1, C or E train to 50th St, walk south to 47th St and Broadway. N or R to 49th St, walk south to 47th St and Broadway.
M104, M10, M27/M50 or M7 bus.
Designed by Milwaukee architects Kirchoff & Rose, the 1,740-seat theatre was funded by Martin Beck, a vaudeville entrepreneur based in San Francisco, in an attempt to challenge Keith-Albee's east-coast monopoly. Albee in turn demanded that Beck turn over three-quarters ownership to use acts from the Keith circuit. Beck took the deal, and was in charge of the booking.
When the theatre finally opened on March 24, 1913 with headliner Ed Wynn, it was not an instant success. It lost money for months. The theater is notorious, too, for its enormous and difficult-to-sell second balcony in which nearly every seat has an obstructed view.
Soon the Palace became the premiere venue of the Keith-Albee circuit. The theater owner Albee sometimes traded on the performers' desire for this goal by forcing acts to take a pay cut for the privilege. Even so, to "play the Palace" meant that an entertainer had reached the pinnacle of his vaudeville career. Performer Jack Haley wrote:
"Only a vaudevillian who has trod its stage can really tell you about it... only a performer can describe the anxieties, the joys, the anticipation, and the exultation of a week's engagement at the Palace. The walk through the iron gate on 47th Street through the courtyard to the stage door, was the cum laude walk to a show business diploma. A feeling of ecstasy came with the knowledge that this was the Palace, the epitome of the more than 15,000 vaudeville theaters in America, and the realization that you have been selected to play it. Of all the thousands upon thousands of vaudeville performers in the business, you are there. This was a dream fulfilled; this was the pinnacle of variety success."
With the Great Depression came a rise in the popularity of film and radio, and vaudeville began its decline. The transformation of all of Keith-Albee-Orpheum's vaudeville houses into movie houses at the hands of Joseph P. Kennedy in 1929 was a major blow. In 1929 the two-a-day Palace shows were increased to three. By 1932, the Palace moved to four shows a day and lowered its admission price. In November of that year, it was rebranded the "RKO Palace" and converted to a cinema. Appearing on the closing bill when the venue ended its stage policy were Nick Lucas and Hal Le Roy. There was a brief return to a live revue format in 1936, when Broadway producer Nils Granlund staged a series of variety shows beginning with "Broadway Heat Wave" featuring female orchestra leader Rita Rio.
The RKO Picture Citizen Kane had its world premiere at the theatre on May 1, 1941.
Beginning in 1949 under Sol Schwartz, the refurbished RKO Palace tried to single-handedly revive vaudeville, with a slate of eight acts before a feature film. It attracted acts like Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, Lauritz Melchior, Betty Hutton, and Harry Belafonte. Judy Garland staged a record-breaking 19-week comeback here in October 1951. But while the shows were successful, they did not lead to a revival of the format.
On January 29, 1966, the Palace reopened as a legitimate theatre with the original production of the musical Sweet Charity, although for a period of time it showed films and presented concert performances by Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Josephine Baker, Eddie Fisher, Shirley MacLaine, Diana Ross, Vikki Carr, and the like between theatrical engagements.
In the 1980s, a towering hotel was built above the theater, cantilevered over the auditorium; today, the theater is practically invisible behind an enormous wall of billboards and under the skyscraper, and only the marquee is visible.