RKO Palace Theater
71 Clinton Avenue,
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Firms: Graven & Mayger
Previous Names: Keith-Albee Palace Theater
The Keith-Albee Palace Theater opened on December 25, 1928 with Richard Barthelmass in “Scarlet Seas” on the screen and vaudeville on stage. Organist Tom Grierson (Rochester’s own) played the 4 manual, 21 ranks Wurlitzer organ. It soon became the favorite downtown movie palace for this city. Large signs on the theater building announced as “The Showplace of Rochester” and over the main entrance was the statement that this was “Rochester’s most beautiful theater”.
The architects designed the knockout of a theater in Neo-Georgian style. Behind the main entrance was the main lobby with a terrazzo floor, elaborate plaster-work, huge mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and a ceiling which seemed far, far overhead. The next area was the inner lobby with its twin staircases to the balcony, vaulted ceiling, oil paintings, gilded metalwork, and lots more mirrors and chandeliers.
The auditorium was more of the same. There were velvet draped organ grilles, elaborate box seats, more chandeliers, an 80 foot deep stage, and a fine example of the organ builders craft from the Wurlitzer company (Opus 1951) which was played by house organist organist Tom Grierson until 1943.
The theater succumbed in the 1960’s to dwindling profits and closed August 2, 1965. Demolition began immediately taking four months to complete. Plans were for building the Twin Towers apartment building on the site. This never happened and for many years there was nothing to mark the site but a parking lot. In recent years the RTS bus station has been built on the site.
The Wurlitzer organ was saved and installed in the Auditorium Theatre, Rochester (now a 4 manual, 23 ranks instrument).
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