Roxy Theatre (New York City)

Roxy Theatre (New York City)

:"For other people and places named Roxy see: Roxy and Roxy Theatre"Infobox Venue
name = The Roxy Theatre

image_caption = The Roxy Theatre 1927 postcard
nickname = The Roxy
location = 153 West 50th St., New York NY 10020
coordinates =
type = Movie Palace
genre = Films and Stage shows
broke_ground =
built = 1926
opened = March 11, 1927
renovated =
expanded =
closed = March 29, 1960
demolished = 1960
owner = Fox Theatres
former_names =
seating_type = fixed
seating_capacity = 6,214
website =
The Roxy Theatre in New York City was a 6,214 seat movie theater at 153 West 50th Street at 7th Avenue. It opened on March 11, 1927 with the silent film "The Love of Sunya" produced by and starring Gloria Swanson. The huge movie palace was a leading Broadway film showcase through the 1950's and was also noted for its lavish stage shows. It closed and was demolished in 1960.

Early History

The Roxy Theatre was conceived by film producer Herbert Lubin (nephew of film pioneer Siegmund Lubin) in mid-1925 as the world's largest and finest motion picture palace. To realize his dream, he brought in the successful and innovative theater operator Samuel L. Rothafel, aka "Roxy", to bring it to fruition, [Melnick, Ross. "Rethinking Rothafel: Roxy's Forgotten Legacy", The Moving Image 3:2, Fall 2003, pp 62-95.] enticing him with a large salary, percentage of the profits, stock options and offering to name the theatre after him. [Bloom, Ken. Broadway: Its History, People, and Places: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004. p.462] It was to be the first of several planned Roxy Theatres in the New York area.

Roxy determined to make his theater the summit of his career and in it realize all of his theatrical design and production ideas. He worked with Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager and decorator Harold Rambusch of Rambusch Decorating Company on every aspect of the theatre's design and furnishings. Ahlschlager succeeded in an efficient plan for the irregular plot of land, which utilized every bit of space, and featured a diagonal auditorium plan with the stage in one corner of the lot. The design maximized the theater's size and seating capacity but compromised the function of its triangular stage.

Roxy's lavish ideas and his many changes ran up costs dramatically. Shortly after the theater's opening, Lubin, who was $2.5 million over budget and near bankruptcy, sold his controlling interest to movie mogul and theater owner William Fox for $12-15 million. [Bloom. pp.462-463] With Lubin's exit, Roxy's dreams of his own theater circuit also ended. Only one of the projected Roxy chain was built, the planned Roxy Midway Theatre on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, also designed by Ahlschlager. The nearly complete theater was sold to Warner Brothers who opened it as Warner's Beacon in 1929.

Design and innovation

Known as the "Cathedral of the Motion Picture," the Roxy's design by Ahlschlager featured a soaring golden, Spanish-inspired auditorium, and a lobby in the form of a large columned rotunda called the "Grand Foyer," which featured "the world's largest woven rug." Off the rotunda was the long entrance lobby, with its own pipe organ, leading from the theatre's box office and street entrance, located in the corner of the adjacent building, the Hotel Taft at Seventh Ave. and W. 50th St.

In addition to the enormous public areas, the theatre also boasted two stories of private dressing rooms, three floors of 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 the show's animals. There were also myriad offices, a private screening room seating 100, and massive engine rooms for the electrical, ventilating and heating machinery. The Roxy's large staff enjoyed a cafeteria, gymnasium, billard room, nap room, library and showers. [Bloom. p.464]

The theatre's stage innovations included a rising orchestra pit which could accommodate an orchestra of 110 and a Kimball theater pipe organ with three consoles which could be played simultaneously. The film projection booth was recessed into the front of the balcony to prevent film distortion caused by the usual angled projection from the top rear wall of a theater. This enabled the Roxy to have the sharpest film image for its time.

Courteous service to the patron was part of the Roxy formula. The theatre's uniformed corps of male ushers were known for their military bearing and efficiency. They underwent rigorous training, daily inspections and drill. Any who dared insult a patron were immediately fired. The ushers were even immortalized by Cole Porter in a verse of the song "You're the Top" in 1932.

The Roxy presented major Hollywood films in programs that also included a 110-member symphony orchestra (the world's largest permanent orchestra at that time), a solo theater pipe organ, a male chorus, a ballet company and a famous line of female precision dancers, the "Roxyettes". Elaborate stage spectacles were created each week to accompany the feature film, all under the supervision of Rothafel. The theater's orchestra and performers were also featured in an NBC radio program with Roxy himself as host. "The Roxy Hour", was broadcast live weekly from the theater's own radio studio. Thanks to the radio, the Roxy was known nation wide as the country's most celebrated movie venue.

The Roxy after "Roxy"

In spite of the theater's fame and success, the financial problems of its majority owner, the Fox Film Corporation, destabilized the Roxy's operations and it was often saddled with inferior films. In 1932, Rothafel left the theater named for him to open the new Radio City Music Hall. Most of the Roxy's performers and artistic staff moved with him, including producer Leon Leonidoff, choreographer Russell Markert, and conductor Erno Rapee [ [ Obituary: Leon Leonidoff, 95 by Richard F. Shepard, "The New York Times", August 1, 1989.] ] . The Roxyettes went on to greater fame at the Music Hall, becoming the "Rockettes", as they are still known today.

The Roxy never quite regained its former glory but remained a leading New York showcase for film and stage variety shows through the 1950's. Many noted performers of the era, such as the Nicholas Brothers, Carmen Cavallaro, and The Harmonicats appeared at the Roxy. For a time in the 1940's, the stage was covered with ice for weekly skating extravaganzas and in 1958 the New York Philharmonic appeared at the the theater playing an abbreviated concert program four times a day along with showings of the feature film.

Widescreen CinemaScope was introduced to New York at the Roxy with the premiere in 1953 of "The Robe". The Roxy had also introduced the original 70mm widescreen format, "Fox Grandeur" in 1930 with the premiere of "The Big Trail". Due to the depression economy however, the Roxy was one of only three theaters equipped for Grandeur and it never caught on. Another widescreen format, the three-projector Cinemiracle debuted on the huge Roxy screen as well with the film "Windjammer".

One of the last big combined shows was in 1959 with feature film "This Earth is Mine" starring Rock Hudson and Jean Simmons, followed by "The Big Circus". On the Roxy stage were Gretchen Wyler, The Blackburn Twins, Jerry Collins, and The Roxy Orchestra. Managing Director at this time was Robert C. Rothafel, the original Roxy's son.

The Roxy closed in 1960 after being acquired by Rockefeller Center, and was demolished. The theater's prime real estate was now more valuable than the income of a movie theater could justify. [ [,9171,873290,00.html "Curtains for the Roxy" "TIME", February 29, 1960] ] Gloria Swanson was photographed on October 14, 1960 for Life Magazine by photographer Eliot Elisofon in the midst of the ruins during the theater's demolition.

The spectacular stage and screen programming ideas of the Roxy's founder continued at Radio City Music Hall into the 1970's. The Music Hall itself was saved from demolition by a consortium of preservation and commercial interests in 1979 and it remains one of New York's entertainment landmarks today.



* L'Estrange Fawcett: "Die Welt des Films." Amalthea Verlag, Zurich, Leipzig, Vienna 1928, p. 42 (German-speaking version, translated from English to German from C. Zell, with additions from S. Walter Fischer)

External links

* [ Life Magazine photo of Gloria Swanson in the ruins of the Roxy rotunda.]
* [ Roxy Theatre page on the Cinema Treasures website.]
* [ Original design concept painting of the interior of the Roxy Theatre] on display at the American Movie Palace Museum, Theatre Historical Society of America, Elmhurst, IL.
* [ Vintage photos of the theatre] Theatre Historical Society of America, Joe Coco Collection.

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