This week, Fisher Brothers announced that it was no longer renewing the lease with the corporation behind the legendary Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City. Opened in 1969, the single-screen theater on West 54th Street was the place of major movie premieres and a regal night out of ordinary folks.
My first visit to the Ziegfeld was in 2008 for the New York Film Festival. At the time, the festival’s usual home at the Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center was under renovations, so the Zeigfeld was a worthy substitute. It was also my first time at the festival, and I wasn’t used to having assigned seating. Luckily, the Ziegfeld had lovely, velvet seats. It was something I had only known about in the movies – it wasn’t one of the multiplexes that are now commonplace. It was a large auditorium with two entrances. There was a rich sea of red with golden curtains. This was what going to the movies should be like, a mix of entertainment and comfort. Even the concession stands and the bathrooms were elegant. Each bathroom stall had its own pedestal sink. It was a magical place.
I visited the Ziegfield three times during the festival, seeing two French films and a Japanese movie. The theater was bustling with activity and movie fans. Some were discussing the already presented film while others talked about what movies they planned to see during the festival.
It took seven years for me to return to the Ziegfeld. Previous New York trips kept me away from West 54th Street and later film festivals did not include it as a venue. Last November, I went to see a Monday morning screening of “Spectre.” I had a feeling that it would be my last theater visit after reading a news report about the theater being endangered. The lack of promptness by the theater staff showed the worned attitude that was powering the theater. I was among about a half-dozen patrons waiting outside for admission. Once inside, the magic of the Ziegfeld was still there. There were display cases of costumes, flyers and photographs from the theater’s heyday and of the original Ziegfeld Theatre during theater’s golden age. The chandeliers were breathtaking. There were only a few movie posters around for “Spectre,” but that was all of the modern embellishments.
After grabbing some popcorn and candy for my cinematic breakfast, I was ready for the show. In its large theater, it felt vast and intimate. It was like I had the auditorium all to myself, but it was bigger than the local multiplex settings. That time was just the right dose of glamour for me.
Now, the 47-year-old theater will close in a few weeks and reopen as a ballroom for social and corporate events in fall 2017. I will fondly remember the days I spent at the Ziegfeld, New York’s last single-screen theater