Sunday, April 15, 2012

Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Avenue, Albany, NY

Capacity 4000
Formerly the major business located on the site was John Battersby's Meat Market.
Here they soon did the largest retail business in fine meats of all kinds of any similar establishment in the state. Keeping a great variety of choice meats, Battersby's market soon attracted the custom of many of the best citizens of Albany, maintaining its reputation and increasing in strength. It was greatly due to the enterprise, activity and carefulness of John Battersby that so large a trade was built up and maintained unimpaired. He remained with his father in the business till the old man's death in 1880, at the age of seventy-nine. After his father's death, John Battersby took entire charge of the business.(1) The Meat Market didn't close until 1905.(2)

So, what was on this property from 1905 until 1930?

Construction began on the Palace Theater in June 1930 and was completed by October 1931.(3)
As indicated in the Times Union, some of the features of the new Palace included a seating capacity of just under 4,000 - listed as the third largest in the world at that date.

Originally installed in the NYC Hippodrome Theatre, a Wurlitzer organ Opus 1538 Style PUB 1 was installed in the Palace Theater on 1/1/31, when the Hipp closed in the late '20s.

John Eberson was one of the foremost motion picture theatre architects in the world. His son Drew Eberson also became a theater architect, and the two Ebersons practiced together from 1926 until John Eberson’s death in 1954. In later years, Drew Eberson renovated many of the playhouses originally designed by his father.
John Eberson, Architect (1875-1954)

The style is palatial, Austrian Baroque.
The Palace is located on the northwest corner of Clinton Avenue and North Pearl Street on a parcel of land assembled from fifteen separate properties. Apparently some difficulty was encountered in putting together the land for two lots remained within the theatre property boundaries and the building was designed around two existing buildings which still stand.
The front two stories, facing the corner and including the marquee with a modern scrolling LED display, are faced in tan brick with some stone ornamentation. The windows have carved brackets. There are open pediments with cartouches and brick parapets with molded stone coping.[2]
The taller auditorium, to the northwest, features a banded chimney and decorative brickwork facing the south. The east elevation, along Pearl, has circular arcading and banded pilasters.[2]
The interior is designed and decorated in the Austrian Baroque style. The foyer, between the lobby and main entrance, has red marble staircases decorated in scrollwork, cartouches, and garlands. The wrought iron railing is foliated. Murals by two Hungarian artists decorate the walls.[2]
The balcony level extends over two-thirds of the sloping main floor. The heavily decorated ceilings and walls include pilasters rising to complex entablatures, statuary, and arches framing the wall boxes. A Czech made crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling. The orchestra pit can be raised and lowered by an elevator.[2]

The grand opening night occurred on Friday, October 23, 1931 with Lieut.Gov. and Mrs. Herbert Lehman, Mayor and Mrs. John Boyd Thacher and Joseph Plunkett, vice president and general manager of R.K.O. in attendance. The event was a benefit for the Albany Community Chest. ($4000 was raised for the organization).
Prior to the formal program in the Palace there was a parade that began at Capital Park, down State Street and over North Pearl. There were floats as well as music provided by the American Legion, LaSalle school and the Musicians' union. A battery of floodlights as well as fireworks lit up the sky around the Palace.
After the formal speeches, the audience was entertained by vaudeville acts, a concert orchestra conducted by Anthony Morrelli, melodies on the "grande" organ played by Ray Turner and the film DEVOTION starring Ann Harding and Leslie Howard two of the favorite movie stars of that era. Both the orchestra and organ were raised and lowered from below by elevator. Reserved seats for the gala premiere were $1.00.

As for stage productions the major "big bands" appeared such as Tommey Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman and Benny Goodman. Included on the vaudeville menu were many of the top vocal artists of those days. For example in December 1932 the ads listed "exceptional stage and radio talent Frances Langford" who went on to be a favorite in radio's golden age on the comedy and variety shows. On New Year's Eve 1932 they advertised gala midnight show, all seats reserved, orchestra $1.00, balcony $.75 and loges $1.36 (plus tax)

Originally an RKO movie house presenting vaudeville acts between feature films, the Palace Theatre boasts "atmospheric" elements in the auditorium. Atmospheric design referred to architectural features that created the illusion of the auditorium being open to the sky above. In the Palace Theatre, this was achieved by installing a small ceiling cove painted with clouds floating over a blue sky. The ceiling is decorated with cherubs and a sky scene recessed into the ceiling and illuminated. Even though it is listed as atmospheric it isn't atmospheric in the true sense of the word. Eberson did incorporate overhead ceiling alcoves depicting the sky and clouds.
Photo by John Lewis

Photo by John Lewis
Photo by John Lewis
Photo by John Lewis

Though many changes have taken place since its opening, the Palace Theatre fortunately has retained most of its original design features. These include an impressive brass chandelier in the main lobby, original murals painted by Andrew Karoly and Jules Zartol, and plaster beams in the fore-lobby painted to resemble carved wood. The center chandelier contained 375 light bulbs, the stage 68 by 42 feet. It was to employ 100 men and women, of those 40 were ushers.
In 1940, The Three Stooges performed here live and in person!
In 1949, RKO (Radio Keith Orpheum)(4) started to divest some of its theatres to comply with the Federal anti-trust suit against it, the Palace was returned to the Fabian ownership.
1951 photo by Lisa Larsen

In an effort to revitalize sagging attendance (and perhaps to eliminate some maintenance problems) Fabian Enterprises invested a quarter of a million dollars in 1960 to renovate the entry fa├žade and revise the seating to provide more space. The effort was not successful and the theatre continued to lose money.
On April 29, 1965, the Rolling Stones performed here.
Fabian operated it until closure in September, 1969.
Shortly thereafter, the Palace was purchased from Fabian by the City of Albany for $90,000 for use as a civic auditorium.
It is still the home of the Albany Symphony Orchestra. (Virginia Bowers, city historian)(5)
In 1979, the Palace was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.(3)
The revitalization of the Palace Theatre has been a major priority of the City of Albany to help create a new energy for the downtown arts and entertainment district. Beginning in 2002, interior renovations completed in the first phase included all new carpeting, a stage curtain, fabric wall treatments, fresh paint on the ceiling and throughout the theatre, general public improvements and the refurbishment of over 2,800 seats. Phase Two renovations called for a new electrical system to power the stage. And of course the most obvious of our renovations (also in Phase Two) is the new marquee! It is a state-of-the-art full color replica of the original marquee designed in 1931.

Jerry performed here on
11/10/74 Merl Saunders
12/8/77 Jerry Garcia band
2/13/80 Jerry Garcia Band
Promoter SUNYA[7]
"She was only booed off the stage in the first concert", noted Evan Gold with futile optimism. Evan was the State University of Albany's concert chairman, and he was understandably a little rattled. Stiff Records Rachel Sweet had just stiffed him, canceling as opening act for the Grateful Dead's lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, with five and a half hours notice.
Despite the fact that Jerry had personally requested her on his mini-tour, the cultural differences apparently were too big for Jerry's fans to swallow. So they booed the rising young star right off the stage in D.C. the night before she was to play Albany and the insultwas just too much for the sensitive 17 year old.'[9]

7/27/80 Jerry Garcia Band
Promoter Monarch Entertainment[8]
2,421 tickets sold.[6]

11/4/81 Jerry Garcia Band
Promoter UCB and 91FM Present

The Grateful Dead never performed here.

Palace Theatre, Albany, NY
1.)^ Noted living Albanians and state officials. A series of biographical sketches. (1891),
2.)^Powers, Robert (May 1979). "National Register of Historic Places nomination, Palace Theatre". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
3.)^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service
5.)^Bowers, Virginia, City Historian.
7.)^Webb, Steve, Garcia Offers hippie music for the 80's, Knickerbocker News, 1980-02-08, Joseph jubilee Archives.
8.)^Billboard, 1980-08-09, pg. 3, Joseph Jupille Archives.
9.)^Wilcock, David, Sweet cancels, but Garcia soars, Sunday Record, Trot, NY, 1980-02-24


  1. Cinema Treasures says: "The Palace Theatre was opened in October 1931 with 3,764 seats. It was built by Fabian Securities Ltd. and leased to RKO. Designed by noted theatre architect John Eberson in a Baroque/semi-Atmospheric style. Seating is now provided for 1,541 in the orchestra and 1,303 in the balcony." Do you have a sense of the approximate capacity on 11/10/74? Your current number of 4,000 sounds a little high.

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