Field Trip Friday: United Palace Theatre

Back in early October, Hae-In went to see the band, the XX, in concert at the United Palace Theatre, in Washington Heights. Originally known as the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre, the United Palace Theatre is now a church and live music venue located at 175th Street and Broadway.

United Palace Theatre exterior

Designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb, the theater was built in 1930 as one of the Loew’s Wonder Theatres for vaudeville and movies. Thought to be the most elaborate of Lamb’s projects, its architectural style has been described ‘exotic’ and ‘eclectic’– the AIA Guide to New York City describes it as “Cambodian neo-Classical.” The exterior appears to be a mix of Art Deco and Mayan styles, while the heavily embellished interior is a mix of Romanesque, Moorish and Rococo.

Main lobby

The main lobby features a grand staircase leading up to the second level, and the word “ornate” would be an understatement. The room glows with gilded gold filigree and relief, accented by red velvet curtains and elaborate light fixtures and lamps. Images of Buddhas, elephants and floral designs abound.

As reported by the NY Sun here, there was a kind of architectural one-upmanship in the construction of movie theaters in New York during this period, so adopting this kind of eclectic design was not unusual. Italian Baroque, or Spanish, or “Indo-Persian” styles were very popular for movie theaters and their dramatic, theatricality reflected the function of the space.

View from the balcony level

In 1969, many of these grand movie palaces were closing down and being demolished. The 175th St. Theatre was spared this fate by Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II. Known as Reverend Ike, Eikerenkoetter bought the building (it cost him more than a half-million dollars) and used it for his ministry. During the 1970’s the Christ Community United Church restored the historic space and Reverend Ike’s weekly sermons were broadcast on hundreds of television and radio stations.


The church started renting out the 3,353-seat theater for concerts and community events in the 1980’s in order to open up the space to the community and also offset their own costs.

Balcony level

It was also reported recently that the Tony Awards might take up residence at the United Palace Theater for the 2011 ceremony, although an official statement has not yet confirmed the new ceremony space.


The spacious, historic space has been home to many big name acts and performers over the years, including Sonic Youth, Bob Dylan, The Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Jackson Browne, Björk, Allman Brothers Band and The Arcade Fire. In addition, recitals, classes and lectures have also been presented at the theater.

United Palace Theatre
4140 Broadway, New York, NY


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