Destination Film: Ziegfeld Theater - New York

Join us on our ongoing journey of movie destinations!This time the Ziegfeld in New York.

American Theater Hall of Fame legend Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. is probably the most famous producer of Broadway musical theater in the world!  In 1927 with the help of William Randolph Hearst (Citizen Kane), the theater impresario erected the world renowned Ziegfeld Theater where stage productions of Rio Rita, Show Boat and Ziegfeld Follies musical revues opened to enormous success.  The theater itself was designed by Joseph Urban with the help of Thomas W. Lamb, who lent a medieval theatricality to the interior decor and building design.  Despite taking place during the Great Depression, the Vaudevillian Ziegfeld Theater proved to be the hottest ticket in town!  Ziegfeld was soon catapulted into the pantheon of major show business players alongside Louis. B. Mayer of MGM, Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox and even Jack L. Warner of Warner Brothers.  Soon after, Hollywood film adaptations of his stage productions as well as biopics of the man's life including The Great Ziegfeld and Ziegfeld Follies followed in honor of the grand showman.  

In 1966 the legendary theater was sadly demolished, leaving behind a legacy of theater and entertainment history whose only memory remains in tribute stage productions as well as pictures and films of the theater when it was still in effect.  But New Yorkers weren't about to let the Ziegfeld name be forgotten.  After the demolition of one of the most historically significant Broadway theaters in the country, a new single-screen movie theater of the same name was built in 1969 just a few hundred feet from the location of the original Ziegfeld theater.  Simultaneously a tribute to what the original Ziegfeld represented in terms of Broadway theater history, it is one of the largest movie houses still standing in the United States, a regular press venue for major Hollywood premieres with the cast and crew walking the red carpet and lastly one of the few theaters to hold 70mm film premiers of major Hollywood pictures.

Currently owned by Cablevision with a digital projector installed alongside the 35mm and 70mm projectors still in effect, walking into the entrance of this glorious movie house is like taking a trip back in time.  From the exterior marquee covered with theater lights leading to the front entrance to the plastic banners for movie posters illuminated outside the theater, it's at once old fashioned and undeniably modern.  Right in the lobby adorned with red and gold wallpaper, carpets, a bronze elephant statue and actual memorabilia from the original 1927 Ziegfeld behind plate glass posters, this is as close to the original Golden Age of Hollywood as a movie theater can possibly get.  As a staff member greets you and tears your ticket, you have the option of ascending the red carpeted stairwell or just taking an escalator up to concessions adorned with classical movie posters and chandeliers that would make most elite banquet hall owners blush.

With a massive 52 feet wide screen and over 1,131 seats, it's one of the few classical theaters which, like the Fox Theater or the Redford, will have your eyes scanning the ornate interior design well before the actual movie starts.  While most of the film events at the Ziegfeld are presented digitally, chances are if a 70mm print of a film exists, it will premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater first.  The image and sound quality are of course pristine and impeccable.  Much like the Museum of the Moving Image theater, it's a movie house where technical precision is of the utmost importance.  Although I must admit the ultra-modern design and overall presentation of the Museum of the Moving Image's theater still provided a more exhilarating experience for yours truly, the Ziegfeld has a larger screen and it's own unique atmosphere.  Walking through it firsthand was a breathtaking experience in its own right and still remains a testament to why the theater going experience shouldn't just be limited to what you see on the screen but by providing the viewer with an aura of a bygone era of Hollywood glitz and glamour.  All in all, if you are in New York this is a historic movie house which is still the center of major modern film premieres and is so steeped in film history that you feel gratified to have been able to witness it for yourself just as I have.

-Andrew Kotwicki

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