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Historic New York Theater Moves

March 1, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Even in a city constantly on the move, this was extraordinary.

On Sunday, at a rate of less than a foot a minute, the Empire Theatre _ all 7.4 million pounds of it _ moved a half-block down 42nd Street amid gawking crowds and giant balloons.

Transferred onto a temporary foundation and propelled by hydraulic cylinders along a set of eight rails, the theater took less than five hours to slide 168 feet.

In its new home the theater will be the centerpiece of a 25-screen movie complex and retail center.

For hundreds of curious spectators who gathered across 42nd Street to watch the theater’s progress, it appeared that two giant Thanksgiving Day Parade-style balloons of comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were using yellow ropes to pull the building veeeeery sloooooowly to its new location.

Markers posted along the fence in front of the building measured the theater’s progress and played on the pair’s famed ``Who’s on first″ routine: ``140 ft. ... 150 ft. ... 160 ft. ... HOME PLATE.″

Abbott and Costello first teamed up at the Empire, which was then called the Eltinge Theater, in 1935. Other famous entertainers who played the stage before it closed in 1985 included Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable, Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers.

Matt and Kate Messinger of Manhattan brought their 21-month-old son Miles to watch.

``I’ll bring him down here when he’s aware and tell him he saw it move,″ Matt Messinger said. ``I’m really fond of all the old theaters and the terra cotta facades. I think New Yorkers really appreciate that, instead of tearing everything down, they’re preserving this.″

The theater will be restored and its Art Nouveau facade will serve as the main entrance for a 5,000-seat cinemaplex scheduled to open in the spring of 1999. Connected to the AMC movie complex will be retail stores, restaurants and the first Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in North America.

The complex will be the latest addition to a block that once was home to drug pushers and porn palaces.

In recent years, a massive Disney Store has opened on the block, along with the New Victory Theater, the New Amsterdam Theatre and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

Tony Mazzo, a senior vice president for the firm Urban Foundation/Engineering, headed the Empire relocation. Mazzo said moving the theater wasn’t as much of a challenge as shoring the building up so it could be moved without collapsing.

``I think it’s more exciting for me to know I can take part, as a native New Yorker, in rebuilding Times Square,″ Mazzo said.

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