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Never Before Seen Photos of RKO Palace Theater

October 7th, 2012

Rochester's RKO Palace Theater during WWII. Main entrance on Clinton Ave. 1942. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
A few weeks after we discovered the RKO Palace Theater floor at the site of RGRTA’s future transit center, Russ Shaner, president of the Rochester Theater Organ Society external link contacted me. These were the guys who saved the old Wurlitzer pipe organ from the RKO Palace before the building was demolished. And as it turns out, one of their founding members, D.O. Schultz, captured a treasure trove of photographs and left them with the Organ Society before he moved to Florida years ago. Russ asked RochesterSubway.com for help, both archiving the photos, and sharing them with you, the public. Below is part 1 of this awesome collection…

Rochester's RKO Palace Theater prior to demolition. Main entrance on Clinton Ave. 1964. The theater originally opened on December 25, 1928 as
Rochester’s RKO Palace Theater prior to demolition. Main entrance on Clinton Ave. 1964. The theater originally opened on December 25, 1928 as “Keith’s Palace”.

Looking east at rear wall of the RKO Palace Theater's auditorium. Mortimer Street on right. 1953. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Looking east at rear wall of the RKO Palace Theater’s auditorium. Mortimer Street on right. 1953.

RKO Palace Theater stage. View from balcony. There was seating for 2,916 people. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
RKO Palace Theater stage. View from balcony. There was seating for 2,916 people.

Clinton Ave. entrance and marquee. 1964. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Clinton Ave. entrance and marquee. 1964.

Looking east at rear wall of the RKO Palace Theater's auditorium. Mortimer Street on right. 1957-58. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Looking east at rear wall of the RKO Palace Theater’s auditorium. Mortimer Street on right. 1957-58.

Front of RKO Palace Theater. The three-story building to the right of the entrance was connected to the theater although there was no access between the two from the inside. This three-story section of the building still exists underneath the 7-story building which is still there today. Clinton Ave. 1955. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Front of RKO Palace Theater. The three-story building to the right of the entrance was connected to the theater although there was no access between the two from the inside. This three-story section of the building still exists underneath the 7-story building which is still there today external link. Clinton Ave. 1955.

Line of people in front lobby (Clinton Ave. main entrance). [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Line of people in front lobby (Clinton Ave. main entrance).

The RKO Palace Theater was filled with artwork. This painting hung in the front lobby. Landscape with Cows in Foreground by Émile van Marcke, a French cattle painter. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
The RKO Palace Theater was filled with artwork. This painting hung in the front lobby. Landscape with Cows in Foreground by Émile van Marcke, a French cattle painter.

Information board in the front lobby. 1941. I THINK this is now located in the Auditorium Theater on Main Street. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Information board in the front lobby. 1941. I THINK this is now located in the Auditorium Theater on Main Street.

Information board in the front lobby. 1941. I THINK this is now located in the Auditorium Theater on Main Street. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Inner Lobby (or ‘transverse lobby’) and concession stand on right. This lobby was between the front lobby and the auditorium.

UPDATE: Earlier photos posted here were incorrectly thought to be the RKO Palace inner lobby. They were actually photos of the Loew’s Theater main lobby and have been moved to a newer post about Loew’s Theater.

Outer lounge of the Ladies powder room in the balcony level. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Outer lounge of the Ladies powder room in the balcony level.

Actor Jack Mahoney on stage. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Actor Jack Mahoney external link on stage.

Actor Jack Mahoney on stage. [PHOTO: Len Campagno / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Actor Jack Mahoney on stage. This photo was taken by Len Campagno.

Crowd in auditorium. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]

Audience has a chance to come up on stage, maybe for an autograph signing or meet & greet. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Audience has a chance to come up on stage, maybe for an autograph signing or meet & greet.

Bausch & Lomb celebrates 100 year anniversary the same year they introduced CinemaScope. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Bausch & Lomb celebrates 100 year anniversary the same year they introduced CinemaScope external link.

A Bausch & Lomb engineer explains CinemaScope. That's the RKO Palace manager on the right. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
A Bausch & Lomb engineer explains CinemaScope. That’s the RKO Palace manager on the right.

The opening of 'The Robe' which was the first movie to be shown in CinemaScope. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
The opening of The Robe external link which was the first movie to be shown in CinemaScope.

Jay Golden, RKO Regional Manager, in his office at the RKO Palace. [PHOTO: Richard Neidich / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Jay Golden, RKO Regional Manager, in his office at the RKO Palace.

Jay Golden was instrumental in allowing the Rochester Theater Organ Society to keep the RKO Palace's pipe organ in Rochester. If not for his convincing, the organ would have gone to a Long Island broker. [PHOTO: Richard Neidich / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Jay Golden was instrumental in allowing the Rochester Theater Organ Society to keep the RKO Palace’s pipe organ in Rochester. If not for his convincing, the organ would have gone to a Long Island broker.

The Rochester Theater Organ Society saved this Wurlitzer organ from the RKO Palace before demolition. It is now located at the Auditorium Theater on Main Street. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
The Rochester Theater Organ Society saved this Wurlitzer organ from the RKO Palace before demolition. It is now located at the Auditorium Theater on Main Street.

Rochester Theater Organ Society members lowering the organ's pipes from the pipe chamber. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Rochester Theater Organ Society members lowering the organ’s pipes from the pipe chamber.

Rochester Theater Organ Society member with the organ blower beneath the stage. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]
Rochester Theater Organ Society member with the organ blower beneath the stage.

Two of the crew and wrecking ball which would take down the RKO Palace. [PHOTO: D.O. Schultz / Rochester Theater Organ Society]

Check back here tomorrow for part 2. Prepare to be heartbroken :-(

See Part 2 here…

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 7th, 2012 at 9:55 pm and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images. 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.

26 Responses to “Never Before Seen Photos of RKO Palace Theater”

  1. Jim says:

    Thanks for these pics. What great memories of Saturday matinees with my buddies. We loved the balcony!

  2. Michael Arve says:

    great photos I so remember the Palace along with the Loewe’s, Paramount and Regent. Those were the days when Rochester still had a vibrant downtown. I miss it. Hopefully there will be a resurgence of urban life in the heart of Rochester with good restaurants, theatres and movie houses. But I doubt it.

  3. @Michael, I believe you can see the Paramount Theater in the 3rd shot. That’s the marquee on Mortimer St.

  4. Lisa says:

    We went to check out the unearthed remnants a couple weeks ago. What a shame. Yet somehow it seems we never learn. Thank you SO much for sharing these.

  5. Mike J. says:

    Thank you for sharing such great photos and all the history, it is apreciated by many.

  6. Carlos Mercado says:

    Mike, I was in that theater to see “The Robe” in 1954, but I was only 8 and do not remember much. And my parents did not tell me there was a trolley subway near by. Such child abuse! I have never been able to figure out the inner and outer lobby configuration. From your captions it sounds lie the main lobby was accessed directly from Clinton Ave. while the outer narrower lobby was accessed from Mortimer? Is this right? I know the Paramount had a similar situation since it still existed, along with the Regent, when I moved here in 1968.

  7. @Carlos, yes you’ve got it. You entered the front lobby from Clinton. The front/main lobby was long and narrow and was perpendicular to the transverse lobby which was also rather long and narrow. The transverse lobby ran north/south and the doors to the auditorium were here. You could enter the south end of the transverse lobby from Mortimer, and there were also doors at the north end of it which I guess just led out to an alley. All of these entrances had rather ornate overhangs. You’ll be able to see this in the photos I will post tomorrow.

  8. Lori says:

    Totally love all these pieces you bring to life. Thanks for your dedication!!!

  9. Pat Barnes says:

    My mother would take my sister and I to movies downtown often. I loved the beauty of them at a young age. It is too bad that that was not appreciated by the powers that be in the city and they could have saved all those beautiful buildings.

  10. Carlos Mercado says:

    Pat, It’s hard to remember 55 years ago, but people just did not value these historic buildings. They were still too common and we did not realize how quickly they would all be gone. We also thought that big cars and superhighways would solve all our transportation problems. It was a different time, but we are still paying for their mistakes.

  11. Michael Arve says:

    Carlos – you are so right. I remember my Dad saying back when they were talking about getting rid of the subway and building the expressway, that what they should have done was extend the subway to the suburbs. Of course the inner loop totally strangled downtown rochester. Our public transportatipon system today is a joke.

  12. Dave DiPonzio says:

    I love this blog. I wish this place could have been saved. It’s really sad. Cannot wait for more interesting blogs and photographs. Hopefully someone will come forward with old midtown photographs some day like the Rochester Theater Organ Society did.

  13. Richard Neidich says:

    The three photos starting with one labeled
    ‘Lobby Entry” are from Loews Rochester Theater, not the RKO Palace.

  14. Richard Neidich says:

    Got label wrong, Loews Rochester pictures are the three starting with “Entry to Balcony”. The reason is obvisous, the chandlers are not those of RKO Palace lobby. I took some of the RKO pictures, including those of Jay Golden, the RKO Theaters District Manager, whose office was in the theater.

  15. @Richard, I’m not sure how that could be, but I will look into it. Just so I’m sure we’re talking about the same photos, are the #8, #9, #10 in order from the top?

  16. @Richard, sorry about that, our comments crossed each other. So you’re saying you actually the shot the photos of Jay Golden shown here? Did you take any of the others?

    So to confirm, you say #11, #12, and #13 were from Loews?

  17. Richard Neidich says:

    yes, 11, 12 and 13 are Loews Rochester. The best way to see what I did take is to get a copy of the comemorative booklet. Russ Shaner has a set of images of the booklet. I have color slides as well, but have yet to get them scanned.

  18. Beth Rhodes says:

    It just makes me SICK that we tore this down.

  19. @Beth, I spoke to Russ about this. He said that most of the furnishings, paintings, anything that wasn’t bolted down, was gradually removed from the theater by the theater’s management. Russ said he stumbled upon some of the furniture (including a table similar to this one) in an old mansion someplace in the southern tier that burned down in the 70′s.

    The one piece other than the organ that is still around is the information board – possibly the same one as shown here. It is in the Auditorium Theater.

  20. Bob Williams says:

    “On its site will be erected a modern motel-office-theatre complex with twin eighteen story towers. The new 1200-seat theatre will be in the luxury class with the latest projection and sound equipment plus roomy seats that offer patrons ‘living room comfort.’”

    Oh right. Because the Palace wasn’t luxury class. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to the 60′s (which I wasn’t around for, thankfully) and punch everybody in the face.

    Recalling all of the pictures I’ve seen this week, I almost feel the writing was on the wall for the RKO from the very beginning. From the time it opened, that corner lot was a parking lot according to the plats. The reason you layout a theater the way the RKO was oriented on the block with a long ‘lobby’ is because the Clinton Avenue streetfront is DENSE. Ironically that lot previously housed the Masonic Temple and Auditorium. This would move to Main Street and eventually receive the sizable donation of a Wurlitzer!

    See the Canon Theater in Toronto for an example of how this is still employed in context.

  21. Douglas A. Fisher says:

    The “planned” new apartment complex was to be called the “Voyager Towers” built by Wilmorite, which was heavily involved in 1960s urban “renewal” in downtown Rochester.

    The concept of “inner” and “outer” lobbies relates to intermissions, when the entire show could be many hours long. Having an inner lobby accessible only to paying patrons would render it difficult for gate crashers to enter the theater by mingling with the crowd during intermission. The non-paying would-be gate crashers would be restricted to the outer lobby.

    Danny Schultz, who provided many of these photographs, lived in Fishers, N.Y. He rescued the theater organ from the Paramount Theater, also on Clinton Avenue, between the RKO Palace Theater and Main Street. He installed this organ in his Fishers home. When he moved to Florida, the Paramount organ was then installed in the Eisenhart Auditorium of the Rochester Museum & Science Center, where it is still used for occasional concerts.

  22. Danny Schultz says:

    Great to see these photos which came from several sources. Some were given to me by Frank Landkamp the last Manager at the Palace. Others were mine as I daily while working at B&L would at lunch document the theaters’ destruction. Richard Neidich and Dan O’Toole both RIT students made some of the highest large format photos. I have still a collection of 35mm slides which I made during the organ disassembly and removal as well as some shot in B&W with my Rolleiflex. I plan to bring my photo album to Rochester in Oct for interested parties to see.
    A correction to the location of the Paramount organ which I purchased from the UofR and with three sons approaching college age we sold it to a Pizza Parlor in Louisville CO where I witnessed it playing several years later. I and Bob Branch also removed the Organ from the Webster theater organ and parted it out due to it’s poor condition. The organ in the Museum came from Wooster, MA and I had little to do with it’s acquisition or moving, only along with Gail Smith and others helped finance it’s acquisition and storage in Webster for several years.

  23. @Danny, thanks for the information and correction. Terrific photos! Thank you for having the forethought to capture the demolition for us.

  24. Jannette Zigadlo says:

    I remember so well as a child walking into these beautiful theaters, the Lowes, the Palace, the Paramount for movies of the day. I thought I was walking into a king’s palace so beautiful. Never stopped being in awe of these gracious structures along with the beautiful Sibley building. Met my daughter there under the “clock” for the last time on the last day before it closed. Wow,thanks for the great photos and memories.

  25. Additional photos from this period are being posted on the RTOS website. (See RKO Legacy menu choice) They are celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year with a weekend long celebration October 3-5, 2014.


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