Eltinge (Empire) Theatre

36 West 42nd Street / NYC

Named for female impersonator and vaudeville star

Julian Eltinge

this once handsome theatre has been a vaudeville house (Abbott & Costello won laughs here) and legit Broadway venue.
It now survives as the facade and lobby of the AMC 42nd Street Movie multiplex.
For this purpose, the entire building was moved 200 feet to the East of its original location in 1998.

The Eltinge Theater was the eighth theater built on Forty-Second Street. The theater was very decorated, the interior held bits and pieces of several cultures, including African, Roman, and Egyptian. The front was beautiful with a large window and carvings in green, blue, orange, and red terra-cotta all around it. The architect responsible for the design was Thomas A. Lamb. The theater held nine hundred people and had an orchestra, two balconies, and eight boxes. The seats on the floor had an interesting quirk; they were in three sizes, slender, medium, and stout, persons could choose which seat would fit them best this was done so that a more rotund theater lover could be more comfortable.

The theater opened September 11, 1912, with the show Within the Law. This show ran a record 541 performances that was never beaten by any other show that played in the Eltinge. Many other successful show ran in the Eltinge, including The Song of Songs (1914) and Fair and Warmer (1915). The theater became known as a comedy house for the first ten years of its existence. Many of the early shows in the Eltinge were farces. Plays like Up in Mabel's Room, The Girl in the Limousine, and Ladies Night helped make the theatre known for its comedies. The melodramas at the Eltinge were often less successful than the comedies. East of Suez ran in 1921, with 100 performances. Even with the popular actor Laurence Oliver, Murder on the Second Floor did not last in the Eltinge. In 1935, the theater was home to a historic event when Bud Abbot and Lou Costello first performed as a team as the Eltinge stage.

The final legitimate show in the Eltinge was a drama called First Night. After that, the economic changes in the country forced the theatre into presenting strip shows for the next few years. In 1942, the mayor of New York shut down the theater for moral reasons and the Eltinge was remodeled into a movie palace that showed comedies. At the time of the conversion to a movie theater, the Eltinge was renamed the Laff Movie theater. In 1954, the theater was renamed the Empire, and began showing films around the clock.

By the mid 1980's, the theater was closed. With a stage too small and with little need for another small house for plays, the conversion of the Eltinge into part of the AMC movie complex makes a great deal of sense. The interior and exterior of the Eltinge were moved 200 feet to the east to create the entrance to the AMC movie center complex. The complex, now called the AMC Empire 25, housed its debut April 21, 2001. It contains 25 screens and seats 4, 961. The AMC Empire 25 combines the historic features of the Eltinge with modern conveniences, such as 14 escalators the longest of which is 72 ft long with a 36 ft vertical rise. The AMC Empire 25 currently hosts Meetings and Conference programs, as well as AMC Movies. Although the original exterior is mostly intact, the new interior multiplex layout (aside from some ornamental decor in the lobby) has little relation to the original.

Programs available from this theatre:

  • Piker (1925)

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