivership and didn’t have enough top product to fill the Roxy’s screen. After the advent of the 20th Century-Fox merger and better corporate support of the Roxy Theatre through Fox’s theatre arm, the Roxy flourished again, especially during WWII as all theatrs did. It remained a leading World premiere film showcase until its demise in 1960. Remember that 20th-Fox’s CinemaScope process had its world premiere at the Roxy with the film “The Robe”.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on November 2, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Hello Again-

thanks for the reply to my question. I knew when the Roxy was closed but had no idea what the last film was. I had never heard of the “The Wind Cannot Read” so I naturally assumed it was a B movie but according to MarkD. that’s not the case. I had no idea “The Gazebo” was the last big studio film to debut at the Roxy.

NYer
NYer on November 3, 2014 at 1:39 am

The last three engagements, “The Gazebo”, the double bill of “On the Waterfront” & “The Caine Mutiny” and the last show, “The Wind Cannot Read” as posted by MarkDHite opening day ads now in photos.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on November 3, 2014 at 9:01 am

“What’s playing at the Roxy?

I’ll tell you what’s playing at the Roxy.

A picture about a Minnesota man falls in love with a Mississippi girl.

That he sacrifices everything and moves all the way to Biloxi.

That’s what’s playing at the Roxy."

(But was it an A picture or a B picture? A studio release or an independent? Was there a stage show and did the ushers wear pants or skirts…?)

dotty64
dotty64 on November 6, 2014 at 11:46 pm

can anyone tell me about the girls who worked the candy concessions. Did they have a uniform? Were they allowed to wear make-up, nail polish, jewelry? Did they have to stand inspections? Any information would be great!

DavidZornig
DavidZornig on September 5, 2015 at 11:10 am

Scale model added of the Roxy auditorium displayed at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. Photo credit and copy Jeffrey Nickora.

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on September 5, 2015 at 11:55 am

If you haven’t already seen it, here’s a brief 1938 newsreel clip of the Gae Foster Girls rehearsing on the roof of the Roxy.

http://youtu.be/tHZ53a81am4

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on September 5, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Has anyone seen the film bits of the Roxy at the beginning of the film “The Naked City”? You see the auditorium, empty at night, and the lobby rotunda. The latter, which I think was always carpeted, here through the magic of the movies appears to have a massive marble floor which the night cleaning lady is shown scrubbing on her hands and knees, while having dark thoughts about all of the feet that keep dirtying her floor.

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on April 17, 2016 at 11:46 am

In October, 1956, “Giant” broke CinemaScope’s grip on the Roxy and received only wide screen projection at 1:66 ratio. Ads mentioned only the film being photographed in WarnerColor.

rasLXR
rasLXR on June 28, 2016 at 8:27 pm

The King And I had its joint World Premiere here 60 years ago today 28th June 1956 other premiere at the Chinese Theatre in LA

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