Sam H. Harris Theatre

Coordinates: 40°45′23″N 73°59′17″W / 40.75638°N 73.98817°W / 40.75638; -73.98817
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Former theater in Manhattan, New York

Sam H. Harris Theatre

The \"Harris\" marquee can be seen on the far right of this 1985 photo, comprising the rightmost part of the Candler Building.


226 W. 42nd St.
New York City
United States of America



Current use


Construction Opened





c. 1997–1998


Thomas W. Lamb

The Sam H. Harris Theatre, originally the Candler Theatre, was a theater within the Candler Building, at 226 West 42nd Street, in the Theater District of Midtown Manhattan in New York City. Opened in 1914, the 1,200-seat theater was designed by Thomas W. Lamb and built for Asa Griggs Candler, who leased it to George M. Cohan, Sam H. Harris, and George Kleine. Although the theater was intended to host both movies and legitimate Broadway productions, it functioned exclusively as a movie theater after 1933. The theater\'s auditorium was demolished by 1998. The only remnant of the former theater is its 42nd Street facade, which has been used by the Madame Tussauds New York museum since 2000.

The theater was located in the rear of the Candler Building and was accessed through the building\'s western wings. The auditorium was decorated in the Italian Renaissance style, with seats across two levels. There were originally four boxes, a proscenium arch with ornate plasterwork, and an elaborate saucer dome on the ceiling. Albert Herter painted six murals for the theater\'s lobby, as well as another mural at the rear of the auditorium.

A syndicate headed by music publisher Sol Bloom acquired the theater\'s site in 1913. The Candler opened on May 8, 1914, with the film Antony and Cleopatra and started hosting legitimate shows during the 1914–1915 season. Cohan and Harris bought out Bloom\'s and Kleine\'s interests in the Candler in 1916 and renamed it the Cohan and Harris Theatre, hosting several successful shows in the 1910s. After Cohan and Harris\'s partnership dissolved in 1920, Harris continued to produce shows at the theater, renaming it after himself. Harris sold the theater in 1926 to the Shubert brothers, who struggled to produce successful shows and forfeited the theater after seven years. Max A. Cohen, head of the Cinema Circuit, acquired the Harris Theatre in 1933; the venue was used as a movie theater until 1994. The city and state governments of New York acquired the theater as part of the 42nd Street Redevelopment Project in 1990. Forest City Ratner developed an entertainment and retail complex on the site in the 1990s, demolishing the theater to make way for Madame Tussauds.

Former Harris Theatre entrance

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC), an agency of the New York state government, proposed redeveloping the area around a portion of West 42nd Street in 1981. The plan centered around four towers that were to be built at 42nd Street\'s intersections with Broadway and Seventh Avenue, developed by Park Tower Realty and the Prudential Insurance Company of America. The city government selected the Nederlander Organization in April 1982 to operate the New Amsterdam and Harris theaters as legitimate theaters. The Cine Theater Corporation acquired the Harris Theatre from the Cinema Circuit in April 1984 and immediately announced plans to renovate it for $250,000. The UDC also selected Jujamcyn Theaters to redevelop three other theaters on the block. As a result, the Brandts and Cine Theater Corp. sued the UDC, claiming that the moves shut out independent theatrical operators, but a state court dismissed the lawsuit. Ultimately, the 42nd Street Redevelopment Project was delayed for several years due to lawsuits and disputes concerning the towers. The Nederlander Organization was still planning to restore the New Amsterdam and Harris theaters in the late 1980s.

In 1989, the Durst Organization acquired the leases to eight theaters in Times Square, including the Harris. It subsequently announced plans to renovate the eight theaters in February 1990. The New York state government acquired the theater sites that April via eminent domain. The city had planned to buy out the theaters\' leases but withdrew after the 42nd Street Company indicated it would lease the theaters to another developer. Although Durst protested the move, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that the sites could be acquired by condemnation. Government officials hoped that development of the theaters would finally allow the construction of the four towers around 42nd Street, Broadway, and Seventh Avenue.

Norman Adie of 42nd Street Theaters, who had owned the theater until it was condemned, initially agreed to vacate the site but later reneged, resulting in a years-long dispute between him and the city and state governments. The theater continued to screen movies, even as most other tenants of nearby buildings had moved elsewhere. 42nd Street Development Project Inc. had taken over the New Amsterdam, Harris, and Empire theaters by 1992. The theater was still operating as late as 1993, when it screened first runs of movies, charging $6 a ticket. The Harris Theatre closed permanently the next year. Adie fought the city and state governments\' acquisition of his theater, saying: \"I\'m one of the last legitimate businesses there, but they only want big names.\"

Forest City Ratner plans and demolition

After Disney committed to restoring the New Amsterdam Theatre in 1994, most of the other theaters around 42nd Street were quickly leased. The Times Square Business Improvement District set up a visitor center within the theater\'s foyer in the mid-1990s. By 1995, real-estate development firm Forest City Ratner was planning a $150 million entertainment and retail complex on the site of the Empire, Harris, and Liberty theaters. Madame Tussauds and AMC Theatres leased space in the complex that July. Madame Tussauds would occupy the eastern section of the site, using the former Harris Theatre\'s facade as an entrance to its wax museum; Bruce Ratner wanted to develop a similarly ornate gateway for AMC on the western end of the site. The Times Square Business Improvement District\'s visitor center subsequently moved to the Selwyn Theatre, then to the Embassy Theatre.

Work on the Forest City Ratner development began in August 1997. Because there was so little left of the original Harris Theatre, the developers decided to raze the theater to make way for the Madame Tussauds museum. Even as the theater was being demolished in 1998, theatrical personalities wanted to restore the theater to legitimate use, and New 42nd Street was seeking tenants for the space. Ultimately, the auditorium was destroyed by the late 1990s, though sources disagree on whether the theater was completely razed by 1997 or 1998. The neighboring Murray\'s Roman Gardens was also razed to make way for the museum. The Harris\'s facade was retained as an exit to the museum, which opened in November 2000.

Notable productions

1914: On Trial
1916: Justice
1916: The Great Lover
1916: Captain Kidd, Jr.
1917: The Willow Tree
1917: Hitchy-Koo of 1917
1917: A Tailor-Made Man
1918: Three Faces East
1920: The Acquittal
1921: Six Cylinder Love
1922: Hamlet
1923: Icebound
1923: The Nervous Wreck
1924: Topsy and Eva
1925: The Monkey Talks
1926: Love \'Em and Leave \'Em
1926: We Americans
1927: Yes, Yes, Yvette
1928: The Trial of Mary Dugan
1929: Scotland Yard
1930: The Last Mile
1932: I Loved You Wednesday


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