By now you've probably heard the news that the Ziegfeld movie theater will be closing after 46 years.
It is "not a movie palace from the golden-age of movie palaces," as James Barron recently pointed out. But it was modeled on them, upholstered in red velvet with crystal chandeliers and plaster filigree.
It is not the original Ziegfeld, opened in 1927 and demolished in 1966 against public protest. The original was meant for live theater, the Ziegfeld Follies, not movies. When it opened, Will Rogers said, "I hope you never have to put in a movie screen." But it did eventually become a movie house, before it was sold, razed (along with two apartment buildings), and replaced by a skyscraper.
When the current Ziegfeld opened, the owners celebrated its "space-age technology." Ziegfeld's daughter, Patricia, remarked, "Progress seems to do nasty things to tradition, doesn't it?" But, she continued, "tradition has been preserved in this new theater... I'm sure Daddy would have approved of it since everything is so Ziegfeldian."
On Saturday nights, for a short time, formal attire was required by moviegoers.
The Ziegfeld is also not--as many are saying--the last single-screen movie theater in Manhattan. For that, we still have The Paris, which dates back to 1948.
What the Ziegfeld is, more than anything, more than any other, is enormous. The auditorium is vast, with rows of red seats stretching back and up into the horizon. It was a thrill whenever a blockbuster played at the Ziegfeld because that's where you'd want to see it. Big movies need big screens in big auditoriums. And when you went to a movie there, it felt like a special occasion--like an event.
The Ziegfeld has history. Forty-six years is not a century, but it's still a significant vintage. And attached to that forty-six years is the name. Ziegfeld! So New York.
And with vitrines placed throughout the lobby, it also houses the Ziegfeld Museum, a collection of artifacts from the original Follies.
What will happen to the Ziegfeld Museum? To the costumes that once belonged to divas like Lillian Lorraine? And to the programs and photographs from other performers long gone? And the bust of Fanny Brice? What will happen to the bust of Fanny Brice?
Not to mention the weird "STORY OF THIS WOOD" plaque screwed to the wall, informing moviegoers: "Carbon 14-isotope dating shows this wood has been buried in a peat bog near Cambridge, England, since 2120 B.C."
What will happen to all that when the Ziegfeld becomes an upscale corporate event space?
The first movie to play in this theater, back in 1969, was Marooned, a space-age thriller. The last movie will be Star Wars, another story in outer space. What does it all mean?
We hear Thursday may be the last day.
During this weekend's blizzard, New Yorkers lined up to get inside. To say goodbye. They took pictures of the old place. They stroked the velvet walls. They stood in the long, wide aisles of the auditorium and bemoaned the coming destruction. One man looked up at the sky-high ceiling and said, to no one in particular, "Where else can you have an experience like this?"