Monday, March 21, 2011

Show Follies Center

Recently, I found myself back up on Times Square, loitering inside the Playland Gifts souvenir shop, hoping to scout more remnants of its XXX past and to get another glimpse of the forgotten porn theater in its basement.

It's been a few years since I sneaked down the stairs of the shop to stumble upon "Theatre 3 & 4." Once again, I lingered by the staircase. The clerks watched me closely. No way I could get down there, as much as I'd like better photos than my one hurried, blurry shot.


I've often wondered since then which porn theater this place used to be. Now, thanks to some Internet digging, I can say that this was once the Show Follies Center. Owned by Richard Basciano, it was a cousin of the great Show World over on 8th Avenue, a multi-tiered extravaganza of smut.

photobucket, 1993

This photo is from 1993--it doesn't seem that long ago, but that's a very different city. A close-up of the doorway shows the diamond-mirror pattern that can still be found, in remnants, on the souvenir shop today.

Photos by Richard Levine show the Show Follies spent some time partially as a Peep Land, perhaps in its final days. The one below (and another like it) are dated 1989, but they've got to be more recent--maybe from the late 1990s? Once again, there are those mirror diamonds framing the doorway.

Richard Levine

Show Follies survived well into the 1990s, though it eventually became more of a flophouse than a porn theater. In 1997, The New York Times reported, "inside the Show Follies Theater, on Seventh Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets, around 25 men were leaning in their seats, bedded down until morning... the Show Follies Theater remains as one of the last artifacts from a time when there were many pornography theaters and many people spent the night in them."

In 1998, Guy Trebay wrote in the Village Voice, "They've put bathing suits on nudie dancers at Show Follies." It was the beginning of the end.


At some point, the Follies moved out and the Playland Gift Shop moved in. Curiously, they left a lot of the decor intact. Inside the shop, all along the ceiling, where T-shirts hang next to portraits of the Statue of Liberty, mirrored tiles arranged into diamonds shimmer with memory of their original purpose.

Another glass diamond reveals itself on the exterior beneath the cover of green paint, the red of the old nudie joint showing through.


And, of course, there's that theater downstairs, which makes me think there's probably much more hidden away, upstairs and down. Maybe a glittering stage or a wall of peep booths. If only some more intrepid urban archaeologist could do the digging.

Secret Peeps

Also read:
Show World
Show World 2


Manhattan Haiku said...

As usual, love your post. Keep on diggin' for the rest of us! Manhattan Haiku

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Go to the back of 41 St between 6th and Broadway where the Bryant theater once stood. The front on 42 has been torn down but the back, the movie theater area still stands, at least it was there 15 years ago. Was being used as a shipping company office, at least that's what I think it was. The seats were gone but the back rows, where all the sex took place, was still standing with some boxes laying atop there. Dull soft core films were played there but the sex was...well, appetizing, you might say.

KG said...

I think you would be very interested in my documentary "Begging Naked".

Thank you for this site.
It's important to remember.

roadsidewonders said...

What a find! I can't blame you for wanting to sneak downstairs!

Ken Mac said...

you big tease!

maximum bob said...

Does anyone remember the days of the massage parlors that were scattered all around the city?
Each one of them had a hawker on the street, chanting "Check it out, one flight up."
This was in the 1970's.

Marty Wombacher said...

It's a shame what's happened to that part of Times Square, actually it's a shame what's happened to all of Times Square!

Anonymous said...

For a rather comprehensive history of the former Show Follies Center space, past and present:

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks for all the tips.

Mick, I will check that out. KG, the art and film look great--i need to spend some time with it. Ken, take it as a challenge--maybe you can get down there with your camera?

more to come on the history of this block in upcoming posts this week.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

You inspired me to check out the gift shop the last time you posted on this. I was able to look down the stairs, but was too afraid to go down as it seemed you need to pass through an employee area. I would have asked the staff, but they were kind of off-putting and watching me suspiciously. Have you ever approached the manager?

I still have my light-up naked lady lighter with glitter boobs I bought to commemorate the visit. :)

Jeremiah Moss said...

they have naked lady lighters with glitter boobs? wow. i had no idea!

no, never asked the manager, for the reasons you state. the staff is rather forbidding. i hope someone braver than i will do it. maybe someone with real press credentials...anyone out there?

Jeremey Edward Cagle said...

Awesome post!

Ken Mac said...

I most certainly will sneak in with my camera, thanks again for the tip.

FYI< they're making a pilot on MacDougal today, for a series called Pan Am, based on the airline industry in the 60s. Beautiful Italian cars all up and down the block. MadMen in the sky I guess

79rigid said...

Fuck it.I'll approach the staff.Ha!Tough talk now eh?Next time I'm in town.

KG said...

Happy to send you a dvd of "Begging Naked"as a gift.
I appreciate what you're doing on this site.

Lisanne! said...

These places were at one time so common in the Times Square area I barely paid them attention. Though I had a horrid fear of passing by them as a teenager in the 70s. I worried about being kidnapped by sex slavers.

Unknown said...

I took this picture in july 1998:

Spirit said...

I know we all know this isn't the REAL Peepland, which was a megatorium on 42nd st and had a neon coin as its main billboard. It actually had two-person booths. Think that one out. I have stills from inside a few of the booths which unlike the "straight" peep show parlors (like the Blackhawk) had pretty much everything you could think of from MFM to bestiality on film, just keep adding quarters - and later tokens because the staff kept shaving the take. By the way, the original Peepland was a flea circus way back when...