On this Day in Movie History, March 11, 1927 Samuel Roxy Rothafel Opens the Roxy Theatre in NYC

March 11, 1927-New York City – Samuel Roxy Rothafel opened the famous Roxy Theatre in New York City. The showplace was indeed a palace. It cost $12,000,000 to build. Located at 153 West 50th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, just off Times Square in New York Cit, it was a 5,920 seat movie theater and had a 18-feet by 22-feet movie screen.

Originally conceived by film producer Herbert Lubin in mid-1925 as the world’s largest and finest motion picture palace, Roxy was 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 theater’s design and furnishings.

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. Ahlschlager succeeded in creating an efficient plan for the Roxy’s irregular plot of land, which utilized every bit of space by featuring a diagonal auditorium plan with the stage in one corner of the lot. The Roxy’s stage, while very wide, was not very deep and had limited space off stage.

Despite the stage limitations, the theater boasted lavish support facilities including two stories of private dressing rooms, three floors of chorus dressing rooms, huge rehearsal rooms, a costume department, staff dry-cleaning and laundry rooms, a barber shop and hairdresser, a completely equipped infirmary, dining room, and a menagerie for show animals. The Roxy’s large staff enjoyed a cafeteria, gymnasium, billiard room, nap room, library and showers.

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”. 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 Roxy’s radio popularity, his theater was known to radio listeners nationwide.

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 and RKO Roxy theaters at Rockefeller Center.

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 Roxy closed on March 29, 1960 after having been acquired by Rockefeller Center in 1956, and then sold to developer William Zeckendorf. Initially purchased to obtain air rights for the Time-Life Building, built to its east, it was finally demolished by Zeckendorf to expand the Taft Hotel and for an office building that is now connected to Time-Life.

1928 – Valerie French (Harrison) (actress: Jubal, The 27th Day; died Nov 3, 1990)

1935 – Nancy Kovack (actress: Diary of a Madman, Frankie and Johnny) 1935 – Nancy Kovack (actress: Diary of a Madman, Frankie and Johnny)

1948 – Dominique Sanda (Dominique Varaigne) (actress: Joseph, 1900, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, The Conformist, A Gentle Woman)

1952 – Susan Richardson (actress: Eight is Enough)


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