Monday, February 27, 2012

The Academy of Music otherwise known as The Palladium

In 1854 New York's first successful large scale opera house opened on the north side of 14th street at the intersection with Irving Place. There had been opera houses before, but not with a capacity of 4000 seats. There had been the Italian Opera House built in 1833 by Lorenzo Da Ponte as a home for his new New York Opera Company, which lasted only two seasons. In 1847, the Astor Opera House opened on Astor Place, only to close several years later after the infamous riot provoked by competing performances of Macbeth by English actor William Charles Macready at the Opera House and American Edwin Forrest at the nearby Broadway Theatre. After the Metropolitan Opera House established itself as the opera house in New York in 1883, the Academy of music stopped presenting opera in 1886.  The Academy of Music was not long for this world or 14th street. After being taken over by William Fox, the old Academy, with it's 5 balconies, went legit for a while then Vaudeville, then movie and Vaudeville.  Then Con Ed (who owned the land that the theater and it's neighbor Tammany Hall were on) expanded it's headquarters. The Academy was demolished in 1926.

William Fox knew what was coming and purchased a plot across 14th Street, hired his (and mine) favorite architect, Thomas Lamb and opened a 3600 seat theater “Built to withstand the Ages— Dedicated to future generations,” as the publicity stated. This picture is from 1931 and vaudeville is still a feature at the Academy of Music. The marquee advertises the appearance of Barto and Mann. Dewey Barto (1896–1973) and George Mann (1905 — 1977) were a comedic dance act known as the "laugh kings" of vaudeville.  From the late 1920s to the early 1940s Barto and Mann toured the country and every marquee with their name on it was photographed by George Mann.  Their acrobatic, somewhat risqué, performance played on their disparities in height; Barto was 4'11" and Mann was 6'6. Dewey Barto was Nancy Walker (Rhoda's TV mother) father.

 The lobby just after opening in 1926.

House left. This must be one of the first houses Thomas Lamb designed that did not include boxes. His Loew's 83rd Street built the same year did have boxes and was built for the same purpose, movies and vaudeville. All the way over on the left side of the pit there appears to be a Mighty Wurlitzer which ultimately fell into disrepair but was restored and played on October 28th, 1968 in what was billed as "Sounds Of The Silents". The organ had been restored by The Theater Organ Society of New York. The Academy opened with a 60 piece orchestra to play for the feature picture as well as the show.

   This is house left again from the balcony. 

From 1964 through 1978 the Academy became a rock venue. During this time, the Academy became less and less of a first run house and finally stopped showing movies by 1975. During the day the bill included double and triple features of kung fu pictures. In 1971 the Fillmore East closed and the Academy was born again as the premire smaller than Madison Square Garden venue for rock music shows. Everyone played here, from the Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Yes, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Band, even AC/DC had their American debut here. The name change to Palladium came in 1976. 

January 7th, 1978 to be specific. The downtown location made this house the ideal location for this show.

And this one too. This must have been an incredible show.

Progress? In 1985 after being forced to sell their Studio 54, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell converted the Palladium into a night club. Architecture firm Arata Isozaki & Associates redesigned the space.

The Dome looking towards where the stage used to be.

What was left of the old Academy was restored but it was blocked by the improvements. In 1998 the Palladium closed, was sold to NYU and was demolished the Academy of Music and replaced it with Palladium Hall, a dormitory.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Destruction leads to revelation

I am so glad I got a smart phone with a good camera. This is on 125th street back on January 8th 2012. I am facing north and the building on the north side of 125 has recently come down. The demolition revealed this advertisement for Theo. F. Tone & Co. It seems they sold coal and that they had a Harlem office.  The right half of the ad indicates that they had a yard on 12th avenue on what looks like 133rd street. This makes sense as 12th avenue would be next to the Hudson River which would be the way large amounts of coal could be delivered to a distribution point. This is similar to the coal faciltiy on 96th street and Riverside pictured below (as a reminder of what used to be before Robert Moses put the West Side Highway there). The ad was painted on the entire east facing wall and it appears to have covered up an earlier ad.

Friday, February 3, 2012

42nd Street and the theater with 3 names over 80 years.

As 42nd Street was becoming the "Avenue I'm taking you to", the center of the theater district that migrated up Broadway since the 18th century, there were those who believed that this street could also be home to business (other than show) development. In this case a speculatively built 24 story white Terra cotta office tower skyscraper that ultimately nodded to the neighborhood by including a theater.  This gleaming white tower was built by the Coca Cola Company and opened in 1913. For a brief period it was the tallest structure in New York north of 24th street (the Metropolitan Life tower in Madison Square was the tallest building in the world from 1909 until 1913 when the Woolworth Building opened). The person behind this plan was Asa Griggs Candler who purchased a failing soft drink company in 1891 for $2300. By 1917 Coca Cola was the world's most recognized trademark. And Candler joined other out of state investors in improving our skyline (the Flatiron Building for example was built by foreign money - all the way from Chicago) by adding his New York office here on "The Deuce".  Not satisfied with his name on the door to the building, he got his name on a marquee. The Candler Theater was designed by, who else, Thomas Lamb.

You entered on 42nd street but the theater itself was on 41rst street. This is the same set up for the New Amsterdam which was just to the east and the Liberty Theater which was to the west of the Candler. What this meant was when you went to one of these theaters you had to walk down a long narrow lobby to get to the theater. The main reason for this was that the land was cheaper on 41rst and 43rd streets (because this happened on the north side of 42nd as well) and more theaters could be built if there was a sort of alternation between one theater on 41rst and the next on 42nd. The Eltinge Theater, when it was in it's original location, stood infront of the Liberty Theater's auditorium. Both theaters were entered from 42nd but the Eltinge was really on 42nd. In addition to the land being a cheaper purchase, the taxes on the 41rst and 43rd street parcels, usually the larger structure, would be lower. This fact played a role in determining the future of 42nd street as the grip of the Great Depression took hold.

The candler was finished by May of 1914 but the first production to open was on August 19th, 1914 was The Trial by Elmer Rice. Presented by the producing team of Sam H. Harris and George M. Cohan the production ran a respectable 365 performances.

This was the second production in the Candler which ran 245 performances. Look at those prices. What is even more shocking is that people made money with runs lasting 245 performances before the show would go on the road. In 1916 the Candler was renamed the Cohan & Harris Theater. In 1921 Cohan left the partnership and the Cohan & Harris became just the Harris Theater. This was the name of the theater for the rest of it's existence. In 1922, theater history is made with Tyrone Power Sr. as Claudius King of Denmark and John Barrymore as Hamlet in a limited run revival (aren't all Shakespeare productions revivals?). John Barrymore broke the record for playing Hamlet 101 nights in a row, the run was 101 performances. The previous record was set Edwin Booth of only a mere 100 nights in a row.

This behind the orchestra section. The ceiling of the 1200 seat house contained an elliptical shallow dome, ringed by Art-Nouveau style chandeliers in a floral theme, not unlike those at the New Amsterdam next door.  With one balcony and boxes on either side of the proscenium arch, the Italian Baroque auditorium included gilded plasterwork around the proscenium and a general color scheme of ivory and gold. Its 25-foot wide marble lobby had 17th Century style wall panels, decorated in floral patterns (floral patterns seemed to have been a theme running throughout the house). Its foyers were decorated with tapestries depicting scenes from Shakespeare.

The last live production at the Harris opened January 16th 1933 and ran for 70 performances. Not too good. The play in one act was written and produced by George M. Cohan. When this production moved out in March of 1933, movies moved in for good.  This appears to be what the movie screen set up looked like when the change over happened. The Candler was built with a projection booth so the change over was not so dramatic. Only when movies went wide screen after 1953 was there a need to alter the decor by removing the boxes or other similar "improvements".  So for 61 more years, the Harris remained a 42nd Street triple feature grind house, losing most of its original décor, including the tapestries, the chandeliers, and the side boxes during that time.

This is how most of us remember the Harris. The theater went dark forever in 1994 although there were hopes that the magic of Disney that took over the severely scarred New Amsterdam would happen here. No such luck as it was demolished in 1996 to make room for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.