Designed by famed architect Eugene De Rosa, the venue opened in 1927 as the Gallo Opera House (soon revised to Gallo Theatre), named for its owner, Fortune Gallo. Beginning with a very large-scale production of La bohème which closed after three weeks, the Gallo was met with a succession of failed attempts to draw an audience, and was lost to foreclosure after only two years. It later reopened under new ownership as The New Yorker, but continued failing to attract sufficient crowds. It changed hands in the early 1930s, then in 1937 it became the WPA Federal Music Project of New York City's Federal Music Theatre/Theatre of Music, then it became the New Yorker Theatre in 1939, housing an all-black version of The Swing Mikado, originally from Chicago, for two months, when the production moved to the 44th Street Theatre to finish its run. The New Yorker Theatre saw its final production, Medicine Show, end in May 1940, following which the building remained vacant for three years.
CBS Studio 52
In 1943, CBS purchased the theatre, renaming it Studio 52. CBS named its studios in order of purchase; the number 52 was unrelated to the street on which it was located. During these years, CBS used the theater for radio broadcasts.
From the 1940s to the mid 1970s, CBS used the location as a radio and TV stage that housed such shows as What's My Line?, The $64,000 Question, Video Village, Password, To Tell the Truth, Beat the Clock, The Jack Benny Show, I've Got a Secret, Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour, and Captain Kangaroo. The soap opera Love of Life was produced there until 1975.
In 1976, CBS moved most of its broadcast operations to the Ed Sullivan Theater and the CBS Broadcast Center, and sold Studio 52. The Ed Sullivan Theater once had access to Studio 52 through an access door, which was concrete-blocked during the theater's 1993 renovation for Late Show with David Letterman.
When CBS began marketing the building in 1976, various parties in the art and fashion world expressed interest in seeing it converted into a nightclub. Male model Uva Harden tried to get gallery owner Frank Lloyd to finance the club, until Lloyd lost a $9 million lawsuit to the estate of the artist Mark Rothko, the Rothko Case.
In 1977, the theater was transformed into a nightclub called Studio 54 by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, with Jack Dushey as a financial backer. They operated the company as Broadway Catering Corp. It took only six weeks to transform the theater into a nightclub and cost $400,000 before its grand opening on April 26.
Rubell and Schrager hired Scott Bromley as architect, Ron Doud as interior designer and Brian Thompson as lighting designer. Jules Fisher and Paul Marantz, two well-known lighting designers, created the dance floor environment and created moveable theatrical sets and lights using the copious existing TV lighting circuits and fly system, which allowed for a dynamic, constantly-changing, environment. Where formerly all clubs had been very dark, at Studio 54 the crowd could be lit brightly.
Within a month of opening, the New York State Liquor Authority raided Studio 54 for selling liquor without a license, and closed it. The owners of the nightclub said the incident was a "misunderstanding". The next night the club reopened, serving fruit juice and soda instead of liquor. Prior to the raid, the nightclub had been using daily "caterers' permits", which enabled the nightclub to serve alcohol but were intended for weddings or political events. The State had denied the daily permit for the night and raided the nightclub. The nightclub had been using these permits while waiting for its liquor license to be processed.
The scene (1977–1979)
Event planner Robert Isabell had four tons of glitter dumped in a four-inch layer on the floor of Studio 54 for a New Year's Eve party, which owner Ian Schrager described as like "standing on stardust" and left glitter that could be found months later in their clothing and homes.
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Actor Al Corley was a doorman during the late 1970s.
The band Chic wrote a song in 1978, "Le Freak", after being refused entry to the club on New Year's Eve 1977, despite being invited by Grace Jones.
End of the first era
In December 1978, Rubell was quoted in the New York newspapers as saying that Studio 54 had made $7 million in its first year and that "only the Mafia made more money". This got the attention of the IRS. Shortly thereafter the nightclub was raided and Rubell and Schrager were arrested for skimming $2.5 million.
Studio 54 closed with a final party in February 1980 when Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli serenaded Rubell and Schrager. Ryan O'Neal, Farrah Fawcett, Mariel Hemingway, Jocelyn Wildenstein, Richard Gere, Gia Carangi, Jack Nicholson, Reggie Jackson, and Sylvester Stallone were among the guests that night. Schrager and Rubell pleaded guilty to tax evasion and spent 13 months in prison.
On January 17, 2017, Schrager received a presidential pardon from President Barack Obama.
In 1981, Rubell and Schrager sold the building but opted to keep a lease. Later that year, the building was sold to Mark Fleischman with Rubell and Schrager staying on as consultants for six months afterward. Studio 54 reopened on September 12, 1981, with a guest list of Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Cary Grant, Lauren Hutton, Gloria Vanderbilt, Mark Gastineau, Gina Lollobrigida, and Brooke Shields. Studio 54's Talent Executive Billy Amato (Billy Smith) promoted Z100/WPLJ Saturday night radio parties and Michael Fesco's "Sundays at the Studio". Billy Amato's Saturday night radio parties were broadcast from the club. Artists who performed during this period included Madonna, Wham!, Duran Duran, Cyndi Lauper, The Weather Girls, Culture Club, Lime, Spandau Ballet, Sylvester, Roberta Flack, Menudo, Denise McCann and Run-DMC New York City Breakers. KISS held a concert at the club in January 1982 that was broadcast via satellite to the Sanremo Festival in Italy. In 1985, heavy metal groups Slayer, Venom, and Exodus filmed a video at Studio 54 called Ultimate Revenge for Disco. In the 1980s, many legendary freestyle music artists performed at the club such as Noel Pagan, Nocera, Cynthia, Coro, Company B, Tony Moran, The Cover Girls, India, TKA, Black Riot, Fascination, Sweet Sensation, Pajama Party, Johnny O, Hanson & Davis, and many others. Radio stations such as 92 KTU, HOT-103, and HOT-97 would broadcast each live event for these freestyle music artists. Mark Fleischman published his memoir Inside Studio 54 in October 2017; many details of his years as owner are detailed as well as his experience buying the club from Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell while they were incarcerated.
Famed New York City doorman Haoui Montaug worked as a doorman at Studio 54. Paul Heyman was a photographer, producer, and promoter at the club in the mid 1980s.
The Ritz and Cabaret Royale
From 1981 to April 1986, Studio 54 was under the ownership of Mark Fleischman. In April 1989, The Ritz nightclub, which had previously operated at 11th Street and Third Avenue from 1980 to 1987, moved into the former Studio 54 under the name The New Ritz. In 1990, the club changed the name back to that of its former location, The Ritz. The new owners, CAT Entertainment Corp operated the club primarily as a venue for new wave, punk, Eurodisco, and heavy metal artists and also offered it as a public venue available for rent.
In 1993, CAT Entertainment was acquired by Cabaret Royale Corporation, a nightclub operator based in Dallas. CAT Entertainment completed a renovation of the nightclub earlier abandoned because of a lack of funds, and resurrected both the nightclub and the Studio 54 trademark, which had never been properly registered by any of the prior owners or operators. The newly remodeled nightclub was operated as "Cabaret Royale at Studio 54" by CAT Entertainment until early 1995. The Pilevsky interests which owned the theater itself and the adjacent office building had several years earlier granted a mortgage on the properties to the Bank of Tokyo and, in an effort to resolve a large unpaid indebtedness of Pilevsky to the bank and to forestall foreclosure, a trustee had been appointed by Pilevsky and the bank and granted the right to sell those and numerous other properties owned by Pilevsky.
In late 1994, Allied Partners acquired the Studio 54 properties and, after protracted litigation, CAT Entertainment lost its lease on the nightclub and ceased operations.
Roundabout Theatre at Studio 54, mid-1990s–present
In 1994, Allied Partners bought the building for $5.5 million. They restored much of the architectural detail that had been painted black or covered with plywood by Schrager and Rubell. The nightclub reopened with a live concert by disco stars Gloria Gaynor, Vicki Sue Robinson, and Sister Sledge. The building again went into bankruptcy in 1996 and Allied announced plans to demolish it and replace it with Cyberdrome, a virtual reality gaming venue, however, the project was never completed.
In July 1998, the collapse of a construction hoist blocked access to the Henry Miller Theatre on 43rd Street, where the successful revival of the Broadway musical Cabaret was playing. To keep the show accessible, the Roundabout Theatre Company agreed to move the performance to Studio 54. Roundabout later bought the building in 2003 from Allied for $22.5 million, and Cabaret played until 2004.
- 1998: Cabaret
- 2004: Assassins, Pacific Overtures
- 2005: A Streetcar Named Desire, A Touch of the Poet
- 2006: The Threepenny Opera, The Apple Tree
- 2007: 110 in the Shade, The Ritz
- 2008: Sunday in the Park with George, Pal Joey
- 2009: Waiting for Godot, Wishful Drinking
- 2010: Sondheim on Sondheim, Brief Encounter
- 2011: The People in the Picture
- 2012: Harvey, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
- 2014: Cabaret
- 2015: An Act of God, Thérèse Raquin
- 2016: She Loves Me, Holiday Inn
- 2017: Sweat, Latin History for Morons
- 2018: Children of a Lesser God, The Lifespan of a Fact
- 2019: Kiss Me, Kate
Upstairs at Studio 54
The second floor of the theater was used as a nightclub (on weeks when plays were not being staged) under the name Upstairs at Studio 54. The club was operated by Noel Ashman and Josh Hadar who was one of the Allied partners. Upstairs at Studio 54 performers included Mark Ronson, Samantha Ronson, Gloria Estefan, Jody Watley, and Newsical.