Decapitation at the Ziegfeld

If you go to the brownstone at 52 East 80th Street between Madison & Park…

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…you’ll see the decapitated limestone head of a Greco-Roman goddess in the front yard next to some trash barrels (gives you some perspective on its size).

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What does this sculpture have to do with New York’s incredible Ziegfeld Theater?

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This head is the only remnant of the old Ziegfeld that one can still see on a New York City street.

The Ziegfeld Theater, one of New York City’s premier “movie palaces,” opened in 1927 and had a glorious life as a movie theater, TV studio, and Broadway theater until it was torn down in 1966 to make way for this piece of shit:

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According to the Ziegfeld’s Wikipedia entry, this head was originally located on the front of the theater, though I’m not exactly sure where.

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How did it come to be here? Apparently, 52 East 80th was once owned by Jerry Hammer, a theatrical producer. In the 1960s, he was riding past the Ziegfeld in a car with shithead developer Zachary Fisher, who mentioned he was tearing it down. Hammer jokingly asked if he could have one of the limestone heads. Four months later, he heard noises outside of his Upper East Side home – it was a truck lowering the head by crane into his front yard. Hammer moved out of the place in 1998 but left the head behind.

Are those two heads on either side of the upper balcony? Can’t tell…

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In 1969, a second Ziegfeld opened up a few hundred feet from the original, and while the exterior is a mind-blowingly bland compared to the original, the interior is actually one of the nicest places you can see a movie in New York.

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High praise to Hammer for asking for the head, and also for leaving it behind for New York to enjoy. Definitely swing by 52 East 80th Street if you’re in the area to see the last remaining piece of the once great Ziegfeld.

-SCOUT

PS – That’s a pretty sick window array on the second floor of that brownstone.

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30 comments

  1. She looks a bit like Sarah Jessica Parker…
    So sad that amazing building is gone.

  2. Hi Scout-
    The “piece of shit” that you show is on Seventh Avenue. The original Ziegfeld Theater was on Sixth Avenue (replaced by an even shittier looking piece of shit than you’ve shown.)

  3. Oh, man, this is the sort of post that makes me love your blog so much, Scout! What a great find, and what terrific research.

    A tragedy that those old movie palaces were destroyed, and I’m on board with losing the strikethroughs on “shithead.”

    I’ve seen that bay window before, and admired it, but never knew about the head in the garden. Thank you so much! This is why you are must-read blogging!

  4. Hi,

    My name is Nadia Chaudhury, and I’m a writer for The L Magazine (www.thelmagazine.com). We’re doing a photoessay where we’re going to look back at old New York institutions and see what replaced them, and I would love to be able to use these images of the original Ziegfeld. If you could point me to where you got ‘em, I’d greatly appreciate it. You can email me at nadia@thelmagazine.com.

    Thanks a lot,
    Nadia Chaudhury

  5. Brownstone — 52 East 80th Street between Madison & Park — incredible!

  6. Very interesting research! i didn’t know anything about this head. I always thought it was very sad that this movie palaces were torn down.

  7. Joe’s right, I used to live in the building that you’ve stated replaced the Ziegfeld. In fact, it was more of a contemporary…they would’ve shared the block for many years. Its penthouse was allegedly the home of George White, one of Ziegfeld’s competitors, as well as Michael Stewart, who wrote the book to, among other shows, “Hello, Dolly!” and also housed the offices of the composer Cy Coleman. The building at the other end of 54th Street, with the hideous fountains, is where the Ziegfeld was.

  8. Just came across this article. I used to walk by that head all the time when I lived in the neighborhood. The first time I saw it it startled me just by being so big. I appreciate it so much more with the info. Thanks!

  9. I agree with you that what replaced the Ziegfeld is a piece of shit, But the replacement you picture was most likely built in the 1930s …(as .Joe R. comments) that building is on 7th. The Ziegfield was on the NW corner of 6th Ave and 54th St. Now a black glass skyscraper. The theater’s location on 6th Ave, far from the traditional cluster of Time Sq Broadway theaters, help lead to it’s demise.

  10. A story about the Jardin de Paris theater (demolished rooftop theater atop the Olympia theater (also known as the New York Theater and the Olympia Theater). Brooklyn resident Amanda Chatel is a descendent of one of the Ziegfeld Girls from the early 1900s.

    http://untappednewyork.com/2010/09/17/mary-the-ziegfeld-girl/

  11. The correct piece of shit in question is the Fisher Building on 6th; directly behind said piece of shit (i.e. to the west) is the new (c. 1966) in-name-only Ziegfeld Theater.

  12. Hello, i just meant i’d post and let you know your blogs layout is really messed up on the K-Melon browser. Anyhow keep up the nice work.

  13. From looking at the old pictures of the theater, it looks like the decapitated head belongs to the left figure on the upper balcony. That’s a piece of the theater wall on the side of the head.

    Using the trashcan for scale, I would say the head is at least five feet tall. I wonder what it weighs? Notice the jack hammer holes near the base of the head.

  14. its sad that something so cool and weird (in an awesome way) like that theatre gets torn down to make way for a builing looking exactly like tons of others building you could see.

  15. Anthony from Manhattan

    That is certainly one of the 2 figures that once adorned the facade of the theater. I have a close-up that I’d like to send so you can post it.

  16. Thanks for your piece on the Ziegfeld Theater. I lived on 54th between 6th and 7th until I was 14. The movie, Sweet Smell of Success was made near and in the theater. I remember seeing the props and people bustling in and out the side door as I walked to my public elementary school on 54th. My friends and I would drop in on a Saturday night to line up for The Perry Como Show, live from there. I also recall seeing Alfred Drake in Kismet. And we were regulars for chicken chow mein, egg roles and pork fried rice combination plates at Chinatown Charlie’s.

  17. very interesting site :) I’m thrilled and look quite inspiring, I am intrigued by your suggestions coming.

  18. When I was 15 I removed a large glazed terracotta keystone from the Riviera theater which was on 96th street and Broadway. It was demolished around 1975-1976.

    http://i.imgur.com/3eK1D.jpg

  19. I had read this on your site a few weeks ago. Then by chance, I was in NYC this weekend. I left the park yesterday and was walking towards the MTA station….when I happened to look down and saw this. I snapped my own photo after having my own ermahgerd moment.

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