Unnoticed and unmourned (by most) amid the Times Square boom and the 42nd Street rebirth, one of the vintage old Broadway theatres was demolished in stages over the last month, and now (April 7) has been reduced to a pile of rubble.
The 1918-vintage Central Theatre, facing Times Square on Broadway at 47th Street, has been torn down to make way for the planned Planet Hollywood Hotel.
"It's always sad when one of the neighborhood theatres goes," said Nichols Van Hoogstratten, author of "Lost Broadway Theatres," which was used as research for this story. Van Hoogstratten said the most significant piece of history at the theatre is that both Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II made their theatrical debuts there (separately), Hammerstein with Always You in 1920 and Rodgers with Poor Little Ritz Girl later that same year.
An indication of the theatre's age: with the theatre torn down, theatregoers can now view a long-unseen advertisement for "J.A. Keal's Carriage [as in horse-drawn] Manufactory" painted on the wall of the adjacent building.
Designed by Herbert J. Krapp and erected across Duffy Square from vaudeville's Palace, the 1,100-seat Central was never one of the most popular theatres, partly because its stage was a very shallow 25 feet deep. Among its few notable productions was As You Were and the comedy Solid Ivory. After French Lady in 1927, the theatre became primarily a cinema. Minsky's Burlesque took over the space in 1932, and the theatre alternated between movies and burlesque for most of the next 50 years. During that time it went through a series of name changes, including Columbia, Central Burlesque and Holiday. The theatre returned to the legitimate theatre fold briefly in 1955, with the ironically titled Deadfall, but went back to striptease in 1957, and then to films.
More name changes followed: Odeon, Forum, Forum 47th Street and Movieland. The theatre closed in 1988 and was sold in 1989 to owners who put the Roxy delicatessen where the lobby used to be, and a disco, Club USA, in the former auditorium. The building was sold again in 1996 to Banque Nationale de Paris for $31 million. Next: the Planet Hollywood Hotel.
Pointing to the recent restoration of the New Amsterdam and Henry Miller's Theatre (now the Kit Kat Klub], Van Hoogstratten was philosophical: "This [demolition of the Central] is price you have to pay for the development in the area. The tide goes in, the tide goes out; sometimes it takes few things with it, sometimes it leaves something on the shore."
-- By Robert Viagas