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 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 1,160 comments)

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.

vindanpar
vindanpar on November 1, 2017 at 12:31 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.

StanMalone
StanMalone on December 18, 2017 at 10:22 am

Somewhere in the hundreds of previous comments on this page someone pointed out that the opening overhead sequence of West Side Story passes over the site of the Roxy. If you are quick with the pause button you can see the site as a big, open pit, dirt hole.

vindanpar
vindanpar on February 27, 2018 at 2:45 pm

I’ve probably written this before.

Stephen Sondheim’s favorite movie theater was the Roxy and he went often. He even wrote an entire musical based on the very famous Life photo of Swanson the Roxy’s first movie star standing in the rubble as it was torn down.

Comfortably Cool posted the ad of Hangover Square the attendance of which Sondheim claimed was a seminal moment in his life because of the Herrmann score.

So the Roxy’s history still reverberates in our cultural life today.

hanksykes
hanksykes on February 27, 2018 at 4:14 pm

In the Picture of Miss Swanson standing on the rubble are the set of doors behind her to the auditorium or the street?

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on April 16, 2018 at 10:58 am

Brief color film of the Roxy Theatre and surrounding midtown area in 1946 can be viewed here

vindanpar
vindanpar on April 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm

And watch the 11 minute film after which is the New York of one’s dreams.

MarkDHite
MarkDHite on April 16, 2018 at 5:51 pm

Just don’t read the terrible comments.

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