The enormous, 5,920-seat Roxy Theatre stood at the corner of 50th Street and Seventh Avenue from 1927 until it was demolished in 1960. Named after original owner Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882-1936), the Roxy was dubbed the “Cathedral of the Motion Picture” in a pre-opening advertisement in the March 6, 1927 New York (NY) Times.
Wikipedia: Roxy Theatre (New York City)
The Roxy Theatre in New York City was a 5,920 seat movie theater at 153 West 50th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. 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 1950s and was also noted for its lavish stage shows. It closed and was demolished in 1960.
The Roxy Theatre was conceived by film producer Herbert 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, enticing him with a large salary, percentage of the profits, stock options and offering to name the theatre after him. It was to be the first of six 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 a week before the theater opened to movie mogul and theater owner William Fox for $5 million. The final cost of the theater was $12 million. 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 oval rug.” Off the rotunda was a long entrance lobby, with its own pipe organ. This led to the theater’s main entrance which was located at the corner of Seventh Ave. and W. 50th St. in the building of the adjacent Manger Hotel (later called the Taft Hotel) which was built at the same time.
Wikipedia: Samuel Roxy Rothafel
Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel (9 July 1882, Stillwater, Minnesota - 13 January 1936, New York City) was a showman of the 1920s silent film era and the impresario for many of the great New York movie palaces that he managed such as the Strand, Rialto, Rivoli, Capitol, and his eponymous Roxy Theatre in New York City (opened March 11, 1927, demolished October 1960). He also opened Radio City Music Hall in 1932, which featured the precision dance troupe, the “Roxyettes”, later renamed the Rockettes.
Mitchell Mark hired Rothafel in 1914 to manage the Mark Strand Theater, the first genuine Movie Palace in New York City.
6 March 1927, New York (NY) Times, pg. E7 ad:
Theatre of the Motion Picture
50th STREET - 7th AVENUE
ROYX CIRCUIT Inc.
HERBERT LUBIN President
From Roxy’s dream penciled on the drawing-board of an artist-architect has arisen a mighty cathedral of the motion picture, filled with the rich tones of great organs and surpassing in beauty, magnificence and size all the great theatres and opera houses of the world.
26 March 1927, New York (NY) Times, pg. 1:
NEW ROXY THEATRE
PURCHASED BY FOX
Great Movie Playhouse Will Be
Capstone of Chain, All Under
DEAL INVOLVES $15,000,000.
New Financing Is Being Worked
Out—Stock Rises on the
The new Roxy Theatre, Seventh Avenue and Fiftieth Street, was sold yesterday by Herbert Lubin and associates to the Fox Theatre Corporation, it was announced by William Fox, President of the Fox Film Corporation andthe Fox Theatres Corporation. S. L. Rothafel (Roxy), who conceived the idea of the great playhouse, continues as the dircctor of the theatre and two new ones to be added to the Roxy chain under Fox control.
Just under two weeks, after the Roxy Theatre was opened with a gala performance it has become the capstone of the Fox organization. Roxy had styled the new theatre the “Cathedral of the Motion Picture” and had pointed to it as the crowning achievement of his career. Now, before the auditors counted the receipts for the second week, Mr. Fox takes it over and describes its acquisition also as the supreme achievement of his lifetime. The first week’s receipts were $127,000.
Cinema: Roxy’s on the Rocks
Monday, May. 30, 1932
“The Cathedral of the Motion Picture Art,” as Manhattan’s $10,000,000 Roxy Theatre used to advertise itself, went into receivership last week. Claimed as chief reason for the theatre’s present poverty was the fact that about a year ago Samuel Lionel (“Roxy”) Rothafel resigned to head Rockefeller Center’s entertainment department. But cinamen know that spectacular Roxy’s was unable to make satisfactory profits even when all its 6,000 seats were filled and when Roxy’s 118-piece symphony orchestra was a feature.
25 September 1961, New York (NY)
, “Tour Into Nostalgia Recalls Splendors Of Movie Palaces,” pg. 35:
As the group marched uptown, Mr. Hall traced the history of the plush-and-marble movie palaces that came to a climax in 1927 on the opening night of the Roxy. Since then, he said, things haven’t been quite the same.
Leaning over a wooden barrier at the former site of the Roxy, on Fiftieth Street off Seventh Avenue, the group looked nostalgically into the gaping excavation below where once stood the “Cathedral of the Motion Picture.”
New York (NY) Times
MOVIE THEATERS: FACTS AND FIGURES
By ANDREW L. YARROW
Published: Friday, June 26, 1987
Probably the grandest movie theater anywhere was Samuel (Roxy) Rothafel’s Roxy Theater, on 50th Street between Seventh Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas. Called the ‘‘Cathedral of the Motion Picture,’’ this 5,920-seat auditorium -built in 1927 and demolished in 1960 -boasted a 110-piece orchestra, a 100-person choral group, a lighting plant that could power a city of a quarter million, and a gold-leafed valentine from Gloria Swanson embedded in the dome of the five-story rotunda (ushers are said to have been dismissed for calling it the lobby).
New York (NY) Times
NEW YORK IN FOCUS; Now Showing: God
By DANIEL MAURER
Published: December 4, 2005
On the Roxy Theater’s opening night during the golden age of cinema in 1927, the auditorium went dark and a man in a monk’s robe, illuminated by a heavenly spotlight, proclaimed: ‘‘Ye portals bright, high and majestic, open to our gaze the path to Wonderland.’’ He continued: ‘‘Let every day’s toil be forgotten under the sheltering roof. O glorious, mighty hall, thy magic and thy charm unite us all to worship at beauty’s throne.’’
The theater’s builder, Samuel Rothafel, whose nickname was Roxy, hyped his house at West 50th Street, with its 21 chimes, as ‘‘The Cathedral of the Motion Picture,’’ but after the television replaced the movie screen as America’s idol, the Roxy was razed in 1960.