Preserving the magic of cinema since 1978

The Roxy New York

David A Ellis




One of the most luxurious and appointed cinema houses of all time was the Roxy in New York, which opened its doors on 11 March 1927. Designed by Walter W Ahlschlager it was reputed to have cost the staggering sum of ten million dollars,an astronomical sum back in the 1920s.

It took eleven months to construct and had seating for six thousand two hundred people. In addition it had lobby space for four thousand more. The person who had the theatre constructed, Samuel L. Rothafel (Roxy), was regarded as the greatest showman at the time. The theatre was situated at 153 West 50th Street.

The orchestra pit was on an elevator so that 110 piece orchestra and three organs appeared and disappeared. Up in the operating box were three Simplex type A projectors on five point pedestals and were enamelled maroon with nickel plated fittings. The light source was provided by Hall and Connolly continuous feed high intensity lamps, which operated at 120 amps each and each lamp was controlled by a 200 ampere ironclad switch allowing the arc to be struck on low amperage.

Two projectors were fitted with Vitaphone equipment, which could be attached and unattached in a few minutes. The third projector was fitted with the Fox Movietone device, which was somewhat similar in operation to the Phonofilms equipment. Each machine was fitted with Powers speed indicator equipment and electrically operated cut-offs for the changeovers. There were large section pipes to conduct the heat and fumes from the high intensity lamphouses direct to a large duct running along the rear of the projection box, at one end of which a large fan was in operation to draw of the gases.

Unlike many projection areas the Roxy box wasn't hot and stuffy. The box and adjoining areas were kept cool and bearable by a system of fans and ventilation shafts. The spotlights in the box were 150 amp Brenkert and there were four of them. In addition there were two Brenkert special effects projectors and a double dissolving stereopticon. All the conduit was concealed and there were special fittings for projection room lighting.

The operating room floor was laid with substantial covering of rubber, somewhat similar to Terrazo. There were several other rooms used by the projection team, including a rheostat room, a rectifier room, rewind room and a room for the comfort of the operators, which included a shower. The screen was known as the Raven half tone screen, a product of the Raven Screen Corporation.

The projection throw was just over one hundred feet and the picture size just a few inches over twenty five feet by nineteen feet. The Roxy could easily cater for live stage presentations. On the stage was another projection room, which was situated at the apex and was a permanent fixture as part of the stage This small concrete box, known as a pill box, housed another Simplex machine with a powerlite reflector type projection lamp, which was used for rear projection of special animated settings and for novel effects, which only Roxy and his gang could devise, upon a trans Lux patent translucent screen.

The stage was also equipped with a great sounding board cyclorama, which was fifty feet in height and weighed almost four tons. The main switchboard was on the stage and controlled every circuit in the building with were over a thousand switches and was considered to be the largest switchboard in the world. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, cinema closed its doors on 29 March 1960 and was demolished the same year.