by Chandler Jenrette, Research AssistantOn March 24, 1913 the Palace Theatre opened its doors to the public. The theatre was funded by Martin Beck, a vaudeville entrepreneur from San Francisco and president of the Palace Realty and Amusement Company. Beck ran the Orpheum Theatre circuit, the dominant vaudeville chain in the West. He hoped to break into the vaudeville scene in Manhattan, challenging the dominance of the B.F Keith and E.F. Albee-controlled United Booking Office. Despite Beck’s intentions, Albee quickly acquired the majority interest in the theatre through a series of investments.
The Palace was built at Broadway and 47th Street, joining 42 other theatres in Times Square. The theatre sat 1,800 people and featured what the New York Times called the “most modern ideas in stage construction;” the décor included Italian marble, gold silk brocade on the walls and curtain, and an ivory and bronze color scheme. Opening night featured several performances, ranging from a comedic operetta to a modern dance performance in the style of Isadora Duncan. The Palace soon attracted increasingly prestigious and popular acts. Ethel Barrymore starred in a one act play a month after the theatre opened. Sarah Bernhardt, at the time one of the world’s most famous actresses, had a performance there shortly after Barrymore, which the Times called “illuminative.” The acclaim of the acts that played there earned the Palace the nickname “The Valhalla of Vaudeville.”
Vaudeville went out of fashion in the 1930s, and the Palace suffered declining audiences. In 1932 the theatre began showing movies as well as vaudeville performances, and from 1935 to 1949 it exclusively screened movies. In 1951 Judy Garland premiered a twice-a-day vaudeville act at the Palace, which lasted 19 weeks and revitalized the theatre for live performances. Over the next 15 years the theatre switched back in forth between film and performance, until it was purchased in 1966 by the Nederlander family and reopened as a live theater. The Palace is still in operation today.
The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution is on view October 11, 2013 through February 23, 2013 at the New-York Historical Society.