Palace Theatre

160 W. 47th Street,
New York, NY 10036

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Additional Info

Operated by: Nederlander Organization

Previously operated by: Orpheum Circuit, RKO

Architects: Charles Kirchoff, Thomas Rose

Firms: Kirchoff & Rose

Functions: Live Theatre

Styles: Adam, Neo-Classical

Previous Names: RKO Palace Theatre

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 212.730.8200

Nearby Theaters

RKO Palace Theatre exterior and Times Square area

Located at 1564 Broadway at the corner of W. 47th Street in the heart of Times Square. The Palace Theatre of New York City, the one that virtually inspired them all, started out as a vaudeville theatre on March 24, 1913. It continued in that use until November of 1932 when it began showing movies under the direction of RKO. The RKO Palace Theatre had a policy of eight acts of vaudeville and a ‘B’ movie. This policy ended from August 13, 1957 when top movie product began to be screened. It screened its last movie in 1969. In 1970 it became a legitimate theatre opening with Lauren Bacall in “Applause”. For most of the memory of those alive today, it was a non-movie theatre, and is, indeed, perhaps best remembered as the “Valhalla of Vaudeville” as it was dubbed in the day and age when to ‘play the Palace’ referred to the acme of aspirations of vaudevillians and to this day a way of saying that one has ‘made it big!’

When the Palace Theatre debuted its 1,733 seats at 1564 Broadway, it was within a ten story office building that was squeezed between previous buildings on some of the most expensive real estate frontage in the world. Architects Charles Kirchoff and Thomas Rose of Milwaukee were therefore limited to showing their artistry in the three-level auditorium with its sixteen boxes cascading down the walls toward the stage, while being under a graceful arch forming a stylized sunburst above them on either side. In 1920, a grille in this arch was used to front the new organ chambers for the recently installed 2 manual, 4 rank Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ to accompany occasional film novelties that would become not so novel in the next decades. The organ was remarkably small in size for so prestigious a house, but perhaps the management of the time did not foresee the future dominance of film and the need that silent movies had for a good sized organ. Projectors had been installed in March, 1915 under a slight remodelling by architect James S. Gavigan. The theatre was wired for sound movies in 1929, a pivotal year in many respects.

Just why an architectural firm in far away Milwaukee was selected for the prime Palace Theatre, is not known, since it would be years to come before this team was well known for the movie palaces with which they would grace that and other cities, 10 in Milwaukee alone. Perhaps it was Martin Beck himself, impresario of the Palace Theatre, who was touring his Orpheum Vaudeville theatres across the land and happened to admire the gracefulness of the 2,500-seat Alhambra Theatre there, and resolved to have its architect design his new showplace in a somewhat similar style.

Here in the Palace Theatre, it was also to be a combination of Neo-Classical and Adam periods. A relatively simple styling that did nothing to suggest the movie palaces to come, it was characterized by moldings of such as fruit festoons and bead-and-reel to outline the panels into which the walls and ceiling were divided. Perhaps there were very elaborate draperies on the proscenium, but the only found photos are from 1951 and reflect replacements to accommodate the large movie screen of the era, so that as of then, only simple panels of velour in 50% fullness constitute the grand drapery and the house curtain, any draperies in the boxes having by then been removed. Both sides of the main floor seating also boasted a cascading line of elevated (parquet style) boxes from the balcony line forward to the annunciator frames of the drop-card style. In 1939 the lobby and marquee had been altered, and were later completely redone again. The entire facade was largely demolished in the 1980’s, but the interior is virtually intact.

Why did this one theatre rise to such prominence? It is a long and complicated story, as one might expect of a theatre created at the joining of eras in exhibition, but perhaps it is as claimed in the noteworthy book: “Show Biz: From Vaude to Video” by Abel Green and Joe Laurie, Jr., that it was the coup in obtaining the appearance of the great French tragedian Mme. Sarah Bernhardt, that capped the very long list of notables of both the Vaudevillian and legitimate stages, as so ably brought out in this book, and in the book: “The Palace” by Marian Spitzer in 1969. This was for years the ‘Flagship’ theatre of the RKO circuit and even once housed the offices of this dominant national theatres/vaudeville circuit.

In recent years, it is often the host to long-running Disney stage epics and other hit musicals, and in that vein may it long continue! The final show to be produced in the theatre in its original location was the musical “SpongBob Square Pants” which closed on September 15, 2018. In a $2.4 billion project the theatre was raised 30-feet and a shopping arcade inserted at street level. The hotel built on top of the theatre will be expanded to 663 rooms, a restaurant and nightclub. A huge wrap-around advertising screen will cover the building.

The Palace Theatre reopened on May 28, 2024 with 18 concerts by Ben Platt “Ben Platt Live from the Palace”. The entrance to the theatre is now located around the corner from Broadway at 160 W. 47th Street.

Contributed by James H. (Jim) Rankin

Recent comments (view all 295 comments)

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on May 31, 2022 at 6:30 am

2023 has been mentioned as possible reopening of the Palace, but nothing more specific. Much will depend, of course, on what’s available for the first booking.

DavidZornig on November 18, 2022 at 10:50 am

I posted this in 2018. Can anyone identify the marquee whose underside is shown in the upper right corner? Can’t recall if I posted it to that theatre’s page or not.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on November 18, 2022 at 11:06 am

Isn’t that the Loew’s State marquee? (Pre-modernization)

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on November 18, 2022 at 11:28 am

Looks like that to me.

DavidZornig on November 18, 2022 at 11:42 am

I have added this below `60s image of The Cowsills to the Loew’s State page. However there appears to be a single row of lights instead of three rows as in the above link Al Alvarez posted.

Mikeoaklandpark on July 26, 2023 at 4:40 pm

Has there been any reopening date?

Mikeoaklandpark on July 27, 2023 at 1:56 pm

They showed films in the summer of 69 before reopening as a Broadway house in 70 with Applause.

m00se1111 on March 18, 2024 at 1:30 pm

Reopening has been announced.

Ben Platt will play an 18 concert residency from May 28 - June 15 “ Ben Platt Live from the Palace”

Comfortably Cool
Comfortably Cool on May 27, 2024 at 7:07 am

A lengthy article about the re-opening, covering two full pages of the Arts Section of The New York Times, was published yesterday (5/26). Link here

Mikeoaklandpark on May 28, 2024 at 12:20 pm

Please change status to open. Today is the official opening day.

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