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About Symphony Space

Our History

  1. The Astor Market with pedestrian traffic around.
    Vincent Astor's Market Opens


    The site at the southwest corner of Broadway and 95th Street was first developed in 1915 when Vincent Astor spent $750,000 to create the Astor Market. Despite Astor’s backing, the expansive two-story food hall failed within two years.

  2. Symphony Space facade as it stands today.
    The Crystal Palace


    Astor sold the building to Thomas J. Healy—subsequently the developer of adjacent Pomander Walk—who converted the market’s Broadway level into the Crystal Palace Skating Rink and the smaller basement area into the Sunken Gardens, a restaurant. The ice skating rink was, in turn, doomed by a 1918, WWI-related shortage of ammonia—a key ingredient in making ice.

  3. Lind drawing of the inside view of the stage of the Symphony Theatre.
    The Symphony Theatre is Born

    June, 1918

    According to press articles of the time, the event featured an extravagant patriotic tableau depicting the destruction of a small French village by German bombardment in WWI, accompanied by a live 50-piece orchestra.

  4. View of the stage from the back of the Thalia Theater, as it stands today.
    Thalia Theatre Opens


    The basement space under the Symphony Theatre opened as a movie theatre, called the Thalia after the muse of comedy and idyllic poetry. The Art Deco theatre’s most distinctive architectural feature was its innovative "parabolic reversed floor," developed by the architect Ben Schlanger. Schlanger believed that the traditional live theatre auditorium was not suited for viewing a flat movie screen. In the Thalia, with a floor that dipped in the middle, the view from all seats would be equally good─or so his theory ran.

  5. A vintange photograph of the outside of the Thalia move theater.
    A Haven for Movie Buffs


    The Thalia become known to generations of movie buffs— from college students to longtime Upper West Siders—as one of the places to see Hollywood revivals, classics, and foreign films. Today, in addition to showing films, the Thalia serves as a venue for literary events, music concerts, comedy shows, talks, and children’s programs. Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese were among its regular patrons, as was Woody Allen, who immortalized the theatre in his 1976 film Annie Hall.

  6. Symphony Theatre Goes Dark


    During the economic downturn of the 1970s, the Thalia hung on as an iconic Upper West Side institution, but the Symphony went dark. It was occasionally rented, mostly for boxing and wrestling events.

  7. Allan Miller and Isaiah Sheffer shaking hands.
    Wall to Wall Bach

    January, 1978

    On January 7, 1978, the conductor Allan Miller and his neighbor, playwright and director Isaiah Sheffer rented the decrepit theatre for a one-day extravaganza, Wall to Wall Bach, a free 12-hour music festival featuring audience participation. So successful was the event, that Sheffer and Miller immediately decided to lease the building and transform it into a permanent cultural venue. Programming ensued shortly after.

  8. A logo for Bloomsday on Broadway featuring a cartoon version of James Jocye.
    Bloomsday on Broadway is Born


    Named after Leopold Bloom, the main character in James Joyce’s Ulysses, Bloomsday is celebrated around the world on June 16th. Symphony Space’s contribution is an annual literary rite of spring honoring the love, life, and language in James Joyce’s lavish prose.

    Our History Global Arts
    Global Arts Education Program Begins


    Global Arts: Cultural Literacy & Heritage Program helps students develop an understanding of the different cultures and the common traditions that hold us together as a global community. The program takes children on a journey of discovery and exploration to celebrate the beauty inherent in the art and history of diverse cultures—Asia, Africa, Latin America, Native America, Early America. On our stages, and in classrooms across New York City, students join artists to play instruments, participate in dances, and learn about the languages and values of each culture through traditional folk tales.

  9. Actress Rita Wolf performing on stage at Selected Shorts.
    First Selected Shorts


    Created by Isaiah Sheffer and Kay Cattarulla, who became Symphony Space’s founding producer of literary programs, the ongoing series’ events take place live in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre and are broadcast on over 150 public radio stations across the country, as well as via podcasts, reaching 300,000 listeners each week. The program also sponsors live-performance tours nationwide. Sheffer served as both the host and a reader for Selected Shorts until his death in 2012.

    A vintage photograph of the corner of West 95th Street and Broadway, inluding the Symphony Space marquee.
    Broadwest or Bust


    Broadwest had sold its rights to reacquire the building, and in 1985, the new holder attempted to evict Symphony Space two years before it was legally entitled to reclaim the property.

  10. A young woman in hijab participates in Symphony Space's All Write! program.
    All Write! Adult Literacy Program Begins


    Inspired by our beloved Selected Shorts, All Write! uses the power of the spoken word to encourage a love of literature and learning while improving written and verbal communication skills. Symphony Space partners with colleges, libraries, and community-based organizations to open a world of opportunities for thousands of adult learners—completely free of charge.

  11. Sweet Victory


    To keep the theatre alive, and with no alternative, Symphony Space now embarked on eleven years of litigation. The key issue was the application of an old English legal doctrine, the Rule Against Perpetuities. In 1996, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, unanimously awarded Symphony Space permanent ownership.

  12. Renovation


    Symphony Space sold its air rights above to the Related Companies, which built a twenty-two-story apartment building above the existing theater. Using income from this sale, as well as donations from Peter Norton, the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, Leonard and Susan Bay Nimoy, and many others, the organization financed a $13 million renovation that included the integration of the Thalia, as well as establishing an endowment to provide perpetual stability for the institution.

  13. The staff and supporters of Symphony Space gather joyfully in front of the theater on West 95th Street.
    Great Day on the Upper West Side

    May, 2006

  14. Isaiah Sheffer sitting in the red seats of the empty Sharp Theatre.
    Founding Artistic Director Isaiah Sheffer passes away


  15. Our History New York Public Library
    New York Public Library Exhibition


    The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts presented SYMPHONY SPACE: A CULTURAL TOWN SQUARE, a special exhibition which explored the early years of our building—as a food market, an ice skating rink, and later as the legendary Symphony and Thalia movie theaters. The exhibition traced the extraordinary success of Symphony Space, from its first Wall to Wall Bach in 1978 to its prominence today.

  16. The staff and supporters of Symphony Space joyfully gathered on the stage of the Sharp Theatre.
    40th Anniversary of Symphony Space

    January, 2018

    On January 7th, 2018, members of the extended Symphony Space family gathered on the Sharp stage to share heartfelt memories—and raise a glass to celebrate 40 extraordinary years of music, literature, film, family, and arts education programs.