Happy 20th Birthday to the Walter Reade Theater!

Twenty years ago today, as repertory cinemas all over New York City were shutting down, the Walter Reade Theater at Film Society of Lincoln Center was born to fill the void, offering up the best in arthouse, classic and foreign film.

As reported in the New York Times, when the theater opened Program Director Richard Peña commented: "In the past, the latest films from Germany, Italy, France and Japan were shown fairly regularly, but that's come to seem more a glaring need than when we first embarked on this project." The venue fulfilled a 20-year dream of the Film Society to have a year-round home for film presentation at Lincoln Center. Since then, the Walter Reade Theater has come through on its promise in the spirit of Paris's legendary Cinémathèque Française, bringing something old, something new, something exotic and something obscure.

Some of the most notable programs at the Walter Reade have included "Dear Antonioni: The Complete Works of Michelangelo Antonioni," "Cocky in Britain: The Early Alfred Hitchcock," "Mean Screens: Martin Scorsese at the Movies," "Sang-Froid: Crime, Mystery, and Suspense in French Cinema 1931-1992," "China's New Wave: The Fifth Generation Chinese Filmmakers," "Apocalypse Anytime: The Films of Robert Aldrich," and "Cinema's Sacred Treasures: The Films of Yasujiro Ozu."

Housed in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building with 268 seats, the Walter Reade Theater continues to be an integral part of the New York Film Festival, New Directors / New Films, as well as international and domestic premieres and retrospectives, remaining one of the most inviting and exciting movie houses in New York.

Some facts about the Walter Reade Theater:

The theater is named for Walter Reade Jr., son of Walter Reade Sr., who was known as the “Showman of the Shore” for his big, beautifully kept single movie theaters of Hollywood’s golden age.

The Walter Reade Organization was the first distributor of Night of the Living Dead in 1968, agreeing to show the movie uncensored.

Walter Reade was a "tall, flamboyant man, who wore a white carnation in his buttonhole and liked to be recognized," according to The New York Times

The theater is equipped with a 23-by-35-foot screen that can play everything from 16mm to 70mm prints.

The very first frames ever shown on the screen were from the helicopter sequence in Apocalypse Now.

Back in 1991, tickets were only $7 ($5 for members).

More photos of the theater from its early days:


The 268-seat Walter Reade Theater


Film Society board member Wendy Keys, board member and former Executive Director Joanne Koch,
and Program Director Richard Peña inside the theater


The theater's original concession stand


Film Society board member Wendy Keys, board member and former Executive Director Joanne Koch,
and Program Director Richard Peña in the Furman Gallery


The theater's entryway, featuring a green and white tiled floor

Photos by Sandor Acs and Irene Richard

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