Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Riviera Theatre

 The Riviera, behind the orchestra section.
 The screen is lit quite possibly by footlights. I have often wondered if they were original.  The red curtains cover the damage done by the removal of the boxes. The Riverside had some sort of lighting on the stage at this point as evidenced in the pictures below, not the case with the Riviera. Both houses underwent renovations in the 1950's. It was at this time that the Skouras Brothers owned the theaters.
The brothers Skouras started in St. Louis in distribution and exhibition and eventually went into production. Spyros Skouras became prsident of 20th Century Fox in 1942 and was instrumental in introducing Cinemascope. With this new wide screen process came the removal of boxes in many theaters across the country. Somewhere there is a pile of old discarded boxes.

 The Skouras brothers were notorious "modernizers". As you can see in these photos, there are not only no more boxes but no more orchestra pits as well. Very often orchestra pits were covered over to add an extra row or two of seats. In some cases, the Mighty Wurlitzer (or similar organ) would be left on it's lift, at the basement level, covered over by concrete slabs. Although there were multiple organ (Wurlitzer and Morton) installations at both the Riverside and Riviera, I am not sure what happened to them or where they ended up.  I do know that the organ up in the Japanese Gardens was abandoned and vandalized.

 This is the mural on the sound board above the proscenium arch. Due to the terrible lighting it is hard to make out what it represents in this picture.
I read a story written by the man who took these photos. His real quest that day was to not only photograph these two theaters but also to photograph the Japanese Gardens above the Riviera.  The two elevators that went up there were had been out of commission for years. The stair case that went up to the Gardens from the elevator lobby had been sealed off long ago. According to the floor plans for the Riviera Building, there were no connections between the theaters and the office building. The only way they found to get into the Japanese Gardens was through 5 floors of Riviera dressing rooms, described as dark, dank and musty.

 This is a digitally enhanced picture. Obviously, demolition has begun. The lighting in this case is mostly natural light. The mural on the sound board appears to be one of those life at Versailles pastoral images. Very Rococo. This mural, along with the murals in the Riverside, were probably not saved. This was in the pre-Urban Archeology days and nothing was saved or recycled.

 I digitally enhanced this picture as well. Once I scanned these pictures into my iPhoto, I became convinced that there was more to the pictures than what I was seeing.
Demolition on the Riviera began close to ten years after the collapse of the Riverside. The site, which almost played host to Gimbel's West, was a garden for many years. When the building that eventually went up on the site was built, the displaced garden moved to Riverside Park as is called the Community Garden.

 This is the un - enhanced, original version of the above picture. The theaters were photographed as discussion about their demise was bandied about. Alexanders had expressed a great deal of interest in the site for a new store, apartment tower and new single screen theater. Gimbel's had offered pretty much the same deal. However, neighborhood opposition to creating an overwhelmingly commercial area, at 96th and Broadway, scaled back the development to a 30 story tower of studios and one bedrooms (to meet the need of an ever growing swinging singles segment of society since the city was attracting a younger, less family oriented population and families were moving to the suburbs - or so the developer believed). However, there were a few cries about preservation, maybe 4.

 The wood frame structure on the stage was probably for the movie screen. The speaker horns are clearly visible behind the wooden frame. Again this is an enhanced picture.

 This is a digitally enhanced view of the stage. I do not believe that these photos were taken by the photographer of the "before" pictures. He was just an enthusiastic amateur theater historian, as far as I can tell, and the condition of the Riviera looks precarious.

 In an earlier post, I cryptically stated that after the Riverside collapsed and emergency personnel had dug through the debris for days, that no bodies were found - at that time. The two theaters were built a year apart, the Riverside (which had a longer construction period) in opening in 1912 and The Riviera in 1913, and were entirely separate buildings. There were connections made in the basement years later and it was during the demolition of the Riviera that,according to local legend and lore, two bodies were found in what was left of a connector passage between the still standing Riviera and the no longer with us Riverside.

The last of the Riviera. "We will be judged not by what we have built, but by what we have destroyed" said the New York Times in an editorial about the destruction of the old Pennsylvania Station. How sad and true. The site, now the home to one of the least attractive buildings on the upper west side, was once an elegant entertainment complex that could seat almost 5000 at any given moment was certainly a gift. The entire complex was designed by Thomas Lamb, who also designed the Eltinge.

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