Rene Harris and the Hudson Theater

Apr 16, 2001
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Hi all,

I thought I would add a bit of info about Rene Harris and her involvement with the Hudson Theater. Shortly before her death in 1969, Rene stated, "When I'm on 44th Street, I turn my back on the Hudson. It's a movie house with sex pictures." Sadly, Rene never lived to see the old theater that her lost husband resurrected in 1903 return to its former glory.

For those who may be interested: The Old Hudson Theater on 44th Street in Manhattan is now an integral part of the Millennium Broadway Hotel.

The theater opened on 19 October 1903 and was the first theater in New York to open on two streets (44th and 45th Streets). Henry B. Harris commissioned architects to construct the four-story Renaissance-style facade of the main entrance that complemented the modest brownstones that neighbored the theater. The premiere production, COUSIN KATE, starring Ethel Barrymore, lasted only six weeks. The new theater, on the other hand, began a very long run. Past the front doors, audiences discovered a dazzling combination of Greco-Roman motifs, indirect lighting, and Tiffany glass. From the marble box office guarded by the four bronze heads of Hermes, the Greek god of commerce and eloquence, massive brass and bronze doors opened to the largest foyer of any theater at that time. The hundred foot-long lobby was colored in soft tones of green, orange and old ivory.

The auditorium had seating for nearly 1,100 people in its orchestra and two balconies. Almost all of the original features remain today.

Nine years after the Hudson opened, Henry and Rene sailed aboard Titanic. Following Henry's death in the sinking, Rene took over the theater's management. The Hudson enjoyed many success in the following years, and was considered one of New York's top theaters.

CBS bought the theater in 1934 from Rene Harris, and converted it into a radio station. In 1943, a syndicate purchased the Hudson and it stayed open for a series of plays. The syndicate sold the Hudson to NBC for $595,000.00 in 1950. For the next decade, the theater was in constant use as a television studio for such live programs as BROADWAY OPEN HOUSE and THE TONIGHT SHOW. In 1959, NBC turned off the cameras and spent $100,000.00 restories the Hudson to its former glory.

The Hudson returned to legitimate theater with DAVY JONES' LOCKER, a marionette musical that sank without a trace after a brief run. In 1961, a Manhattan garage operator revealed plans to buy the Hudson, demolish it, and use the site as a parking lot. To its credit, NBC decided to back out of the sale. For the next twenty-five years, the Hudson would change owners and policies with alarming frequency, each time barely avoiding the wrecker's ball.

In late 1967, the Hudson was leased by a chain of pornographic movie theaters. Then in 1975, the theater was cleaned up and reopened showing second-run double features for a dollar, but the policy flopped and the Hudson closed. Then a concert promoter, Ron Delsner, gave the Hudson a new coat of paint and opened it as a nightclub. By 1983, rock was out and in 1987 the Landmark status was granted for both the interior and exterior of the theater.

The Hudson was renovated in 1990 and opened as part of the Millennium Broadway Hotel. The hotel uses the old theater for hotel banquets, receptions and other conferences. The interior of the theater has been restored and is a pleasure to visit.

Sadly, poor Rene Harris must have never imagined what the future would be for her beloved Hudson Theater, the one her husband had built back in 1903. In the late 1960's, she turned her back on it for obvious reasons, but I'm sure she would be pleased and proud to know that the old structure is now restored and appreciated by those who come to visit it.

I would encourage any and all ET message board members to visit the Millennium Broadway Hotel at 145 West 44th Street in New York, and visit the old Hudson Theater found just off the lobby. It's quite an experience!

Best regards to all,

Mike Findlay
 
A

Andrew Williams

Guest
Hi Mike!

Thank you for broading my horizons about Rene Harris, and the Hudson Theater. Next time when I'm in New York City, I shall definetly put this landmark on my list, and visit without fail.

Andrew W.

P. S. It's so good to see you back with us Mike!

Merry Christmas and all the best wishes for the New Year.
 

Kate Bortner

Member
May 17, 2001
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Such wonderful information Michael!!! Thank you for sharing it with us. It's good to see you posting again and I hope things have settled in your world.
-kate.
 

Jim Kalafus

Member
Dec 3, 2000
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For those who can't make it to NYC, there is an easily found book by the title of Lost Broadway Theatres (Nicholas Van Hoogstraten) which has a five page illustrated segment on the Hudson Theatre (inexplicably, since it was never demolished or even seriously altered) with many archival and contemporary photographs and a fairly comprehensive though brief history. Personally, I remember the Hudson from after its porn theatre days when it had been converted into a rock venue called the Savoy (ca 1983). I was at the Millennium for lunch a few days back and was impressed by the restoration job they had done- definitely a world apart from the Savoy days.

Another lost theatre with a Titanic connection was the Astor Theatre, at 1537 Broadway (1909) which survived in severely mutilated form until 1982. It was modernized in 1959, going from late Edwardian to simply hideous, so the eventual demolition was no great loss.

For Lusitania buffs, there is also a chapter on the Empire Theatre (1430 Broadway) which was Charles Frohman's creation (demolished 1953) and the most lavish of the three.