Just as the Pullman cars and downtown hotels of the period made aristocratic services and amenities available to the general public, movie theaters pampered customers with a virtual army of staff servants and luxurious 'extras.' Thomas Lamb originally designed the San Francisco Fox to include a 1,000 room luxury hotel; thus, instead of 'visiting' the palace, moviegoers could reside there. The Fox also provided footmen outside the theater to assist patrons arriving and departing by streetcar. Valets catered to those traveling by auto.

The largest picture palaces like the San Francisco Fox and the Roxy provided for patrons' medical emergencies through fully-staffed hospitals. The Roxy hospital employed a staff of physicians, surgeons, and nurses and treated over 12,000 patients in its male and female wards during the first year of operation. Nurseries were available in most palaces; some theaters, like the Loew's 72nd Street in New York City, even boarded pets.

Every movie palace featured smoking lounges, restrooms, and powder rooms as lavishly appointed as the lobby and auditorium. Theater operators staffed the lounges with personal attendants and decorated them to simulate the life of the wealthy. In some cases, that simulation was quite direct. When the Manhattan townhouse of the Vanderbilts was demolished in the mid-1920s, Loew's bought much of the interior. Workers dismantled the Vanderbilt's Oriental Room and transported it in pieces to Kansas City in 1927, where it became the Women's Lounge of the Loew's Midland Theater.

Theater ushers often wore elaborate livery and were drilled with military precision to provide impeccable, efficient service to theatergoers. Ushers at New York's Regent wore "scarlet tunics piped in gold and looped across the front with more gold and tassels. Each of them carried a swagger stick with mother of pear tips that lit up in the dark. The Head Usher carried a Bugle."(1) An ex-Marine drill sergeant provided ushers at the San Francisco Fox with 100 hours of training before their first day of employment; at the Roxy, management screened usher applicants for "charm, poise, no fallen arches and a haircut" before their training began.(2) Training included a week of military school, etiquette classes, summer camp in the Catskills, study halls, and self-selected fraternities. Department store employees like those at Wanamaker's enjoyed the same sorts of amenities, including employee restaurants, clinics, branch libraries, educational programs, and athletic facilities. In exhange for these facilities, department store owners and theater operators demanded tireless, unflaggingly courteous service. The Roxy Head Usher inspected his staff before each shift, read them promotions and citations, and marched them to the Grand Rotunda. There, at 6 p.m. every day, patrons could fancy themselves Windsors as they watched a Changing of the Guard ceremony.

Palace Tour: Auditoriums and Atmospherics

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Notes

1 Ben Hall, The Best Remaining Seats, 50.

2 qtd. in Hall, 170.