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.