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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

First Movie "Palace" Opened on This Day in 1914 in New York City.

On this day in 1914, the Mark Strand Theatre opened to the public in New York City. When it did so, it marked the beginning of a new era in the exhibition of motion pictures; the age of the movie palace. Located at Broadway and 47th Street, in the heart of Manhattan’s Theater District, it originally had a seating capacity of 2,989 located in orchestra and a single balcony. The theater covered 20 city lots and had a frontage of over 155 feet on Broadway and over 277 feet on 47th Street.

Previous to the Strand, motion-picture exhibitors showcased their offerings behind modest storefronts, dubbed “nickelodeons” after the original Nickelodeon that opened in Pittsburgh in 1905, which earned its name because it cost a nickel per viewing. People who didn't attend nickelodeons went to converted play theaters to watch motion pictures. The Strand signaled that motion pictures were not only gaining in popularity, but were to be considered an art form that should be taken seriously. The Strand differed from other movie theaters in that as part of the entertainment there would be a full programme of music interspersed with the showing of movies.

The first of the so-called “movie palaces,”called as such for their impressive size and luxuriously interiors, cost $1 million to build and may have been the first lavish movie palace built only to show motion pictures. It served as a model for many other similar theaters built at the time. The innovations in design included special heating and cooling systems and featured a two story rotunda and mezzanine promenade in the front of the house. This added social feature enabled people a better space to congregate, mingle and talk during intermissions.

On the night before it debuted to the public, the Mark Strand Theatre held its opening-night gala, which the next day’s newspapers called “a sensation”. In addition to the feature presentation that night (The Spoilers, starring William Farnum) the audience was treated to a performance by the Strand’s concert orchestra to accompany the showing of the silent movie, songs by the Strand Quartet, and a Keystone comedy short. The New York Sun newspaper noted that besides having a magnificent organ, each of its 25 players was a soloist in his own right. The New York Times favorably reviewed the opening as well, which helped to establish the theater's importance.

By 1916, the number of movie palaces in the United States had topped 21,000. Instead of a program of short films, these theaters would show a full-length feature presentation in order to charge patrons premium prices. The movie-palace boom (and the corresponding demise of the nickelodeons) marked the beginning of the rise of the studio system, which would dominate Hollywood from the 1920s into the 1950s.

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