Japanese Roof Garden Theatre

2559 Broadway,
New York, NY 10025

Unfavorite 1 person favorited this theater

Showing 12 comments

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on June 7, 2018 at 8:36 am

A longitudinal drawing for the Japanese Roof Garden and the Riviera Theatre directly below it can be seen here

Rembert on January 10, 2014 at 12:19 am

The film with Don Johnson that was shot in the Japanese Garden Theatre is The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart of 1970. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGL6q_SHjYA One can see the ceiling at 1:18:22.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on September 3, 2011 at 12:00 am

Thanks Eileen, I was wondering where the Riverside and Riviera were in that photo.

joylav on September 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I just discovered this site and was thrilled to see the Japanese Garden and comments. I grew up on West End Ave. and 99 St. and my sister and I had a “shortcut” way to get to school at 93rd and Amsterdam – through a passageway in an apartmentat 98th St., then through an alleyway behind the Riviera and Riverside theaters, where we always stopped to lokat the elevator that went up to the Japanese Garden, then on to Pomander Walk between 94th and 95th – an English-type alley with tiny houses. But the Japanese Garden was always the exotic lure. I’m sure I went to films there because I remember what fun it was to take an elevator to the theater. This was in the early 1930s (I’m 86 now). The photo shown on the site must have been earlier, because it does not show the Riverside Theater at the corner of 96th and Broadway. Eileen Lavine, on Sept. 1 at 2:45 p.m.

Movieplace on January 3, 2007 at 2:32 pm

According to Bette Davis, she performed at, as she put it, “the ‘Shubert’s Riviera’, well at least it was a Shubert” in the bio “Girl Who Walked Home Alone”.

Movieplace on July 7, 2004 at 10:26 am

My grandmother told me that there was a theater upstairs of the Riviera. This was in the early 70’s. I wish I had gone on my own to investigate. I have seen the floor plans of these theaters and there was, as far as I can tell, no way to get from the office building part of the Riviera Building to the theater. I guess that Thomas Lamb wanted to thwart those trying to sneak in for free. I have pictures in my store of these theaters. In one photo you can see the stained glass windows that had been boarded up by the late 30’s. I have 2 pictures, tax ID photos taken in 1938 or 1939 of these theaters and by then the windows where boarded up but the Japanese Gardens was still open.

Jean on July 7, 2004 at 9:17 am

I also own a copy of “Marquee” from 1994, which features “RKO theatres of Metropolitan New York.” It’s a great magazine offering theatre photos most folks never got to see.

I have a copy of “The Hidden Garden Of Broadway” from Marquee, Vol. 6. No. 2. It was written by the late Michael Miller. The article contains 6 photos, including the Japanese Theatre and photos of the Riverside and Riviera. When growing up on the Upper West Side, I never knew there WAS a Japanes Theatre. The entrance to the Japanese Theatre was between the Riverside and Riviera and had a “Japanese” style to it. I only knew of the Riverside and Riviera, which were side by side. I used to go to them both. I was heartbroken when those two theatres came down.

nycmovieplace on June 22, 2004 at 10:19 am

The loss of the Riverside and Riviera Theaters was incredibly tragic. Not just for me, but for the neighborhood. The Riviera was a “Subway Circut” house as well as a showcase for touring legit productions. I believe that Sarah Bernhardt performed on the Riviera’s stage. The Japanese Gardens was in the 10 story building above the Riviera. The Riverside was a larger house that wasd on the the Keith Orpheum Circuit. The location of the theaters was signifigant. Not only were they located next to a subway stop but they were 2 blocks from a siding of the NY Central Railroad’s Hudson Line. A packaged show would travel by train so their location made loading in and unloading a show easy (to this day flats are still built to fit into a boxcar).
I had seen 100’s of movies in these theaters. The balconies were closed off in both theaters. They were dark and mysterious but incredibly beautiful. They had a smell of cigarettes and popcorn in a good way. The boxes had been removed to accomadate wider screens but other than that they were intact.

When urban vandal Chris Boomis announced that he was going to tear them down and put up an apartment tower I was devastated. He only manages to knock a hole in the side of the Riverside before running out of money. It was almost shocking to see the red velvet curtain hanging in shreds behind the now battered proscenium arch. The enormous balcony was collapsing. Then the whole thing collapsed out onto 96th street (several parked cars were crushed) and inward. The fire and police departments searched and dug for days, looking for the junkies that supposedly lived in the shell of the Riverside. I remeber seeing a hysterical woman on the news screaming that her daughter with a drug problem was in there. No bodies were ever found.
The Riviera building remained standing for a few more years.
I know that a movie staring Don Johnson was shot in the Japanese Gardens but I also know that the Gardens had been used as a rehearsal hall. I knew someone who had been involved with the origina Broadway production of “Eubie” and she told me that they had used the space for a while.
Finally the Riviera building was torn down. According to neighborhood fokelore and urban legend 2 bodies were found in a subterranian passageway that connected the Riverside and Riviera.

JimRankin on June 14, 2004 at 8:46 am

A recent article in a Los Angeles site describes the Japanese-themed theatre, the LINDA LEA, in some detail and makes good reading here on its page at CT: /theaters/3493/

JimRankin on April 16, 2004 at 8:01 am

Thanks for the tip, ‘btk630’; I wish the Style search selection here were that specific. It is wonderful the restoration that they are doing at the REDFORD, certainly a model for so many other organ groups in other cities! Pity the RIVIERA/JAPANESE GARDENS is no longer with us to experience this latter day trend to restoration and adaptive reuse, but then that could be said for any number of theatres.

JimRankin on April 15, 2004 at 3:05 pm

I should have mentioned before that the architect of the GARDENS was Thomas Lamb, the man famous for some of the most staid and conventional designs up until the 1920s, but here in 1914 he was called upon to do an early exotic theme design. He also did the RIVIERA and RIVERSIDE theatres (below the JAPANESE GARDENS) in conventional neo-classic lines. This article is a record of ‘urban archeology’ at its best, and though short, it is good reading. The GARDENS were never mentioned in print again after that “Day that will live in infamy,” Dec. 7th, 1941, so the reason for its then closing for good is easy to see. The drawing on the cover did show that it had a large balcony. Notable were the huge stained glass windows with scenes of Japan, as well as Japanese grillework and even large Japanese lanterns hanging from the proscenium with a mural of Mt. Fuji above. That theatre could have been the defacto gathering place for Japanese-Americans, but after the declaration of war, it would have been unwise to continue it, but with only two elevators and one staircase serving it, it probably would not meet the fire exit codes of today, anyway.

JimRankin on April 15, 2004 at 8:25 am

The JAPANESE GARDEN was only a ghost of a theatre when the late Michael Miller of NYC wrote its poignant story in the Second Qtr. 1974 issue of MARQUEE magazine of the Theatre Historical Soc. of America. He disclosed his flashlight tour of the long abandoned theatre high above the former RIVIERA theatre, adjacent to the former RIVERSIDE theatre. The article was titled: “The Hidden Garden of Broadway” and its three pages include six b/w photos of the theatres, as well as a haunting, wispy drawing on the cover. He concluded the story then with the news that a Mr. Boomis was in the process of buying the properties to demolish them for a new 31-story tower. For all I know, that is their only epitaph today; perhaps a New Yorker can confirm this for those wanting to know more about this, perhaps America’s only Japanese themed theatre.

To obtain any available Back Issue of either “Marquee” or of its ANNUALS, simply go to the web site of the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA at:
and notice on their first page the link “PUBLICATIONS: Back Issues List” and click on that and you will be taken to their listing where they also give ordering details. The “Marquee” magazine is 8-1/2x11 inches tall (‘portrait’) format, and the ANNUALS are also soft cover in the same size, but in the long (‘landscape’) format, and are anywhere from 26 to 40 pages. Should they indicate that a publication is Out Of Print, then it may still be possible to view it via Inter-Library Loan where you go to the librarian at any public or school library and ask them to locate which library has the item by using the Union List of Serials, and your library can then ask the other library to loan it to them for you to read or photocopy. [Photocopies of most THSA publications are available from University Microforms International (UMI), but their prices are exorbitant.]

Note: Most any photo in any of their publications may be had in large size by purchase; see their ARCHIVE link. You should realize that there was no color still photography in the 1920s, so few theatres were seen in color at that time except by means of hand tinted renderings or post cards, thus all the antique photos from the Society will be in black and white, but it is quite possible that the Society has later color images available; it is best to inquire of them.

Should you not be able to contact them via their web site, you may also contact their Executive Director via E-mail at:
Or you may reach them via phone or snail mail at:
Theatre Historical Soc. of America
152 N. York, 2nd Floor York Theatre Bldg.
Elmhurst, ILL. 60126-2806 (they are about 15 miles west of Chicago)

Phone: 630-782-1800 or via FAX at: 630-782-1802 (Monday through Friday, 9AM—4PM, CT)