The Varieties Theatre at Third Avenue and Thirteenth Street was built in 1914, and its marquee’s electric bulbs date from its construction. The neon overlay, however, is most likely the work of the 1920s: under the El every bit of light possible was deployed to inveigle customers into a distinctly non-first-run theater.
The Beacon on Broadway in the Seventies was something else again. Built for Roxy Rothafel and designed by Watter Ahlschlager, who was responsible for the Oriental, Spanish, rococo, you-name-ft splendors of the famous Roxy, its vast downtown progenitor, the smaller Beacon had twenty-seven hundred seats and enough decor for three theaters.
Years of neglect have darkened the frescoes on the theater’s walls, but you can still make out Greek and Egyptian slaves bearing riches. Who could have kept a straight face in the presence of this mad wealth of historical detail? The Beacon’s proscenium is flanked by huge Artec warriors who lift a symbolic tent flap. The entire effect was planned to make the audience feel that it was in an elaborate sheik’s tent that, when opened by these magical servants, would reveal a tale on an even more magical screen.