RKO Proctor's 58th Street Theatre
154 E. 58th Street,
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This spectacular Thomas Lamb designed Atmospheric style theatre first opened on December 20, 1928, on the same site as Proctor’s Pleasure Palace Palm Gardens, which dated back to 1895, and was demolished to make way for what F.F. Proctor termed his “Greatest Triumph”.
The theatre had two entrances and two marquees, one on E. 58th Street and the other in mid-block on 3rd Avenue. Tunnel-like lobbies connected them to the theatre’s high-vaulted grand foyer, which had ornate staircases at each end that lead to the mezzanine promenade and balcony. The Spanish Renaissance auditorium with its “midnight sky” ceiling was similar to that of Lamb’s Keith-Albee Theatre in Flushing, Queens, which was built simultaneously with the 58th Street Theatre and opened five days later. The 58th Street Theatre was especially notable for its huge balcony, which had almost as many seats as the orchestra floor and rose from above the latter’s 12th row to afford good views of the stage attractions. That was unfortunate for patrons sitting further back in the orchestra because they could only see the balcony’s underbelly and were cut off from the sky effects on the main ceiling.
Proctor’s East 58th Street Theatre opened with vaudeville and a feature movie that was first-run for its neighborhood but had already been shown in one of the Broadway-Times Square showcases. There was a complete change of program twice a week. Perhaps because it was the first Atmospheric style theatre to be built in Manhattan, the East 58th Street Theatre drew crowds for several months, but once the novelty wore off, attendance plummeted.
In 1929, the aged F.F. Proctor decided to retire and sold all his theatres to the RKO circuit. Out of respect, RKO kept his name on the 58th Street Theatre, and it remained RKO Proctor’s 58th Street Theatre for a couple of decades before being shortened to the RKO 58th Street Theatre. RKO soon dropped the vaudeville and switched to double features, which were still first-run for that neighborhood. The nearest theatres on the East Side showing the same movies as the 58th Street Theatre were the Academy of Music on 14th Street and the RKO 86th Street Theatre.
Situated in a busy shopping district that included Bloomingdale’s department store, the 58th Street Theatre did good business but rarely enough to fill its 3,163 seats. In 1956, RKO did some modernizing to the plans of architect John J. McNamara, and reduced the seating capacity to about 2,000. However, that was still too large for that area of 3rd Avenue, where it had to compete with several new art theatres of 600 seats or less. Its operating costs were too high, and the value of its underlying ground was sky-rocketing.
On May 15, 1967, RKO closed the 58th Street Theatre and put a sign on the marquee that said “Go to the RKO 86th Street for the Best in Entertainment”. The 58th Street Theatre was sold and demolished for a 39-story luxury building. To make up for its loss, RKO built a new twin cinema on 59th Street, which is now also ancient history.
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