The Story Behind Hamilton Palace AKA RKO Hamilton Theatre
Posted on June 26, 2017

Bohemia Blog by Agent Andrew Ding

The Story Behind Hamilton Palace AKA RKO Hamilton Theatre
Hamilton Palace- 3560 Broadway, New York, NY 10031

So what does Hamilton Heights have to do with New York Fashion week? Typically very little. However, this year one of Fashion Week’s high profile designers, Alexander Wang, chose the decaying Hamilton Palace on 146th and Broadway in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood as the venue for his Fall NYC Fashion Week 2017 ready to wear show, bringing all the pomp and circumstance that only the elite fashion glitterati can muster to Upper Manhattan. (Yes, that’s Kendall Jenner).

Kendall Jenner walking at Hamilton Palace fashion show in 2017


But prior to this recent moment in the spotlight, Hamilton Palace enjoyed a varied and interesting existence.

Hamilton Palace in 1913


Designed by the great theatre architect, Thomas W. Lamb, construction on the theater started June 26th, 1912, and proceeded at a breakneck pace opening in January 23, 1913 just a little more than six months after building commenced. It’s auditorium held 2,500 seats and debuted as a vaudeville house. It was considered one of the significant Pre-World War I theaters in New York City at a time when vaudeville was the most popular form of theater in the US.
In the 1920’s movies won favor over vaudeville, and in 1929 the theatre was sold to the newly created Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) Radio Pictures, Inc. RKO then installed a sound system and converted this Upper Manhattan treasure into one of the first movie theaters to show ‘talking pictures’ in Hamilton Heights, New York City.

Photograph of vaudeville troop posed in front of Hamilton Palace in the early 1900’s


RKO’s final screening took place in 1958 and then sat vacant for almost a decade until an evangelical church purchased the building in 1965. It went through several uses under the church’s ownership including a boxing arena and even a discotheque in 1985. In 1995, it once again changed hands and the marquee was removed whilst the lobby was converted into a retail space.
Various retail operations have occupied the space since then, notably a Nordstrom Rack style discount store that sold shoes and clothing from upscale places like Saks, Bloomingdales and independent designers at deep discounts. It was taken over in the mid 2000’s by the dollar store El Mundo who stayed open for over a decade before closing its doors in 2012. It has failed to attract a permanent tenant since then except to moonlight as a pop-up Halloween store each year.

El Mundo takes over ground floor of Hamilton Palace in mid-2000’s


With all the attention being diverted to Hamilton Heights in recent years, this iconic and historic address will hopefully be a crown jewel for an inspired rebirth.

Hamilton Theatre as is exists at present in disarry