The Hippodrome / NYC
The Hippodrome Theatre (aka New York Hippodrome, 1933) stood in New York City from 1905 to 1939, at 6th and 43rd/44th, on
the site of what is now a large modern office building known as "The Hippodrome Center" (1120 Avenue of the Americas), in the
Theater District of Midtown Manhattan. It was called the world's largest theatre by its builders and held 6,000 with a 100x200-ft
(30x61-m) stage and a rising glass water tank.
The Hippodrome was built by Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy, creators of the Luna Park amusement park at Coney Island.
The theatre was located on Sixth Avenue (now named Avenue of the Americas) between Forty-third and Forty-fourth streets.
Its auditorium seated 5,300 people, and it was equipped with what was then the state of the art in theatrical technology.
The theatre was acquired by The Shubert Organization in 1909. In 1933, it was re-opened as the New York Hippodrome cinema,
became the stage for Billy Rose's "Jumbo" in 1935, but closed in August 1939 for demolition (after WWII, the office building
opened in 1952).
With Frederick Thompson and Jay H. Morgan as architects, the Hippodrome first opened in 1905 with a seating capacity of
5,200, and is still considered as one of the true wonders of theatre architecture. Its stage was 12 times larger than any Broadway
"legit" house and capable of holding as many as 1,000 performers at a time, or a full-sized circus with elephants and horses. It also
had an 8,000-gallon clear glass water tank that could be raised from below the stage by hydraulic pistons for swimming-and-diving
For a time the Hippodrome was the largest and most successful theater in New York. The Hippodrome featured lavish spectacles
complete with circus animals, diving horses, opulent sets, and 500-member choruses. Until the end of World War I, the
Hippodrome housed all sorts of spectacles then switched to musical extravaganzas produced by Charles Dillingham, including
"Better Times," which ran for more than 400 performances.
When Dillingham left in 1923 to pursue other interests, the Hippodrome was leased to Keith-Albee, which hired architect Thomas
W. Lamb to turn it into a vaudeville theatre by building a much smaller stage and discarding all of its unique features. The most
popular vaudeville artists of the day, including illusionist Harry Houdini, performed at the Hippodrome during its heyday. Others
might vanish rabbits, but in 1918, on the brightly-lit stage of the Hippodrome, Houdini made a 10,000-pound elephant disappear.
He created a sensation. When Houdini fired a pistol, Jennie vanished from view.
The Hippodrome's huge running costs made it a perennial financial failure, and a series of producers tried and failed to make
money from the theatre. It became a location for vaudeville productions in 1923 before being leased for budget opera performances,
finally becoming a sports arena.
In 1922, the elephants that graced the stage of the Hippodrome since its opening moved uptown to the Bronx's Royal Theater.
On arrival, stage worker Miller Renard recalled, the elephants were greeted with extraordinary fanfare:
"The next day the Borough President gives them a dinner on the lawn of the Chamber of Commerce up on Tremont Avenue, with
special dinner menus for the elephants. It was some show to see all those elephants march up those steps to the table where each
elephant had a bail of hay. The[n], the Borough President welcomes the elephants to the Bronx, and the place is just mobbed with
people. And that was the worst week's business we ever done in that theatre."
In 1925, movies were added to the vaudeville, but within a few years, competition from the newer and more sumptuous movie
palaces in the Broadway-Times Square area forced Keith-Albee-Orpheum, which was merged into RKO by May 1928, to sell the
theatre. Several attempts to use the Hippodrome for plays and operas failed, and it remained dark until 1935, when producer
Billy Rose leased it for his spectacular Rodgers & Hart circus musical, Jumbo, which received favorable reviews but lasted only
five months due to the Great Depression.
This organ was moved to the Palace Theatre, Albany, N.Y. in 1931.
After that, the Hippodrome sputtered through bookings of late-run movies, boxing, wrestling, and Jai Lai games before being
demolished in 1939 as the value of real estate on Sixth Avenue began to escalate. The New York Hippodrome closed on
August 16, 1939. The start of World War II delayed re-development, and the Hippodrome site remained vacant until 1952,
when it was taken over for a combination office building and parking garage.
The building was torn down in 1939, though an office building and parking garage that today stands on the same site claims the
name "The Hippodrome Center." Through the 1960s the modern building was the corporate headquarters of the old
Charter Communications Inc. media publishing company.
Programs available from this theatre:
Hippodrome souvenir program (1913)