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 Taft Hotel 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 1,393 comments)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I highly doubt that the TGI Friday’s retains any elements of the old Roxy lobby and foyers. I would imagine that the space was entirely gutted, with the upper portion of the rotunda converted to office space, and the ground floor reserved for retail usage. Does anyone know if this has always been a restaurant of some sort? I’m sure the TGIF chain was not in existence when the space was converted back in the early 1960’s.

Joseph
Joseph on December 30, 2013 at 4:04 pm

The TGI Friday’s was preceded by another restaurant. I believe a Child’s was on the corner of 50th and 7th for at least a couple of decades before the Taft was closed and re-modeled into the Michelangelo Suites during early/mid 1980s. The Roxy ticket lobby is the space currently occupied by TGI. The Roxy Rotunda, which was behind the ticket lobby was destroyed along with the auditorium and the rest of the Roxy building in mid-late 1960. The THS Roxy annual, published in 1979 or 80, claims that the Rotunda was to incorporated into the Taft Hotel expansion design William Zeckendorf was supposedly planning at the time. Of course this never happened. In fact I cannot locate any reference to the Hotel Taft expansion after the Roxy building was sold by Rock Center to Zeckendorf. Zeckendorf’s visions were constantly filled with hyperbole, which probably led to his bankruptcy and downfall. Rather than expand the Taft, the partially demolished Roxy was later sold by Zeckendorf to a couple of amateur NJ real estate developers (their first venture into NYC real-estate) in order to raise cash for his crumbling empire.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on December 31, 2013 at 8:50 am

Hello-

I didn’t start going into Manhattan by myself to see movie still the fall of 1965 at which point the Roxy had been gone 5 years. to which a question- in its 33 year life would you say the Roxy played as many B level or even C level films as it played A level films?

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on January 1, 2014 at 2:08 pm

There are many answers to Bigjoe’s question. The Roxy played only A films from the time it opened in 1927 until the Depression years between 1931 and 1937 (assuming that means films produced to be the top of a double feature in subsequent release). Between 1933 and 1937 the Roxy severely lowered its admission prices and economized on the stage shows. During that time, the major studios balked at having their major films play there. It was only after/when Twentieth Century Fox contracted with the Roxy to supply it with their major films did the 6,000 seat theater regain its status. Between 1937 and its closing, the Roxy was consistently an outlet for A films. Your rating of films is presumably based on the intention of the studio and not the quality of the film. This does not take into account the many modestly produced “sleepers” that needed critical approval to succeed and a Roxy premiere was a help.

bigjoe59
bigjoe59 on January 1, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Hello-

I thank Simon S. for his reply. the reason I asked the question was simple. during the theater’s 33 year lifespan Hollywood operated very much on the A,B or even C movie production levels. so i’m guessing for every Carousel or Anastasia they also played B or C films between the bookings of A level films.

Simon L. Saltzman
Simon L. Saltzman on January 2, 2014 at 6:19 am

More pertinent info re above: British Gaumont helped to keep the Roxy going during the difficult years (1932 – 1937)by giving the Roxy exclusive first run rights to its releases, including “The 39 Steps.” …thus offering a buffer to the decision by the Hollywood studios to not let the Roxy have its A product because of its low admissions scale. The Roxy survived this, inlcuding the departure of Roxy himself (to run the RCMH and RKO Roxy (later to become the Center Theater), and more including Cinemascope without stage shows, Two-a-day with “Windjammer” and other policy changes that occurred during the managament of Roxy’s nephew Robert C. Rothafel who took charge during the 1950s.

robboehm
robboehm on January 30, 2014 at 5:17 am

Photo of 11/11/42 ad for opening of “Springtime in the Rockies”, a big hit for Betty Grable, uploaded. This movie sparked her romance with bandleader Harry James whom she married the following year. The featured song, “I Had the Craziest Dream”, became their theme song.

robboehm
robboehm on February 15, 2014 at 8:28 am

Carousel opened with a formal premiere on February 16, 1956 with regular, continuous, performances starting the next day. There was also an ice skating review, albeit shorter for this feature, because of the length of the film. See photos.

robboehm
robboehm on February 21, 2014 at 5:01 am

See photo section for May 21, 1947 ad featuring a stage appearance by Jack Benny. Jack Benny and Bob Hope were then tied for favorite comedian in that, the heyday of radio. Film being shown was enough to discourage people from seeing it twice to stay for a second stage show.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on February 21, 2014 at 8:11 am

Jack Benny’s radio show may still be the most consistently hilarious variety show ever to have been broadcast – on radio or TV, for that matter.

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