Paradise Roof Garden

Hammerstein's Roof Garden (1899–1915) was the official name the semi-outdoor vaudeville venue that theatre magnate, Oscar Hammerstein I, built atop the Victoria Theatre and the neighboring Theatre Republic, commonly known then as the Belasco Theatre. Unlike Hammerstein’s first roof garden theatre, which crowned his failed Olympia Theatre, the Paradise Roof Garden was able to rise to prominence and contend with its rivals for the better parts of two decades.[1] For New York City theatre-goers, the name Hammerstein’s grew to encompass both the Victoria and its roof garden.[2] From 1904 to 1914 it was run by Willie Hammerstein, who put on highly popular vaudeville acts.[3]

Paradise Roof Garden
Hammerstein's Roof Garden, William Glackens
Address42nd Street and Seventh Avenue
New York City
United States
OwnerOscar Hammerstein I
OperatorOscar and Willie Hammerstein
TypeBroadway, Vaudeville, Roof Garden


The construction of the Victoria suffered from an anemic budget, and as a result, its roof garden developed incrementally. It opened in 1899 as the Venetian Terrace Roof Garden and featured a “‘grand promenade’ in the style of Monte Carlo.”[4] The middle of its three tiers consisted of boxes; the third, an open-air café. In compliance with the city’s building code, Hammerstein added eight exits and two elevators to his “solid steel and concrete construction” before summer season of 1902 commenced.[5] He also gained permission to install a roof that could open or close to accommodate the weather.[6]

The bulk of the theatre rested over the Victoria, leaving the roof of the Belasco free for novelty features, including a pond, a Dutch-style dairy farm, and a windmill. The “Mute Revue” consisted of garden displays that paid tribute to the theatrical hits of the closing season.[7] Just in time for the opening of the summer season of 1907, the entire venue was upgraded: the house was repainted in white and blue with splashes of red, and the boxes were remodeled and decked with geraniums.

Variety and vaudeville

In addition to entertainment, the open-air Paradise Roof Garden offered patrons escape from the city’s oppressive summer heat.[8] The table-and-chair seating configuration encouraged conversation in a house that was vulnerable to sunlight and outside noise; simple, wordless variety entertainment was well suited to such conditions. Some of the “dumb acts” that played on the roof included Barnold’s Dog and Monkey Pantomime Company,[9] and wire-walker Bird Millman;[10] in fact, William Glackens’s painting, titled simply Hammerstein’s Roof Garden, depicts such an act.[11]


As advancements in air-conditioning were rendering New York’s roof garden theatres obsolete, silent movies were luring patrons out of vaudeville theatres. With the selling of the Victoria in 1915, the roof garden closed as well.[12]


  1. Hoogstraten, Nicholas. Lost Broadway Theatres. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1997, 41-43.
  2. “Rialto Theatre to Close Tonight,” New York Times, 15 May 1935, 23.
  3. Slide, Anthony (2012). The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-61703-250-9. Retrieved 2014-05-18.
  4. “The Roof Garden Season,” New York Times, 25 June 1899.
  5. “For Playgoing People,” New York Times, 25 May 1902.
  6. Cullen, Frank. Vaudeville Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, Vol 1. Abingdon: Routledge, 2007, 477.
  7. “Hammerstein’s Roof Opens,” New York Times, 4 June 1907.
  8. Cullen, Frank. Vaudeville Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, Vol 1. Abingdon: Routledge, 2007, 477.
  9. “Hammerstein’s Roof Opens,” New York Times, 4 June 1907.
  10. Johnson, Stephen Burge. The Roof Gardens of Broadway Theaters, 1883-1942. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985, 89, 157.
  11. Glackens, William J., Hammerstein’s Roof Garden. Oil on Canvas, circa 1901. Whitney Museum of Art.
  12. “Oscar in Three Reels,” New York Times, 5 April 1916.

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