To celebrate the announcement in the beginning of March that theaters will reopen in April, our photo of the week takes us to the corner of Graham Avenue and Debevoise Street in Williamsburg.
This corner was the location of the Folly Theater which opened on the afternoon of October 14, 1901. The Folly was owned by Richard Hyde who -- according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle -- held a competition to determine the theater’s design. He selected the architectural firm Dodge & Morrison’s design which depicted a building with “numerous and direct exits.” Hyde’s decision might have been influenced by the recent Theater Building Laws that required new theatres to be built with multiple exits and fireproof materials. The Folly Theater was the first theater constructed under the new building laws and included twenty-six exits onto Graham Avenue and Debevoise Street along with four fire escapes.
Fire considerations aside, the theater had a large auditorium that contained 850 orchestra seats, 600 balcony seats, and additional gallery and box seats. The interior of the theater was quite ornate with gilded mosaics, a great many paintings by Virgilio Tojetti, and statues. When the Folly Theater opened on October 14, 1901, Hyde scheduled daily afternoon and evening vaudeville performances which were held Monday through Saturday. Sunday evening was reserved for sacred concerts. The initial price of orchestra seats -- the best seats in the house -- were fifty cents per ticket.
The Folly held a wide variety of performances during its first eight years. While some of these performances included gender-bending acts such as Lottie Williams’s 1906 turn in “My Tom Boy Girl,” the acts also included racist depictions of people of color. Within the first month of the Folly’s opening, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle noted on October 29, 1901 a headliner performance by Mr. And Mrs. Sidney Drew in a one act play titled “With Padded Gloves'' in which the play depicts “the deceit of the Chinese in their native place.”
In 1909 management of the Folly Theatre changed when the William Fox Amusement Company signed a ten-year lease and renamed it Fox’s Folly Theater. While the theater’s new manager, Martin Leo, continued to book vaudeville performances, he made the decision to add motion picture screenings to the theater’s schedule. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle remarked that Leo decided that “the prices of admission will be 10 and 15 cents in the orchestra, 10 cents in the balcony and 5 cents in the gallery.” During 1930 the Folly Theater returned to its original name when it was remodeled and reopened under the management of M.A. Shea. The Folly Theater was closed in 1939 and remained unused until it was demolished in 1949.
Interested in seeing more photos from CBH’s collections? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images, or the digital collections portal at Brooklyn Public Library. We look forward to inviting you to CBH in the future to research in our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, please visit our resources page, or access the resources of the former Brooklyn Collection. Our reference staff are still available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected]
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