There’s something truly magical about visiting an old school movie theatre. The humungous ceilings, decadent pillars and cramped seating harks back to a bygone era when glitz and glamour was truly intertwined with the medium of cinema, especially since, nowadays, most multiplexes that we visit are interchangeable. Which is why the news that the Ziegfled Theatre, one of New York City’s most famous cinemas, could close down should be met with great sorrow.
James Dolan, the CEO of Cablevision, the company that runs the Ziegfeld, has told The Hollywood Reporter that the expansive venue is losing too much money. After being quizzed about whether he planned to shut the iconic cinema down, Dolan responded, "Yeah. Probably. It loses a lot of money. The theater business is a tough business."
However, shortly after James Dolan’s remarks were made public, a Cablevision statement revealed that "the situation has changed," before adding that the Ziegfeld will "remain open for the foreseeable future." Unfortunately, the spokesperson refused to go into any further detail about how or why the situation had changed. It’s been speculated that Cablevision is now on the lookout for a new company to take over their lease of the venue, which runs out in 2018.
The current incarnation of the Ziegfeld Theatre was built in 1969, and was named after the owner of the original location, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. It currently exists at 141 W. 54th Street, which is just a few hundred feet away from the site of its predecessor. In the mid-1920s, Ziegfeld spent $2.5 million on the 16,000-seat original, which finally opened its doors in February 1927. In order to help complete the construction, Ziegfeld had to borrow money from William Randolph Hearst, the legendary publisher whom Orson Welles would later base Citizen Kane on.
After Ziegfeld’s death on July 22, 1932, William Randolph Hearst took over the theater, and it was eventually used for a plethora of New York City premieres - before it was torn down in 1966 so that a skyscraper could be built in its place. But work was soon ordered on a new building, which would be opened just yards away from the original.
Since it was opened on December 17, 1969, the Ziegfed Theater’s 1,131 seats has been the home for a variety of premieres and screenings, including the 1977 opening night of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. It is still the largest single screen cinema in New York, and because of its size it is still the venue for many Manhattan-based premieres.
That’s only a fraction of the story, though, because most other screenings are only populated with a handful of patrons due to the lack of options available, and while the venue has been unable to compete with the mass of other multiplexes that are within its vicinity. Hopefully a new buyer will be able to return the Ziegfeld to its former glory, and in the process inject some of the much missed prestige and glamour of the past back into cinema.