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 Empire Theatre, built in 1912, has been moved to a new home, some 168 feet west along 42nd Street. There, reclaimed and restored,
it will have a new role to play at the turn of a new century -- as the interior lobby of AMC's state-of-the-art, 25-screen multiplex cinema.

NEW YORK, NY, March 1, 1998 - Forest City Ratner Companies, developer of an entertainment-retail-restaurant complex on West 42nd Street, took
a significant first step toward its new project on Sunday, March 1, by physically moving the historic Empire Theater from its original site.
Following a plan devised by Beyer Blinder Belle, an architectural firm that is noted for its work in architectural preservation and adaptive re-use,
Forest City Ratner moved the 3,700-ton theater approximately 168 feet west along the south side of 42nd Street. between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Built in 1912 and originally called the Eltinge Theater, the Empire seats only 300 people, making it far too small to be economically viable today.
Nevertheless, the guidelines for the 42nd Street Development Project require the preservation of the elegantly proportioned Beaux-Arts facade with
its polychromed terra cotta and large arched window. Inside, the theater's tiny but beautiful auditorium has lost its eight boxes, but retains its
elegant proportions and some original detail. According to Bruce Ratner, President of Forest City Ratner Companies, "We saw early on that the Empire Theater would make a perfect entrance and grand
lobby for one of the major pieces of our new complex, a 25-screen AMC movie house. But it was also obvious that the AMC megaplex should anchor our
development at its west end -- and the Empire sits in the middle of the site." "The first discussions had focused on dismantling the facade of the Empire Theater and then re-erecting it on the new site," says Frederick Bland,
Partner in Charge of the project for Beyer Blinder Belle. "But when the beautiful Thomas Lamb interior was discovered. it was decided to move the
entire building -- a much more interesting and historically legitimate approach to preserving the structure. Under this plan the Empire will lose
nothing but its old stage and the fly loft, which no longer serve any purpose and have no historic value, and Forest City Ratner will get a one-of-a-kind
gateway for the megaplex." The Forest City Ratner Complex
In its new location, the Empire Theater will be part of a 335,000 square foot entertainment, retail, and restaurant complex being developed by
Forest City Ratner. The west anchor of the complex is a 25-screen, 5,000-seat, 140,000-square-foot movie theater operated by AMC.
Also in the complex, incorporating the historic facade of the Harris and Liberty theaters, is America's first Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum
(70,000 square feet); Just For Feet, one of the country's most popular stores for athletic footwear (20,000 square feet); HMV Records
(20,000 square feet); and a variety of entertainment-retail stores and theme restaurants! including Crazy Shirts
(a California-based retailer with stores on the West Coast and Hawaii). The architect for the entire complex is Beyer Blinder Belle.

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:

  • Cheating Cheaters (1917)
  • Piker (1925)
  • Hamlet (1936)

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