Liberty Theatre

234 W. 42nd Street,
New York, NY 10036

Unfavorite 19 people favorited this theater

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Brandt Theaters

Architects: Henry Beaumont Herts, Hugh Tallant

Firms: Herts and Tallant

Functions: Bar, Special Events

Styles: Beaux-Arts, Neo-Classical

Nearby Theaters

Liberty Theatre exterior

The Liberty Theatre, built in 1904 on W. 41st Street, was designed by the firm of Herts & Tallant in Beaux-Arts style for Klaw and Erlanger. Its lobby opened onto W. 42nd Street, as it was at the time (and still is) the more desired address.

The 100-foot long lobby stretched from W. 42nd Street to the auditorium, which actually sat on W. 41st Street.

The Neo-Classical inspired façade, with a set of caryatides flanking the main entry four stories tall. A huge arched window was surmounted by a carving of the Liberty Bell, and at the summit of the façade was a large stone American eagle, its wings spread and staring downwards to the sidewalk below.

A stunning ticket counter was located in a vestibule in the lobby, which was topped with a large dome, covered in gilding and aluminum. A promenade led to the staircase leading to the balconies and the orchestra seating, with an ivory, amber and gold color theme.

Its auditorium, which could seat well over 1,000, continued the patriotic theme of the exterior, with Liberty Bells and eagles covered with gilt circling the huge ceiling dome and the towering proscenium arch. Again, the ivory and amber color scheme continued into the auditorium. Each side wall featured four sets of opera boxes.

In the basement, luxurious lounges catered to each sex, with the ladies lounge carrying a garden theme, complete with pastel shades and floral patterns, and the men’s being designed in a Spanish countryside theme, with leather and oak highlights.

The Liberty Theatre screen exclusive runs of “Birth of a Nation” in March 1915, “Intolerance” from September 5, 1916 and “The Thief of Bagdad” from March 18, 1924. I remained primarily a legitimate theatre until 1933.

Like most of its neighboring theaters, the Liberty Theatre, rather than go dark, converted from stage shows to movies, and remained a movie house for well over half a century until the revival of 42nd Street began in the early-1990’s.

By 1996, the Liberty Theatre of old was gone, its magnificent Beaux-Arts elements mostly removed, and the rest hidden behind a very ugly boxy marquee. Its front entrance was remodeled in a late Streamline style façade. The interior of the Liberty Theatre had suffered just as badly over the 50 years since its golden days ended, and was decrepit and dirty. Its balconies and side boxes long since closed off, and its original color scheme painted many times over.

However, it was just the appearance that a theater company was looking for for a short run of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” which was the Liberty Theatre’s first legitimate use in over six decades. However, it was shuttered as soon as the play closed.

In 1997, plans were announced to convert the Liberty Theatre into a virtual reality arcade. However, this plan fell through. After over a decade laying empty and unused, it was restored and converted into a Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant which opened at Christmas 2011, but was closed in 2013. A bar operates from the foyer area and by 2015 the auditorium is used for special events.

Excerpted from “Lost Broadway Theatres” by Nicholas Van Hoogstraten, 1997

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 156 comments)

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on March 11, 2015 at 2:14 pm

The lobby may have been gutted (or demolished) but you can walk right through the restaurant to get into the auditorium…

oknazevad on July 10, 2015 at 8:46 am

Actually, the Liberty’s original lobby became part of the Ripley’s Odditorium. Apparently there is still a connecting door between the two that’s kept locked. But it is possible to go through the restaurant into the auditorium.

DavidZornig on September 5, 2015 at 9:37 am

1986 photo added courtesy of Steve Thomas.

SingleScreen on July 1, 2017 at 11:37 am

42ndStreetMemories, you say you didn’t pay $2.00 in the 60s. As late as 1986 or even a couple of years later, the first show on a Saturday morning when the theaters opened at 10:00 AM was only $3.00. And that was often for double or even triple features! Oh, those were the days! I’d grab a coffee and danish from a shop on Broadway around the corner, then head down the duece to check out what was playing and be in my seat watching the first flick by 10:00 AM.

vindanpar on December 31, 2017 at 2:35 pm

I’m surprised there is no mention in the overview of this being a roadshow house for films in the teens much like the George M Cohan Theater in the 20s. Unless I am mistaken and please let me know if I am this theater held either the world or at least the New York premieres of Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. Sacred ground for a movie buff.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 1, 2018 at 6:41 am

While both Birth of a Nation and Intolerance had long, exclusive runs at this house, it seems neither had the reserved-seat, hard ticket sales that were a feature of most “road show” engagements.

vindanpar on January 1, 2018 at 11:59 am

According to the ads posted performances were two a day with a variety of prices through the various sections so I assumed it was reserved seats available in advance.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on January 1, 2018 at 1:28 pm

The opening ads for BIRTH OF A NATION state “all seats reserved”.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on January 20, 2019 at 5:29 pm

1953 ad posted in photos

bigjoe59 on August 5, 2021 at 11:50 am


the intro at top makes it appear this theater never showed films till 1933. which of course not true. this theater held the exclusive first run engagements of some of the most prominent films of the silent era. The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance and The Thief of Baghdad among them.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater.