Close Search

About Symphony Space

Our History

  1. Vincent Astor's Market Opens

    1915

    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. The Crystal Palace

    1917

    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. 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. Thalia Theatre Opens

    1931

    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 Haven for Movie Buffs

    1946

    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

    1970

    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. Wall to Wall Bach

    1978

    In 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. Wall to Wall Copland

    November, 1980

    Aaron Copland and Isaiah Sheffer celebrate the composer's 80th birthday on stage during Wall to Wall Copland

  9. Global Arts Education Program Begins

    1981

    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.

    Bloomsday on Broadway is Born

    1981

    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.

  10. First Selected Shorts

    1985

    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.

    Broadwest or Bust

    1985

    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.

  11. All Write! Adult Literacy Program Begins

    1993

    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.

  12. Sweet Victory

    1996

    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.

  13. Renovation

    2000

    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.

    Just Kidding is Launched

    2000

    ​Just Kidding presents family-friendly and kid-centered live performances by award-winning musicians, storytellers, puppeteers, and dancers—at affordable prices and accessible to everyone. ​Today, show​s are autism/sensory friendly and we provide free tickets to the Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organization for economically disadvantaged children and families.

  14. Wall to Wall Sondheim

    2005

    People sleep in tents all night to attend a marathon celebration of Stephen Sondheim's 75th birthday, which featured performances by Angela Lansbury, George Hearn, Barbara Cook, Patti LuPone, Michael Cerveris, ​Joanna Gleason, Carolee Carmello, Judy Kaye, Tony Roberts, Debra Monk, Donna, Murphy, Neil Patrick Harris, BD Wong, Laura Benanti, Kate Baldwin, Richard Maltby, Jason Robert Brown, Georgia Stitt, and many, many others.

  15. Great Day on the Upper West Side

    May, 2006

  16. Founding Artistic Director Isaiah Sheffer passes away

    2012

  17. New York Public Library Exhibition

    2015

    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.

  18. 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.