Bryant Theatre

138 W. 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10036

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Tinseltoes on October 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm

A news report in The New York Times on May 26th, 1921, suggests that this was originally supposed to be known as the Arcadia Theatre: “A motion picture theatre seating only 700 persons, to be called the Arcadia, will open on Labor Day at 130 West Forty-second Street, in and adjoining the Bush Terminal Building. The new house is being constructed by the Keith vaudeville interests, represented in the deal by B.S. Moss, and its erection is a part of extensive alterations now planned for the ground floor of the Bush Terminal Building and the plot intervening between that structure and the Knickerbocker Annex. The Arcadia Theatre and the Old Towne Tavern will be built into the Bush Terminal Building, and a three-story building will be erected on the adjoining plot. In arranging to take over the Arcadia Theatre, the Keith interests plan to create something entirely new in the way of a motion picture house. Every seat in the theatre will be reserved, and there will be but two performances daily. All seats will be $2 at night, and $1 at matinees. The theatre will be used, so far as possible, for the exploitation of unusual photoplays. The walls of the theatre will be lined with silks and tapestries, and it is promised that the entire decorative scheme will be novel. All of the 700 seats will be on one floor, and seating capacity will be sacrificed to comfort.” I would be willing to bet that the Arcadia became the Cameo, but I have no explanation for the name change.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 19, 2011 at 11:22 am

There is a very good possibility that the auditorium of the Bryant Theatre still exists – or at least did until very recently – within the footprint of the Bush Tower at 130 W. 42nd Street, which opened in 1918.

The 42nd Street entrance for the Cameo and Bryant, as posted above, was indeed at 138 W. 42nd and has certainly been demolished. However, as with many theaters, this entrance merely led to a narrow foyer that ran back to the auditorium, which sat on 41st Street. If it’s a fact that the Cameo opened in December of 1921, we can only assume that it was either constructed on vacant land behind the tower, which may have been owned by the Bush Terminal Company, or it might have been carved out of space in the building that had a previous use. That remains cloudy at this point.

NYC Dept of Buidling records no longer exist for the address at 138 W. 42nd, and property transfer information is limited. I was able to find a C of O issued in May of 1932, amending usage of the property listed as 130-138 W. 42nd Street & 133-139 W. 41st Street, and the description includes a Motion Picture Theatre on the 1st floor with capacity for 539 persons. This matches seating information Ken Roe posted back on October 31, 2004. The C of O also notes this is a 29 story office building, which matches the description for the Bush Tower. Further, the C of O was issued to the firm of Corbett, Harrison and McMurray, and Harvey Wiley Corbett is listed on several websites as the architect for the Bush Tower.

Additional C of O’s were issued througout the years for this lot (later known as 130-134 W. 42nd and then finally just 130 W. 42nd), in 1973, 1989, 1999 right up to 2006, and each time, the Motion Picture Theatre is still noted on 1st floor with capacity of 539. I know the building itself is landmarked – I wonder if that includes the Bryant’s auditorium? Perhaps there was some adaptive re-use that retained elements of the old place? Perhaps only a trip down to the building would answer those questions to any degree of satisfaction.

Interesting to note that property records also note that the entire Bush Tower was owned by Avon Associates Inc from 1973 until 1977 – presumably the proprieters of the Avon chain of pornographic theaters. They must have operated the Bryant for a period.

edblank on January 30, 2011 at 11:45 am

Enrolling with this link.

Tinseltoes on December 10, 2010 at 1:50 pm

This photo as RKO Cameo was mistakenly linked at the listing for another theatre on Eighth Avenue: View link

AlAlvarez on May 9, 2010 at 9:16 am

B.S Moss' Cameo Theatre, The Salon of the Cinema.

October 1927, program during the glamour years.

View link

View link

AlAlvarez on February 16, 2010 at 8:20 pm

The Cameo opened during Christmas week 1921.

Tinseltoes on February 10, 2010 at 9:38 am

Here’s a view of the Bryant Theatre in 1964:
View link

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on May 13, 2009 at 7:18 am

I must correct some errors in my post above of 3/19/04. The Cameo closed as a showcase for Russian imports in the spring of 1940. The Consolidated Amusement chain bought a ten-year operating lease on the theatre and, after some refurbishing, re-opened it under the new name of Bryant on September 13th, 1940, with the American premiere of “After Mein Kampf?,” a British pseudo-documentary. The Bryant had a “grind” policy, open from 8AM until 2 the next morning. Brandt Theatres later took over the operating lease from Consolidated, but was not responsible for changing the name to Bryant. Consolidated did that.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on December 28, 2008 at 11:12 am

So I guess the Cameo was occasionally showing “adult” movies from its early days.

Here’s a NY Times review from 1934 of a movie I recently saw on TCM:

Road to Ruin

February 21, 1934

Pitfalls of Life.

By A.D.S.

“Road to Ruin,” written and co-directed by Mrs. Wallace Reid, is a morose investigation of a high school girl’s downfall, and is intended, apparently, as a dramatized lecture to the mothers of adolescent girls rather than as a general entertainment.

With a gravity proper to the subject, the Cameo’s new film describes the circumstances under which the youthful heroine is persuaded to smoke her first cigarette and drink her first cocktail, and later traces the successive steps in her betrayal by a sleek and astonishingly unprincipled young man.

The deficiencies of “Road to Ruin” lie not so much in its amateurish composition as in its dull and unnecessary preoccupation with subject-matter which belongs in a sociological case history.

THE ROAD TO RUIN, based on a story by Mrs. Wallace Reid; with Helen Foster, Nell O'Day, Glen Boles, Paul Page, Virginia True Boardman and Richard Tucker; directed by Mrs. Reid and Melville Shyer; a Willis Kent production; released by First Division Exchange. At the Cameo

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on February 1, 2008 at 8:50 am

A photo of the Cameo’s marquee was used in an August, 1932 trade ad for “Goona Goona,” a docudrama that was filmed on the exotic isle of Bali and created a sensation with its bare-breasted maidens:

JKane on November 29, 2006 at 11:14 am

Fondly recall catching soft-core b&w flicks at the Bryant in the late 60s, like Andy Milligan’s twisted ‘Tricks of the Trade,’ Robert Downey Sr.’s ‘Sweet Smell of Sex’ (it was no ‘Putney Swope’ or even ‘Chafed Elbows’), ‘Shocking Sex’ & others. Pretty tame fare but sometimes rich in camp value & occasionally innovative low-budget filmmaking techniques.

frankie on March 9, 2006 at 5:05 am

In the 1950’s, 42nd Street was a wonderful place. One Friday night after classes at Xaverian High in Bay Ridge,my friend Ray Bush & I subwayed over for some spaghetti and then went to the Bryant to see “The Opposite Sex” with June Allyson & Joan Collins. Fond memories of a carefree youth when New York was truly New York !

genahy on September 25, 2005 at 10:17 pm

Click here for a tiny picture of the “New” Bryant and an interesting article about the culinary options available near it. Not for those with weak stomachs.

RobertR on April 18, 2005 at 5:04 am

LOL, when I was in college I checked out one of those shows also just because I could not believe it would be real, oh it was LOL. At that time they were advertising the theatre as The New Bryant.

Madelyn on April 17, 2005 at 7:10 pm

My grandfather and his brother founded a company called Consolidated Amusement Enterprises which owned this theater sometime between 1910 and 1941 and perhaps later than that; I’m not sure. CAE was one of the largest independent theater chains in NYC in that era.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 1, 2005 at 12:25 pm

It was here on 42nd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, where in the late 1970’s my girlfriend and I saw our first and only live sex show. Oh, brother.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on December 30, 2004 at 9:25 am

There’s nice clear film of this theater’s adult film marquee in that Travel Channel doumentary.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 31, 2004 at 8:40 am

If The Architectural Forum says DeRosa, than it could have been. Other sources say Lamb. It might have been both, since DeRosa once worked for Lamb. You might try sending a query to the B.S. Moss family website to see what they might have in their records. Moss built the theatre.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 31, 2004 at 5:17 am

My June 1925 copy of “The Architetural Forum” magazine has plans for the Cameo Theater, New York (no actual address given) and internal photographs of the lobby and auditorium. The architect credited is Eugene De Rosa. The auditorium photo’s show seating for, I would say, around 600 on a single floor (no balcony). Listings in the Film Daily Yearbooks I have (1941 and 1950) give a seating capacity of 539 and 538 respectively.

I presume this to be the same theatre, but being “The Architectural Forum” magazine was a ‘talking shop’ publication aimed at architects, I assume they are correct to credit this building to Eugene De Rosa and not Thomas W. Lamb as listed here. Any further views on this Warren?

jce13 on March 21, 2004 at 1:17 pm

The 42nd Street Bryant was showing softcore porn as early as the late 1960’s. Programming eventually went hardcore. The final years of the Bryant actually featured a “live-sex” show on stage with hardcore porn shown between the live acts. Admission to this type program was $3.99.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on March 19, 2004 at 10:49 am

This was a small but luxurious 600-seat theatre designed by Thomas W. Lamb for B.S. Moss, who named it the Cameo, with advertising as “The Salon of the Cinema.” The films were usually move-overs of top-quality Hollywood product from the big Broadway houses, with an occasional first-run. When many of the Moss theatres were taken over by RKO, it became the RKO Cameo until that circuit decided that it didn’t want to be represented on rapidly changing 42nd Street and sold the theatre to the Brandt circuit. Brandt changed the name to Bryant in honor of nearby Bryant Park. For many years, the Bryant ran foreign move-overs from Brandt’s Apollo, which was further west on 42nd Street. The Bryant was one of the first NYC theatres to show “adults-only” fare, starting with nudist features that stopped short of exposing genitalia. Before it switched to real porno, the Brandt ID was removed, but I think that the circuit continued to share in its revenues. The Bryant was finally demolished in the late 1980s, and for a long time the site was vacant except for a tent housing some sort of flea market. Something may have been erected since. I haven’t been in the vicinity recently.