New York, NY 10020
Date Opened: 29th December 1932.
Owner: John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Seating capacity: 3510.
Opening film: “Animal Kingdom” starring Myrna Loy and Leslie Howard.
Architects: Edward Durell Stone / Reinhardt, Hoffmeister, Hood & Fouilhoux.
Date closed as a cinema/theatre: 1950. Building demolished.
Owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr., this spectacular Art Deco themed cinema/theatre was built on a prominent site in the South Block of the Rockefeller Centre at 6th Avenue & 49th Street, New York.
The facade of the RKO Roxy was modernistic, with a slim marquee and tall vertical red & orange letters, framed in blue neon, against a grey metal backdrop made the signage very effective.
Originally known as the New RKO Roxy Theatre, it’s Gala Opening took place on 29th December 1932 with a stage show and the feature film, “Animal Kingdom” starring Myrna Loy and Leslie Howard. It’s larger sister theatre, Radio City Music Hall had opened just two days earlier with a stage show only production, produced and choreographed by ‘Roxy’ Rothafel.
The huge main entrance foyer had three cash desks and the Grand Foyer had five large windows made by Corning, the opaque glass blocks rose from pavement level and had two exit doors within them. Above the windows as viewed from the street was a giant metal and enamel bas-relief, named “Radio & Television Encompassing the Earth”. It was designed by Hildreth Meiere.
Several large globe light fittings set at various heights provided the defused lighting. In this foyer were rich red and gold fabric decorations with Bubinga mahogany walls and vermilion faced doors leading into the theatre. A wide staircase and elevators were situated in this foyer to take customers to the higher levels, or to the Grand Lounge situated at basement level.
The dimensions of the auditorium were vast with a height of seventy five feet and a proscenium aperture of sixty feet in width and the height extended from the stage floor to the ceiling.
The ceiling was beautifully decorated with Greek mythology figures and dominated centrally by an enormous chandelier that was twenty five foot in diameter, with a weight of six tons. More than 400 light bulbs provided 104.000 watts of light. This unique chandelier had an integral fan cooling system.
The auditorium walls were paneled with African mahogany. Three balconies each accommodated 406, 559 and 655 seats respectively, while the stalls seated 1890, totaling a 3510 seat capacity.
A mighty Wurlitzer was installed. It had 4 manuals and 34 ranks and was opened by organist Betty Gould.
In March 1933, the New York premiere of the iconic movie “King Kong” was shared with the Radio City Music Hall. Both theatres putting on an elaborate stage show, “Jungle Rhythms”, before the film.
A legal challenge took place during 1933 by the owners of the original Roxy Theatre to force the name Roxy to be taken off the building. Consequently, on 22nd December 1933 the name was shortened to RKO Centre Theatre. A year later, RKO was removed from the theatre’s name when it was simply known as the Centre Theatre. At this time the theatre began showing more double feature second run films and put on it’s first legitimate stage production of “The Great Waltz”. When this run ended the theatre attempted to return to showing films.
In 1940 the New York premiere of Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” was screened at the Centre Theatre. However, films were not successful at this site and the owners decided to revert back to theatrical productions which sometimes included Ice Spectaculars.
In 1950 the theatre closed and NBC converted it into studios. NBC’s tenure was brief. When their lease expired in May 1954, it was not offered for renewal as a decision had already been taken that the building was to be demolished to make way for a skyscraper that would become an integral part of the Rockerfella Centre.
The building was demolished later that year.