Little Bits of History

Roxy Theater

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 11, 2012

Interior of the Roxy Theater

March 11, 1927: The Roxy Theater opens in New York City. The theater held 5,920 patrons and the marquee proclaimed it the “World’s Largest and Greatest Theater.” The first movie shown was The Love of Sunya starring and produced by Gloria Swanson. The Broadway theater was also used for opulent stage productions. Herbert Lubin wanted to build the world’s largest movie house. In mid-1925 he got in touch with impresario and successful theater operator, Samuel L. Rothafel, aka Roxy.

Roxy was born in Stillwater, Minnesota in 1882 and was a silent film fan. In 1914 he was hired by Mitchell Mark to manage the Mark Strand Theater, the first Movie Palace in New York City. The theater opened in 1913 and cost $1 million (~ $22 million in today’s dollars) to build. These huge theaters were called “palaces” and were designed to make movie goers feel like royalty. The palaces lured the upper middle class into the theaters and gave the medium a bit of cachet. Roxy went on to create his own Palace as well as manage several others.

Roxy was the brains behind the Roxy Theater. He was made an offer he couldn’t refuse – a large salary, a percentage of the profits, stock options, and naming rights. Roxy brought in Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager and decorator Harold Rambusch. The plot of land was an irregular shape giving Ahlschlager an extra challenge. Every inch of space was used and the two specialists were consulted on every detail while building and furnishing the theater. Costs skyrocketed with over spending at $2.5 million with the total cost for building the Roxy a staggering $12 million (~ $151 million today).

The new theater was called the “Cathedral of the Motion Picture.” The grand and magnificently designed theater had the world’s largest oval rug in the “Grand Foyer.” They could accommodate an orchestra of 110 pieces in the orchestra pit and had a three-console pipe organ which could have all three keyboards in use simultaneously. The majority owner was Fox Film Corporation. Fox was having its own troubles which exacerbated the financial woes at Roxy Theater. Rothafel left the theater in 1932 and opened Radio City Music Hall in Rockefeller Center. He brought in a precision dance group and called them Roxyettes. Their named changed back to Rockettes in later years. The Roxy Theater was closed on March 20, 1960 and was demolished later that year.

Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater. – Roman Polanski

You know, when I first went into the movies Lionel Barrymore played my grandfather.  Later he played my father and finally he played my husband.  If he had lived I’m sure I would have played his mother.  That’s the way it is in Hollywood.  The men get younger and the women get older. – Lillian Gish

There are only three ages for women in Hollywood – Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy. – Goldie Hawn

From the first moment on the set I was consumed with curiosity about the technical side of shooting a sound picture. – Gloria Swanson

Also on this day:

Freedom of the Press? – In 1702, England got its first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant.
Great Sheffield Flood – In 1864, the South Yorkshire, England region was flooded after a dam failed.
LAX – In 1882, the Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association was formed.

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