RKO Palace Theater

71 Clinton Avenue,
Rochester, NY 14604

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Keith-Albee, RKO

Architects: Anker Sverre Graven, Arthur Guy Mayger

Firms: Graven & Mayger

Styles: Neo-Georgian

Previous Names: Keith-Albee Palace Theater

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RKO Palace Theater

The Keith-Albee Palace Theater opened on December 25, 1928 with Richard Barthelmass in “Scarlet Seas” on the screen and six acts of vaudeville on stage. Organist Tom Grierson (Rochester’s own) played the 4 manual, 21 ranks Wurlitzer organ. It soon became the favorite downtown movie palace for this city. Large signs on the theater building announced as “The Showplace of Rochester” and over the main entrance was the statement that this was “Rochester’s most beautiful theater”.

The architects designed the knockout of a theater in Neo-Georgian style. Behind the main entrance was the main lobby with a terrazzo floor, elaborate plaster-work, huge mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and a ceiling which seemed far, far overhead. The next area was the inner lobby with its twin staircases to the balcony, vaulted ceiling, oil paintings, gilded metalwork, and lots more mirrors and chandeliers.

The auditorium was more of the same. There were velvet draped organ grilles, elaborate box seats, more chandeliers, an 80 foot deep stage, and a fine example of the organ builders craft from the Wurlitzer company (Opus 1951) which was played by house organist organist Tom Grierson until 1943.

The theater succumbed in the 1960’s to dwindling profits and closed August 2, 1965 with Frank Sinatra in “Von Ryan’s Express”. Demolition began immediately taking four months to complete. Plans were for building the Twin Towers apartment building on the site. This never happened and for many years there was nothing to mark the site but a parking lot. In recent years the RTS bus station has been built on the site.

The Wurlitzer organ was played for the final time by Tom Grierson in 1963 (after the instrument had sat dormant since 1943). The performance was recorded. The organ was saved and installed in the Auditorium Theatre, Rochester (now a 4 manual, 23 ranks instrument).

Contributed by Carl

Recent comments (view all 26 comments)

Ziggy on September 10, 2007 at 12:36 pm

Hi Warren, right now you may well be the one person at this website that knows the most about the RKO Temple in Rochester. It was torn down when I was very young and I don’t have any distinct memories of it at all. It may even have been torn down before I was born. I have memories of the block it sat on being cleared, but the theatre may have already been gone before then. If you were to start a posting on it you would be doing us a service! There was another theatre near the Temple called the “Victoria”, but I also have no memories of that.

JohnMLauter on February 24, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I played a concert on the RKO Palace Wurlitzer in the Auditorium theatre last December. It is one of the best wurlitzer theatre organs you will ever hear.

jasen on February 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Does anyone remember when a temporary screen was transported into the Palace to screen a 3 projection movie called Cinerama. The Screen was huge and extended beyond both sides of the stage. The movie was a spectacular but was only shown for approximately a month. It was outstanding for its time and dwarfed Cinemascope movies of that era.

DavidZornig on October 6, 2013 at 5:42 pm

FYI, there are never before seen photos of the RKO Rochester on a website called www.RochesterSubway.com Go to the “Select Month” feature, and click on “October 2012”. Then scroll down until you see the photos.

I’m unable to attach the link since CT changed their page format.

DavidZornig on December 18, 2014 at 10:41 am

1942 photo added courtesy of the Y-Block Guy Facebook page.

Movie_Fan_Rochester on May 2, 2015 at 12:44 pm

I don’t know the numerical address of the RKO Palace, but I do recall going there so many times. It had a front entrance, on S. Clinton Ave., and a side entrance on Mortimer St. It was torn down in order to build a circular apartment building or buildings, but that never happened, and since it’s demise, it remained a parking lot. I recall losing my Rochester Red Wings Hat there, when the teams hats were Dark Blue Crown, a Red Bill, and a large R over the bill. Here is a clip I found on line Rochester’s RKO Palace Theater,


September 1965. A sign is hung on the marquee proclaiming this the site of new $10 Million dollar twin towers. The theater was demolished and no towers were ever built on the site. [PHOTO: Courtesy of Rochester Theater Organ Society]

Link to more info and photographs of the RKO Palace


DavidZornig on September 2, 2015 at 7:10 pm

Newspaper image added courtesy of Len Laurro.

rivest266 on January 21, 2016 at 3:51 pm

December 25th, 1928 grand opening ad in photo section.

mrchangeover on August 17, 2019 at 12:07 pm

I went to the RKO Palace in Rochester back in 1963 when I visited the city from Canada. Can’t remember what the movie was. The balcony was closed and there were very few people there. It was obvious that in its glory days it was a magnificent theatre so I was glad to have been there before it closed.

DavidZornig on February 26, 2020 at 8:32 pm

1965 demolition photo added courtesy Dolores Scherzi Imburgiaā€ˇ.

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