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I’ve lived in New York City for over 20 years now, so I’ve seen plenty of beloved places close.

I arrived in the Big Apple just as the Grindhouse and porn palaces were being turned into Disney stores and Starbucks shops.  I saw the opening and the closing of the Virgin Megastore, which in part replaced movie theaters that had long been a staple of the decaying Times Square of the 90s.

I frequented the various Kim’s Video locations first for their bootleg VHS rentals, and last at their going out of business Blu-ray bin during the closure of their last remaining East Village haunt.

But the granddaddy end-of-an-era event for New York moviegoers occurred today with the closure of the Ziegfled Theatre.

Operating since 1969 as a grand single-screen movie house, this second coming of its namesake was only a few 100 feet from the site of the original 1920s Ziegfeld which itself closed in 1966.  Its lavish red and gold interior was breathtaking, housing over 1100 seats (separated by an Orchestra section and a back elevated “mezzanine.”

All of the necessary upgrades to dolby stereo, digital projection and 3D, as well as cup holders, automatic hand dryers and electronic ticketing retrieval took place of course since 1969, not that you would have ever noticed.  Distracting your attention was the immaculate upkeep of classic detail – formally dressed staff, always going out of their way to help guests, seat rows adorned with ornate gold and red plates that glowed long after the lights dimmed and the film flickered, vintage photos of Ziegfeld’s original “Follies” hanging throughout the lobby and public areas, and of course those amazing auditorium velvet red walls (which they vacuumed every day, I swear).

Like the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld himself, the theater continued to part a giant golden curtain before the show, often resetting the curtain close between trailers and main attraction.  Ushers on opening weekends would even introduce the film.  As multiplex chains, IMAX screens, and 3D changed the moviegoing landscape, the Ziegfeld Theatre remained a single-screen class act.

Host to countless premieres, its last being for HBO’s much anticipated Vinyl, this was the singular venue for East Coast publicity arms.  But, when the red carpet was rolled away and the paparazzi rode off, the Ziegfeld was everyone’s grand night at the movies.

It’s fitting that Star Wars: The Force Awakens would be the last feature projected.  I was there this week for one of the final showings, and its packed house was unfortunately the exact opposite of what I’d encountered frankly at trips to the Ziegfeld in the past few years.

In fact, the Monday 7pm showing on opening week I attended was dismal.  Long gone were days where crowds camped out to be the first in line.

There were rumors of the theater’s fate since Cablevision announced its purchase.  Nonexistent attendance sealed its fate.  The last two films before Episode VII that I saw at the Ziegfeld were Tomorrowland and Spectre.  I was probably one of about 20 people in the auditorium for both shows.
That’s a lot of empty seats when your capacity exceeds a thousand.  Even the audiences for this summer’s Jurassic World paled in comparison to the ’round-the-block lines I remember for Jurassic Park and The Lost World.

But my thoughts turn to happier days of moviegoing memories.

Of classic festivals and films I’d been lucky enough to see on the Ziegfeld’s silver screen, including Planet of the Apes,  the original Star Wars trilogy, Lawrence of Arabia, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Vertigo.

I won’t ever forget sitting next to Luis Guzmán at the premiere of There Will Be Blood, or showing Spike Lee to his seat while helping the Warner Bros. publicity team for the premiere of Any Given Sunday.

But the theater was really made for opening night moviegoing, especially in its heyday.  You could count on a great audience of true movie lovers; fans enthusiastic for the symbiotic energy of the entire experience.

I’ll always remember audiences exploding into applause during the (at the time) blockbuster pop extravaganza of Independence Day, which repeated shows for 72 hours straight during July 4th weekend of 1996.  Moulin RougeChicago, and Anastasia with its enthusiastic obviously Broadway community crowd, singing along, and breaking into standing ovations. Geeks in droves, with towels over shoulders, for The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.  The raucous scream of 1,100 X Files fanatics when Scully was stung by a bee just moments before finally kissing Mulder in Fight the Future

In the last remaining hours of the theater’s existence, Bow Tie Cinemas surprised guests with vintage Ziegfeld Girls welcoming them as they entered.  Although those original beauties technically didn’t perform at this 47 year old theater, it didn’t matter.  Their spirit was there.

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