The Loews Astor Plaza
On August 2nd, 2004, the Loews Astor Plaza in Manhattan closed its doors forever. The theater opened on June 26, 1974 with the film For Pete's Sake starring Barbara Streisand, but was most notable to Dexter and his friends as the home of all three Original Trilogy Star Wars films in 1977, 1980, and 1983. The 1440 seat theater, located in Times Square, was one of the few remaining large single-screen theaters amidst the wave of multiplexes that now populate the city.
The Astor Plaza was known as "the place" to see event films, drawing large opening night crowds of film lovers. In addition to the Star Wars films, the theater hosted opening day screenings of Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark and the following Indiana Jones films, 2001, and several James Bond films. Equipped with state-of-the-art sound and projection systems, the Astor was also one of the few theaters retaining the tradition of having a velvet curtain that opened and closed to expose the screen for the feature attraction.
These photos were taken when Dexter attended the world premiere of Return of the Jedi in 1983. His fondest memory, however, occurred one week later, when the film opened to the public. This was the very first time that Dexter had ever taken to the sidewalk to wait overnight for theater tickets (no advance sales back then... you got yourself together in the morning, bought your ticket, and walked inside...). His spot was a bit beyond the throughway for the Minskoff Theater, visible on the left. The thrill of seeing the premiere with 1439 other fans that day far outranked the premiere, and thus began a long career of movie "overnights" through which Dex made many of his current friends.
On August 2nd, after the morning screening of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, the theater officially closed its doors, tore down the screen, and ripped out the front stage speaker systems. Following a nine-month renovation, the space will reopen as a live rock concert hall. Dexter is at least pleased that the Astor will still be entertaining people in its new incarnation, rather than storing the automobiles of patrons while they attend other venues.
The Loews Astor Plaza was the largest one-screen auditorium in New York. With its closing, the Ziegfeld now takes that honor, and is in fact the last theater in Manhattan that can be described as a movie palace. Thankfully, the Ziegfeld, which has been host to the recent Star Wars prequels, also combines the size, technology, and ambiance that one expects for a premiere event... including the velvet screen.
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