…Indeed the Hippodrome was more of an amusement park than a theatre. It covered an entire city block on 6th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets. The enormous auditorium seated 5,200 people in two balconies and a dress circle. The stage, nearly the size of a football field, could hold 600 performers, or the stage flooring could be withdrawn hydraulically to show a gigantic tank of surging water suitable for diving displays, water ballets, or simulated storms at sea…The size of the Hippodrome made audiences gasp…
– Jim Steinmeyer in Hiding the Elelphant, pp. 261-262
By 1939 the Hippodrome had succumbed to the wrecker’s ball and today a parking garage named “Hippodrome” occupies the site at 6th and 43rd.
– Jim Steinmeyer in The Complete Jarrett, p. 191
But the story doesn’t end there.
Steinmeyer introduced me into the Hippodrome. It’s played a prominent role in both Jarrett books, in Art & Artifice, and in Hiding an Elephant. I’ve always been intrigued by this notion of the megalithic theater – just about the size of today’s Radio City Music Hall – forgotten in the mix of today’s midtown skyscrapers. So I thought I’d take a peek at what it’s become following The Complete Jarrett‘s 2001 publication.
After its life as a theater, the site spent a decade as a parking lot. The base of the current Hippodrome, from the basement level thru the eighth floor, was built during the 1950s. The building housed a large parking garage catering to the theater crowd, as well as office floors and a watch factory. It was one of the first post-war buildings erected on this part of the Avenue of the Americas.
The Hippodrome’s tower, rising from the 9th thru 21st floors plus mechanical levels, was added in 1962, effectively creating a building on top of a building as the two structures used different mechanical systems. The building became home to a variety of office tenants, including May Department Stores, Allied Department Stores, New York Telephone and Scholastic Magazines.
In 2004 & 2005 The Gottesman family, which bought the Hippodrome in 1978, undertook a total overhaul of the building. The repositioning included a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient glass curtain wall, a gorgeous two-story lobby finished in Italian marble, limestone and silver leaf, and updated mechanical systems. The Class A Hippodrome now houses a number of well-known tenants, including American Express Publishing, Macy’s International, Huron Group, Inc., the Direct Marketing Association and 5W Public Relations.
Here are some photos I snapped on a recent trip. Note the giant photo-reproduction of the old Hippodrome hanging over the reception inside in the second photo – a not-so-gentle-nod to the previous tenant:
You can poke also around the outside of the building in 3D using Google street view. Also, a floorplan of the original Hippodrome stage is printed on P. 281 of Culliton’s Houdini-the Key.
- Culliton, Patrick. Houdini–the Key. Keitan Press: np. 2010. 460 pp. Limited edition of 278. Cover | Full Title
- Jarrett, Guy E. And Steinmeyer, Jim. The Complete Jarrett: The Classic 1936 Text on Magic and Illusions, Jarrett Magic In an Annotated Edition with Additional Material. Hahne:Burbank. 2001. 279 pp. Cover | Full Title
- Steinmeyer, Jim. Art & Artifice and other Essays on Illusion: Concerning the Inventors, Traditions, Evolution & Rediscovery of Stage Magic. Hahne:Burbank. 1998. Limited edition of 700. Cover | Full Title
- Steinmeyer, Jim. Hiding the Elephant: How magicians invented the impossible and learned to disappear. Carroll & Graf:New York. 2003. 362 pp. Cover | Full Title