Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Hudson River

In 1841 the Academy of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic boarding school for girls, was founded in a three-story house on Houston Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The Academy relocated in 1847 to the area north of 126th street to 135th street between 10th Avenue (now Amsterdam Avenue) and Saint Nicholas Avenue.  Destroyed by a fire in 1888, the Academy was rebuilt on the same foundation.  The piece of land upon which the Academy was built ascended towards 135th street (if you were going north it ascended if you were going south it descended) and formed the north slope of Manhattan Valley. From this lofty perch you were able to view the village of Manhattanville.  The village gave the school a new name eventually, Manhattanville College and the name Academy became part of our phone system; Academy was a popular exchange in the area for years, until the phone company discontinued their use but songs like Pennsylvania 6-5000 and books like Butterfield 8 will make sure that at least two of Manhattan's exchanges will live on.  This is a view of the area at the western end of Manhattan Street, the street now called 125th street and that is Manhattanville College in the background. On a post Civil War map of the area, and in a photograph I have seen taken just before 1920, there was a railroad depot at the foot of Manhattan Street were it intersects with west 130th street and the tracks of the Hudson River Railroad.

This is detail of the map showing a train station at West 130th. The Hudson river railroad carried passenger trains as well as freight when originally built. The line was instrumental in a small degree to the development of upper Manhattan.  As the elevated lines and subway lines came into being, passenger service faded into memory on what became a freight only line. However once upon a time, this was one of several passenger stations along the Hudson in Manhattan.

This is 96th Street and the big box holding up the train is the Obelisk beginning it's trip to Central Park.

These piers were on the river at what we call 125th street. One was a "recreational pier" and the other was for ferry and excursion boats. Before the George Washington Bridge, or the Holland Tunnel, opened it could take you a few hours to get off this island of Manhattan if you were going by car.  Once upon a time an excursion boat to Coney Island made that pier a stop. The eventual year round operation of excursion railroads in Brooklyn (five in fact and all but one lives on as a modern day "subway" line) killed that business but the Day Line up the Hudson survived well into the post World War II era.

This is a view looking north from the north end of Riverside Park in 1890.
This is looking north from 135th street and Riverside and from the looks of it just at the very end of the viaduct over Manhattanville.  It is 1920 and those are milk cans on those flat cars. I hope they're empty. 

This is approximately the same spot in 1938 and the Westside Highway is in place.  The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931 and though you would think that this would be the final nail in the coffin for the Fort Lee Ferry, the ferry service survived into post World War II Manhattanville as a quick way to get to Palisades Amusement Park.  Notice the sign on the (still standing) building in the lower left? It says "130th Street Station New York Central Railroad".

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Capitol Theatre, Broadway and 51rst Street

On October 25th 1919, the New York Times printed a review not of a movie but of a movie theater.
          "The Capitol, New York's newest, Largest, and most pretentious picture theatre, at Broadway and Fifty-first Street, last night opened its doors to the public. Its vast auditorium was filled with a crowd . . ." the article went on. The crowd filled every seat, 5230 to be exact.  The first theater in the world to go over 5000 seats, the Capitol eventually became one of MGM's premier houses in New York, once Loew's took over in 1924  By this point the theater had paid for itself and the number of people who had been through the theater was equivalent to one fifth the U.S. Population at that time anyway. This is the exterior (obviously) looking towards the south west from 51rst Street and Broadway.

This is the program cover for July 30th, 1922. This palace opened with Douglas Fairbanks starring in "His Majesty, The American". The show was headlined by Arthur Pryor and his band.

Stage shows were part of the package from 1919 until Loews dropped vaudeville from almost all of their theaters. Shows ended, for a while anyway in 1935.  This is a shot of the proscenium taken after a 1959 renovation in which the screen was enlarged and the seating capacity reduced to 4400. 

 This is a color tinted postcard of the original decor.  The following is from the July 30th, 1922 program:

Cleaning the largest theatre in the world is a herculean task, but when the Capitol is opened to the public at 12:30 each morning, every square inch of surface has been made immaculate.
After the last performance each night, the huge task of housecleaning begins. Each one of the 5300 seats is turned up and cleaned, and every discarded program, scrap of paper and forgotten article collected.  At six o'clock in the morning, a small army consisting of fourteen porters and sixten (sic) scrubwomen invade the theatre.  By 12:00 o'clock, thirty minutes before opening time, every corner and surface of the theatre has ben (sic) cleaned and inspected.

The following surfaces are cleaned and polished:
5000 square yards of carpets and draperies.
6000 square feet of tiling.
5000 square feet of marble work
50,000 square feet of walnut woodwork.
600 square feet of bronze doors.
1000 lineal feet of brass railing.
1000 square feet of leaded glass.
2500 square feet of plate glass mirrors.
50,000 electric globes.

A perfumed disinfectant is sent through the ventilating system at definite intervals to clean and purify the air. Before you are invited to enter, the Capital Theatre is made as immaculate as the most up-to-date mechanical appliances, soap, powder, water and the plenty of old fashioned elbow grease can make it.

Walter Roesner leading the house band, The Capitolians, in 1928. In March of 1943, the Capitol returned to the movie and stage show policy.  Stage shows had been dropped, like I said, in 1935. However there was one exception.  In 1939 a special revue with Judy Garland & Mickey Rooney supported the premier  of “The Wizard of Oz.

The stage shows, prior to his departure to his Roxy Theatre, were under the supervision of Roxy himself.  Here he is, directing a rehearsal from the house, a house so big he needed to be amplified to be heard.  He took his own chair with him.  You could smoke in theaters back then. 
Of the post war stage shows that have graced the Capitol stage, the highlights include in 1943 with The Phantom Of the Opera remake premier Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, the Deep River Boys, Peg Leg Bates, Patterson & Jackson, and  Lena Horne. In 1947 the romantic comedy, “Her Husband’s Affairs,” starring Lucille Ball and Franchot Tone, opened at the Capitol as part of the theatre’s 28th anniversary celebration. But the BIG news was on the Capitol’s stage.  With Frank Sinatra, in his first Broadway appearance since becoming synonymous with the rival Paramount Theatre (Sinatra was now under movie contract to MGM, whose parent company ran the Capitol Theatre), was pianist Skitch Henderson & His OrchestraAn extra added stage attraction was the Will Mastin Trio, featuring Sammy Davis Jr.  Fore shadowing of things to come?  

In March of 1948 the Capitol Theatre opened what was claimed to be “The Biggest Combination Show” in its history. On screen was Mark Hellinger’s “The Naked City,” an eagerly-awaited Universal-International B&W crime thriller that had been filmed entirely on location in NYC. The show however was tremendous. Glenn Miller alumnus Tex Beneke with his own orchestra and singers and as an “Extra!” was the "Rising comedy team of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis".  The first show started at 9:00am, with the last feature screening at 1:15am. I would have been there all day. Stage shows ended, again but this time for ever, in 1953.

The balcony promenade. As far as the eye can see - promenade.

The outer lobby.

The original lobby. The Capitol was famous for the white marble star case in this inner lobby.

The lobby, again.

Part of the "modernization" of 1959 included running an escalator up the middle of the white marble staircase.

So was curtaining off the balcony to reduce seating (and of course the need to clean this vast expanse).

This is what the vast expanse looked like without the curtains.

In 1962 more modernization. The Cinerama process is installed in the Capitol.  The seating capacity was reduced yet again to 1950. The seat under the balcony overhang were walled off as the Cinerama process would not be effective to people seating there. In addition the the need for the three projection booths, as required by Cinerama as well as the need to have them project almost straight on, propelled this necessity into a reality.  The center booth is in the center of the above picture.   

The last picture to play the Capitol was Stanley Krubick's 2001 in 1968. It was shown in Cinerama. On September 16th 1968, a review appeared of a benefit given on the Capitol stage. Hosted by Ed McMahon as a benefit for The Communications Arts Center of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, performers included Johnny Carson (the Tonight Show was still in New York), Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Alan King and Florence Henderson. Music was provided by the Rascals and the Tonight Show band. This review came almost 49 years after the opening night review. The next day interior furnishings and decorations went on sale and demolition begun.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Strand Theatre New York City

I am resuming my following Thomas Lamb around, in this case around the Times Square area.  This is the Strand Theatre.  Some of us remember this house but if you do, you probably remember it by the last name it was given, The Warner Cinerama Twin. Actually one of the theaters, what was originally the balcony of the Strand, was called The Penthouse.  I do not remember seeing that name on the marquee but I'll bet it did not stick given the connotation of the name and the area's old reputation.
The Strand Theatre opened in 1914 and was developed by Mitchel Mark Realty Company.  Originally the house had a seating capacity of 2,989. The house began its life with stage shows in addition to movies; this venue had one of the largest stages in the city in 1914. Samuel "Roxy" Rothapfel made his move from 116th street and 7th Avenue down to the times Square area and this was one of his first stops. 

 This is the stage set for motion picture presentation. The orchestra was placed on the stage to play along with the movie.  Roxy had started this practice while in residence at his previous place of employment, the B. S. Moss Regent Theatre on 7th Avenue and 116th street.  The screen was behind the center, four panel piece. Those panels would fold to reveal a screen.

 This is looking towards stage right and the orchestra is on the stage. This is a different set than the previous picture but the idea is still the same.  I believe that a screen would be lowered in front of that mountain backdrop. I am not sure what the two standing items are, behind thew orchestra and in front of the mountain. I had thought that they were work lamps, placed on stage overnight after the last show and removed the next day, but I am not sure.

The depression hit and, as in a great many theaters, stage shows were dropped in 1929.  Vaudeville was becoming too expensive. Of course the advent of sound pictures did help your poor vaudevillian. However "Vitagraph Shorts" were the beginning of the end for too many performers. These shorts were usually of vaudeville acts that were filmed with synchronized sound disks, basically a record that was played on a turntable.  The expression "wired for sound" came out of this process.  Since the big studios had controlling interests over a large number of theaters (except for Loew's which controlled MGM) there was competition between various sound techniques and this was the Warner Brother version. Wiring their theaters for the vitagraph was a sell point to get people in the seats but it was expensive. In addition, if the film broke (as could happened back in the day), you were doomed in terms of re-synchronizing the picture with the sound.  Not long after the vitagraph hit, Western Electric Laboratories, in the old Western Electric Laboratories building now known as Westbeth, the sound on film process was invented and perfected.  But I digress, as usual.  The Vitagraph Shorts, referred to as "canned acts" (the film came in a can) could be rented for far less than what would have to be paid to a performer for a week.  Could this be a victim of canned acts? I don't know but the picture playing is from 1940.

 This is looking towards house left.  Mr. Lamb is getting more elaborate in his wall and box treatment.  Similar to what he did at the Hamilton and the Regent, Lamb has boxes along side the orchestra section.  The house was only a little over a year older than the Hamilton but it was built with motion picture exhibition in mind.  Above the boxes, above the ornate crown, the lattice work covers the organ works.  When stage shows where dropped in 1929 seating was reduced to 2,750.

 House right from the stage.

 In the late 1930's stage shows and vaudeville were brought back to the Strand. This is Claude Thornhill's Orchestra in a 1947 appearance.

This is a close-up of alto sax player Ted Goddard during this gig at The Strand.

 This is Lionel Hampton at The Strand in 1948.

This the Josephine Baker on stage with Buddy Rich (her left, our right) and his orchestra. While appearing at The Strand, Ms. Baker is said to have worn an assortment of designer gowns valued at $150,000. On her right (our left) is comedian Leo De Lyon. Odd name for a some one working in a Warner house, he should have been working at a Loew's theater as Leo the Lion was the MGM symbol.

On July 30, 1968, the theater reopened after being triplexed. The Warner Cinerama Theatre with 1,000 seats occupied the main floor. The former balcony became the 1,200 seat Penthouse Theatre. A third theater built in the old Stand’s stage house was also opened, called the Cine Orleans, which had a separate entrance on W. 47th Street. In the early-1980’s the Cinerama and Penthouse were remodeled and renamed the RKO Warner Twin, the name I remember.
Unfortunately, in 1987, after a long and eventful life, one of Thomas Lamb's greatest movie palaces in New York City closed and was demolished.

Monday, December 5, 2011

New York City Walking Tours by Gary

Looking for that one gift for the hard to please?  Out of town guests and don't know what to do? Unique Bar / Bat Mitzvah gift? Or have you lived in this, one of the greatest cities in the world and do not know the history and how important New York is to American History? Look no further. Click on the links below to read about my tours (and a few reviews) and see what I offer. Tours can be more personalized, just let me know and we will talk. I can guide small and large groups (I once lead 56 people through an unoccupied Wall Street), groups with children and or teenagers, school groups and corporate events.

The old village of Bloomingdale - the Upper Westside

Lower Manhattan and the Financial District

I'll Take Manhattan - What do you want to see in New York City

Do you have a child who is looking at college in New York City?  As a parent myself, I would want to know what kind of area my child would be living in so I designed a tour that hopefully will relieve some of the parental anxiety about sending a kid off to the mysterious and much maligned city that never sleeps, New York. Check out my "College Neighborhood Tour".

I am listing on this site, an international site, as my availability is listed here.  I can be reached through that site or through nycmovieplace@aol.com. All bookings happen through Tours By Locals as it is safer for the customer as well as the guide.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shore Theater, Coney Island

Some one said to me "what about Brooklyn?" I used to say only the dead know Brooklyn 'cause it would take you a lifetime to know it and even then you wouldn't know it all. Now I believe it would take an eternity to know the borough of kings that became part of Greater New York in what some people called "the mistake of '98".  The history of my second favorite borough is incredible, to much for a blog to ever attempt to cover.  I will start with, of course, a theater. This is the Shore Theater. Eventually it became Loew's Coney Island Theater. The theater opened in 1925 and this past December it was declared a New York City Land Mark.

The Coney Island Theatre Building was built in 1924 and like I said, opened in 1925. The building and theater were designed by architects Paul C. Reilly and Douglas P. Hall, of Reilly & Hall with associate architect Samuel L. Malkind, all of whom were protégés of my favorite theater architect Thomas W. Lamb.  While proteging with Thomas Lamb, Reilly worked on Lamb's Rivoli Theater on 50th Street and Broadway. That long lost house has a very important place in theater history; it was the first theater to be built with air conditioning. The Shore opened in June of 1925 with the picture “The Sporting Venus” starring Ronald Coleman and live performances by the famous Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton. This beautiful 2,500-seat theater, built for vaudeville and motion pictures came with a six story office building on top. Shortly after its opening, the theater came under the operation of Marcus Loew, and then it got the name change to Loew's Coney Island Theatre. According to one source, Al Jolson performed here on August 11, 1949.

By 1971 Loew's sold the theater to new operator who ultimately turned the Shore into a porn house. The theater was never a huge money maker, due to the seasonal nature of Coney Island. 

This is the house recently. The owner, known for his large number of Kansas Fried Chicken franchises, is trying to sell the building. The owner also closed the theater 35 years ago. Not wanting it to be land marked, the owner refused to let people in to see it until recently.  It was allowed to deteriorate in hopes of blocking land marking.  This is a typical ploy used by building owners who do not want their property designated; they will allow it to fall apart or will damage the structure.  Facades of beautiful buildings have been shaved away in acts of civic vandalism geared only to ruin a structure and make it unworthy.  Even worse is that the Department of Buildings will issue a demolition permit for a building that is in the process of being considered for land marking.  The two open spaces within the arches on either side of the proscenium once held pipes and the machinery for the Moller organ.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Looking for a unique gift this holiday season?

A tour can be the perfect gift.  Guests coming in from out of town? Want to show them the town?

Possibly the oldest photograph of the Upper West Side and the Bloomingdale road
The Old Village of Bloomingdale
The criminal and entertainment history of the area between the old Bloomingdale Road (Broadway) and Riverside Drive. Starting at the Cathedral Of Saint John The Devine (the largest gothic structure in the world) tour highlights include Humphrey Bogart's childhood home, Victor Herbert's home, buildings designed by famous New York architects. Former homes of Hollywood legends, legendary writers, legendary composers and even a couple of legendary criminals. See sites that played host to battles during the Revolutionary War, while George Washington escaped north. Approximately 2 and a half to 3 hours.

Lower Manhattan
Since 1609, the world has been attracted to lower Manhattan. The Dutch came, the British came and then the United States government set up shop here. Eventually the American government, with a constitution and a Bill of Rights in place, moved out and commerce (amongst other things) moved in. See the sights of the first congress, where George Washington took the oath of office and became the first president of the United States, The New York Stock Exchange, the Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine, Trinity Church, Saint Paul's Chapel and the World Trade Center site. We can also go to the Brooklyn Bridge.  Approximately 2 and a half hours.

What Do You Want To See in NYC?
As the song says "what street, compares with Mott Street, in July". Only Mott Street in May can compare. I would love to work with guests to our fair city on a tour of some of my favorite things about this town. Together we can personalize a tour of New York that covers what you want to see and do. Do you want to walk the Brooklyn Bridge? Do you want to find the best cheesecake in the world? Do you want to see Humphrey Bogart's childhood home? Do you want to see were John Lennon lived? Do you want to try one of the best restaurants in Chinatown? Do you want to shop? You tell me, we work it out together.  Approximately 5 hours.

My rates are reasonable, I can and do accommodate groups of up to 20.  These are walking tours, meaning I do not provide transportation.  We use the subways when traveling to different areas.  I can be contacted nycmovieplace@aol.com.  Include your desired tour dates, what you want to see and how many people.  Many things can effect the length of time on a tour; subway delays, weather, how fast a walker the group is and how much I talk (my wife, kids and most of the tour bus drivers I have worked with say I talk too much).  

The Roxy Theater, one of New York City's greatest lost palaces.

This is the late, great, much missed largest theater in the world (for a while), birth place of what became the Rockettes and "The Cathedral of the Motion Picture". The 5,920 seat Roxy Theatre. This, by the way is the opening of this palace, March 11, 1927 and this is also the north east corner of 50th street and 7th Avenue.

The idea for the largest motion picture theater in the world was brain child of a movie producer named Herbert Lubin. Mr. Lubin wanted to build the largest and most luxurious house in New York City. The Times Square area saw a good deal of movie palace construction in the late teens and early 20's. These were lavish, overblown and beautiful houses catering to audiences that wanted to be entertained in a luxurious environment. With one of the biggest stages ever built for a theater on Broadway, The Strand Theater opened in 1914. At 2989 seats this was one of the earliest movie palaces to hit Broadway, Broadway at 47th street to be specific. Only five years later The Capitol opened in 1919 on 50th street and Broadway at 5230 seats. Both of these theaters were designed by my favorite architect Thomas Lamb.
The movie and stage show combination lasted at these theaters until the early 50's with a few years during the depression that saw no action on those big stages. The shows may have stopped for a while but rest assured, the mighty Wurlitzer organs rose from the depths of their pits to entertain between pictures.

The competition was fierce, each theater had to be the biggest and the best. This is a color rendering done by the decorating firm, The Rambusch Decorating Company, in conjunction with the Roxy's architect Walter Ahlschlager, giving those involved an idea what the finished product would look like. In the days before computer rendering, an oil painting would have to suffice.

 The name "Roxy" was the preferred nickname of Samuel Rothafel. Born in Brooklyn but raised in Minnesota, this former Marine became the showman of the 1920's. He successfully combined motion pictures with vaudeville. He moved to New York City and worked his magic first at the Regent Theater in Harlem. He then moves down to the Times Square area where he performs his wonders at the old Rialto, The Rivoli, The Strand and The Capitol.  His shows are so successful that he eventually gets his own radio show. Broadcasting from the Capitol Theater, Roxy has an audience of over 5 million and receives thousands of fan letters a week.  After so much success with other people's theaters, it was eventually time for Roxy to have his own.

 When Roxy did get his own theater, it was the biggest. Everything about the theater was big. During the silent era it was not un-common for a big palace to have an orchestra play along with the picture in addition to the stage show. In this case the orchestra was a 110 person affair. This is a shot from house left looking down at the orchestra which has risen up from it's depths below to stage level. The largest Kimball organ ever constructed was operated by three consoles rising in the front of the pit.
With the pulpits on either side of the proscenium arch, you can see why this house was referred to as "the cathedral of the motion picture".

The balcony was very step indeed. The auditorium was on the shallow side and the stage was oddly shaped. The stage was a triangle but the center line of the stage did not meet up with the what I guess would be one of the angles that compose a triangle. That angle was off to the side. It was a real pain for set designers.
The plan had been to build the big Roxy and then to build several other "satellite" Roxy's. One such satellite was begun but due to cost overruns and escalating costs with the main Roxy, the unfinished satellite theater was sold and completed by a different owner.  The final cost of the Roxy was 12 million dollars.

 12 million dollars that is. That figure put the idea of satellite Roxy's on a back burner so far back it might as well have been Cleveland. Only one of the satellites was under way and that had to be sold to finish the big Roxy.
The Roxy was staffed by a myriad of professionals all out to produce the biggest and best stage shows. In addition to the master showman, there was producer Leon Leonidoff, choreographer Russell Markert, and conductor Erno Rapee. Almost every week the show was changed (along with the picture) and a new show was produced by Roxy and his producer Leonidoff.

Choreographer Russell Markert came east from the Great Plains with his Missouri Rockets, a line of precision, high kicking dancers. He eventually made it all the way to New York and to Roxy and the Roxy were the Missouri Rockets became the Roxyettes. They joined the Roxy ballet company, the male chorus and lavish support facilities which included five floors of private and chorus dressing rooms, huge rehearsal rooms, a costume department, dry-cleaning and laundry rooms, a barber shop and hairdresser, a completely equipped infirmary, dining room, and a menagerie for show animals. There were also private screening room seating 100, as well as a cafeteria, gymnasium, billiard room, nap room, library and showers.
This is the view from the stage looking towards house left over the orchestra pit which looks like it might be at the height at which it would have been in to play for the feature picture. The organ consoles are visible at the downstage area of the pit.
Among the many innovations at the Roxy, the projection booth was placed in a cut in the center of the balcony. This allowed for a straight on throw from the booth, instead of the typical angle from a booth all the way up at the back of the balcony.
The stage was very wide; and even with it's two stage elevators it was very shallow.

 I love this picture. It is a very full orchestra pit all the way up to "overture level". Roxy had begun what became a successful radio program on N.B.C. while he was at the Capitol and he carried the show over to his new theater. Another feature of this palace was the radio studio from which "Roxy and his gang" would broadcast from. This made the Roxy Theater even more popular and known nation wide. During the construction period, costs went spiraling out of control. The man behind this idea, Herbert Lubin, was $2.5 million over budget and near bankruptcy, sold his controlling interest a week before the theater opened to movie mogul and theater owner William Fox for $5 million. This ended the idea or hopes for the "satellite Roxy's" to be built around New York. However, construction had begun on one satellite theater and was almost finished but cash was needed to complete "the cathedral". This theater was sold to Warner Brothers who completed it and opened it as the Warner Beacon in 1929. At 3,154 seats The Beacon, as it is known today, was the largest movie palace left in Manhattan until movies were no longer shown there as of 1986. It was designed by the same architect as the Roxy, Walter W. Ahlschlager.

This is the Grand Rotunda at the Roxy. It contained it's very own Kimball organ (to entertain patrons who were waiting for the next show) and the largest oval rug in the world. Oval, not square or rectangle, but oval. When the Roxy Midway, as it was to be called, was sold to the Warner Brothers, it was partially completed. The framework was in place and theater was physically laid out; the stage, for example is set into a triangle the same exact way the stage at the Roxy was except not as big. It was still wide and shallow and looking in at the loading door on Amsterdam Avenue you are looking almost straight into the house. The auditorium at the Beacon had not yet decorated. Since was no longer going to be part of that Roxy Gang, alterations were made to the design of the auditorium so it looks nothing like the Roxy. The inner lobby was finished however and it is a 1/4 scale version of the "Grand Rotunda" at the Roxy.

 This is the outer lobby and box office area of the Roxy. The outer lobby and box office area and, I believe, all or part of the Grand Rotunda were constructed within the Hotel Taft structure. That hotel was built with the entrance to the Roxy on it's south eastern corner, 50th and Seventh Avenue. A very similar arrangement to the Beacon hotel and the Roxy Midway (now the Beacon Theater). Note the marble floor with the Roxy logo inlaid.  This area is now occupied by "America's Largest Friday's". Now there is an achievement.

This is the same area as pictured below but with people in it. That is a Roxy usher standing at attention on the right. Cole Porter was right when he wrote the lyrics for "You're The Top" , those are some nice pants on that Roxy usher.
It appears that this is a later photo of the outer / box office lobby. The floor has been altered and what looks like a panel of mirrors have replaced the curtained transoms just above the ticket booths.

This is a line heading to the Roxy and all that this "World Famous Theater" showing only "Outstanding Motion Pictures in Stereophonic Sound and in CinemaScope". This is obviously the 1950's and if I remember correctly, this is a line to get into see the first movie in CinemaScope "The Robe" starring Victor Mature. In the old days children, a big picture would open at a handful of theaters. This may have been the only theater in Manhattan, for example, that this picture would have played in before moving on to neighborhood or second run houses.
You would think that with a line like this that the Roxy was forever in the black and reaping in the dough. Not so, as the theater suffered dramatically in it's early years. After William Fox bought out the nearly bankrupt Herbert Lubin, The Roxy was forced to show some very inferior Fox products, movies that would not put them in seats. It was not until 1942, ten years after Roxy's departure from his beloved cathedral that things started to turn around for the big house.
A. J. Balaban, co-founder of the Balaban & Katz theater chain of Chicago, began nearly a ten year term as Executive Director of the Roxy. He had been retired from the business but coaxed into the job by Spyros Skouras, the head of the Roxy's parent company National Theatres, as well as 20th Century-Fox Studios. Now superior 20th Century -Fox product would open at the Roxy. Mr. Balaban also turned his attention to the stage shows presented at the Roxy. The Roxy held on to the movie and stage show combination long after most theaters discontinued the practice.

In addition to installing ice on the stage Mr. Balaban would engage popular acts such as The Nicholas Brothers, Milton Berle, Cab Calloway and "The Poet of the Piano" Carmen Cavallaro. This is a photo of one Mr. Balaban's more interesting engagements. For two weeks in September of 1950, the New York Philharmonic along with soprano Eileen Farrell, were the show. Four times a day between showings of the 20th Century Fox feature, The Black Rose starring Orson Welles and Tyrone Power.
The orchestra appears to be on the pit lift which looks as if it is at stage level. Except for a few empty rows on the sides of the balcony and loge, the house looks pretty full. This photo affords a great view of how and where the projection booth was situated.

This all star blockbuster opened in December of 1950. Big openings were not just the realm of Hollywood. Mr. Balaban knew how to throw a premiere.
After Roxy left, he went over to work on the opening of Radio City Music Hall. He took his production staff with when he headed east to 6th Avenue. Originally planned to be called The International Music Hall, Radio City Music Hall opened to the public on December 27, 1932 with a huge stage show featuring Ray Bolger and Martha Graham. The opening was meant to be a return to high-class vaudeville. The new format was not a success. The program was incredibly long and individual acts were lost in this enormous very deep (as opposed to the shallow more intimate Roxy) hall. On January 11, 1933, the Music Hall converted to the then familiar format of a feature film with a spectacular stage show perfected by Rothafel and produced by Leon Leonidoff at the Roxy Theatre. It was this production staff that left a legacy that includes the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show. Musical Director Erno Rappe worked continuously that first year. He also drove the Radio City Music Hall orchestra with one iron fist holding the baton and the other holding a bull whip. A story handed down to me by my father about Rappe is when asked for a day off from one of the pit musicians who had been working for almost a year without a break, Rappe replied "You can take a week off, you can take a month off, but if you miss one day of work you're fired".

In 1950, CBS asked Lucille Ball to take her popular radio show My Favorite Husband to television. She saw this possible television show as a great opportunity to work with Desi Arnaz to whom she had been married to since 1940. It would keep them both in Hollywood and perhaps save their shaky marriage. Lucy insisted that Desi play her husband. CBS was reluctant because Arnaz was Cuban. Network executives believed that audiences would not accept the marriage between an all-American girl and a Latin man. To prove CBS wrong, the couple developed a vaudeville act, written by Bob Caroll and Madeline Pugh, writers on the My Favorite Husband program who went on to write (or be part of the team that wrote) every I Love Lucy episode. They took this act on the road with Arnaz's orchestra, playing the big picture houses as the stage show. The act was a hit and convinced CBS executives that a Ball-Arnaz pairing would be a worthwhile venture. One of the stops on this tour was The Roxy, obviously. In fact, that's Desi in the white blazer under the marquee.
Desi was appearing with his orchestra here at the Roxy in 1940 when Lucy came east from Hollywood. On November 30th 1940, Lucy and Desi went to Connecticut (there was no waiting period once you had a marriage license) got married and headed back to New York where she was introduced as Mrs. Desi Arnaz on stage at the Roxy.

This is the center console of the Roxy Theater Kimball Organ. When Rothafel moved over to the Radio City Music Hall, the new Roxy management decided to extend the stage apron out over the orchestra pit. When this architectural miscarriage was committed, not only was the pit elevator immobilized, this act of vandalism left the consoles entombed in the basement. In addition, New York City fire codes required that the fireproofing between the house and the stage go up to the apron line. To do this, the massive organ pipes behind grilles on either side of the proscenium had to be walled up behind cinder blocks. A valiant effort to save the organ was made. The new management team talked about relocating the pipework. The Kimball people suggested that all the pipework be placed on one side of the auditorium. An estimate was obtained but the Roxy management balked at the cost of the work so the organ fell silent and the three consoles were moved to a warehouse.
Then came the happy order to move the master console from the warehouse back to the theater. When the console arrived, it was placed up in a little balcony on the left side of the proscenium, where it remained until the early 1950's. The organ had to be amplified due the cinder blocking. So the worst possible amplification system was employed; the organ sounded strangely muffled as it was amplified through the house public address system. The distortion and limited frequency response of the PA system. In addition, this system could hardly do justice to the big Kimball sound... but at least it was organ music.

This is the death of The Roxy. The big house closed on March 30th 1960 and demolition begun not long after. This is a picture of Gloria Swanson standing in the rubble of what appears to be the Grand Rotunda. She was there at the beginning, her picture The Love of Sunya opened the cathedral so it is fitting that she is there at the end.
As I have said, everything about this place was over-sized. The tuned tubular bells, the longest at 21 feet and so large they had to be installed while the house was under construction, fell victim to the wrecking ball. Not much could be recycled, except for part of the organ and the center console, which is now in Las Vegas. Once the rubble was cleared, a nondescript office building rose in it's place.
As for Roxy, the master showman, he passed away in 1936. His magic all used up, he could not save the gigantic Mastbaum Theater in Philadelphia. The man who helped move movies out of the nickelodeons, who created a special atmosphere in every theater that he touched, the man who told the New York Central Railroad that their 20th Century Limited should have a red carpet rolled out to meet the train both coming in and going out (they listened), faded into the history books of show business.
This photo, the inspiration for the musical Follies, ends my Roxy revere.