Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Liberty and The Empire

July 1988

(Original Location)


September 2007
(Original location)

(shot from the new location)

Meanwhile, back on 42nd Street...

While it looks like nothing remains today from the scene in 1988, both of the buildings sporting marquees in the first picture are still a part of today's 42nd Street. They've just become a part of something else.

On the left, we have the Liberty Theater, which was built and operated by the production team of A. L. Erlanger and Marcus Klaw. It opened on October 10th, 1904, with a revue called The Rogers Brothers in Paris. A few weeks later, November 7th saw the premiere of George Cohan's first musical, Little Johnnie Jones, featuring the song 'Give My Regards to Broadway'.

Described as a smaller version of the New Amsterdam, which was also built by Erlanger and Klaw and opened the previous year, The Liberty was converted to a movie theater in 1933. Like the New Amsterdam, which also showed movies until the early eighties, the Liberty’s auditorium was actually located on 43rd Street; its connection to the Deuce was through a 100-foot long lobby. Unlike the New Amsterdam, though, the Liberty would never reopen as a legitimate theater. The only part still extant is the facade (the narrow arch on the left), now part of Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum, which occupies the remaining space today, and is responsible for the silver protuberance in place of a marquee.
The Empire Theater opened as The Eltinge, named for Julian Eltinge, then a popular female impersonator, on September 11, 1912. It featured straight plays and comedies until about 1931, when vaudeville and burlesque filled the house. In 1935 Bud Abbot and Lou Costello performed together for the first time on the Eltinge's stage. By then though, vaudeville was dying, and Fiorello LaGuardia, the Gulianni of his day, banned the smut of burlesque, and the Eltinge became the Empire. Movies ran here until the early 1980's.

In March of 1998, as part of the New 42nd Street project, the Empire was jacked up and rolled 170 feet to the west along a specially built track. All of the adjacent buildings had been razed, and their basements filled in for the track to be constructed. The trip took about three days, and the landmarked building now serves as the lobby for a 25 unit movie complex.

(If you click on the first 2007 picture for the larger version you'll be able to see the current sign for the Empire at the extreme right just above the cabs. The second picture gives a clearer view from the new location, and if you look for the large, vertical Madam Tussaud's sign, you can understand just how far this building traveled.)

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