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RGRTA Digs Up Rochester’s Old RKO Palace Theater

August 23rd, 2012

The former RKO Palace Theater on Clinton Ave. It was partially unearthed this week by crews building the future RTS bus terminal.
There are few places Rochesterians talk about with such fondness as the old RKO Palace Theater that once stood on Clinton Avenue. Looking at old pictures, I can see why. The place was all dressed up and sparkled inside and out like a glitzy Vegas showgirl. But like many of Rochester’s brick and mortar beauties, she grew old, was chopped up into little pieces, and buried where she stood. All in the name of “urban renewal.” Fast forward fifty years. RGRTA breaks ground on a new bus terminal. And guess what shows up? That’s right – the skeleton of Rochester’s most beautiful movie theater…

The auditorium floor and stage area of the old RKO Palace are on the left. The open pit on the right is filled with bricks and what appears to be a structural column. Mortimer Street is in the foreground with Saint Paul Street on the far left and Clinton Ave on the far right.
A friend dropped me a line today and asked if I had been over to Mortimer Street lately. Why in the hell would I go to Mortimer Street I thought? He tells me RGRTA has unexpectedly unearthed the floor of the old RKO Palace Theater. HOLY SHIT! Three minutes later I was snapping these photos. Click on the photo above for a full panorama shot of the construction site. It shows the bowl-shaped floor of the auditorium on the left, with the outline of stage clear as day. On the right is an open pit filled with bricks and rubble. Can you believe all of this was sitting under just a few inches of asphalt since 1965?!

A few of the bus terminal developers were on site when I got there, standing on the sidewalk and analyzing the situation through the chain-link fence. I asked one of them what they were planning on doing with their new discover. One of them jokingly said, “We’re gonna rebuild it.” We all had a good laugh. Then I got real serious and asked if I could help. Ultimately they told me it will take some time to figure out what to do. How much of it to rip out. How much can be buried over once again. One way or the other, the Palace will be put back to rest and the RTS bus terminal external link will be built.

They also pointed out the holes in the auditorium floor (seen in the photo above). Those were actually for air-conditioning vents which blew cool air from beneath the seats. Cutting edge technology for the time. This theater opened in 1928.

Below is a close up of the under side of the auditorium floor. Looks like there’s an entire building underneath there waiting to be explored…

A close up of the under side of the auditorium floor. Looks like there's an entire building underneath there still.

And here’s a close up of the rubble pit. These are probably bricks from the exterior of the front lobby. Looks like a structural column in there too…

A close up of the RKO Palace rubble pit. These are probably bricks from the exterior of the front lobby.

RKO Palace was, of course, a movie theater. But according to this article external link, like many theaters of the time it had live shows on the 80 foot deep stage, short subjects and a sing-along in addition to the main feature. The side of the building advertised “The Showplace of Rochester”, and as you went in the main entrance, there was the proclamation over the doors “Rochester’s Most Beautiful Theater”.

Thanks to my friend Mr. Decker external link for digging up the following photos we can all gawk at longingly. Here’s what the inner lobby looked like during Christmas time…

The RKO Palace Theater's front lobby. [PHOTO: Rochester Theater Organ Society via our good friend Howard Decker

And here’s a shot of the front lobby…

The RKO Palace Theater's front lobby. [PHOTO: Rochester Theater Organ Society via our good friend Howard Decker

Seems ashame to bury a local treasure like this for a second time. I wonder if there’s a way the RTS terminal floor could be made out of glass?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 at 9:11 pm and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images, Rochester News, Transit + Infrastructure, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

101 Responses to “RGRTA Digs Up Rochester’s Old RKO Palace Theater”

  1. touringkayaker says:

    Regarding the Theatre Organ, when the Auditorium Theater received the organ from the RKO, the original Skinner organ in the theater was sold/ donated or bought by The Church of the Ascension on Lake Ave where it still is played today. When I was a member of the church, we used to get students from the Eastman School of Music as our organists and frequently scheduled free concerts. I moved from the area about 8 years ago, so I don’t know if they still do.http://ascensionroch.org/index.php/about-us/history


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