This is Oyster Bay
Visiting the birth place of Cinerama
This article first appeared in
The 70mm Newsletter
Written and photographed by:
Issue 51 - December 1997
John Belton in New York
This article ends the three-part account of the "Cinerama
Holiday" Get Together in Dayton, the "Historical Wide
Screen Gathering" in Southbridge and the visit to the
birthplace of Cinerama. We end the tour in New York for the grand
finale: a visit to Oyster Bay where The Cinerama headquarters was
Willem and I arrived in New York by train at Grand Central
Station. At the platform to welcome us was Mr. Dennis Furbush,
who we had met a few days earlier in Dayton. We were his guests
over the week-end in Jackson Heights. Our visit to New York was
going to be a short visit with many things on our agenda.
Saturday: Sightseeing in New York City. Sunday: Oyster Bay.
Monday: Radio City Music Hall.
Further in 70mm reading:
in70mm.com's Cinerama page
Mary St. Pius V Chapel
Bay tennis court interior. Click to see enlargement
As Saturday dawned it was raining. Willem and John Belton had
arranged a meeting in a restaurant on Broadway and 90th at 2 PM.
The subway took us directly to Times Sq and 42nd street. Willem
and I spent the entire morning on Broadway looking for the old
cinemas. We passed The
Broadway Theatre where
Cinerama" opened. The theatre is still open as a live venue
and is currently running "Miss Saigon". The second
Cinerama theatre on Times Sq, The Warner Theatre, had been
demolished a long time ago. We passed the site where The Rivoli
once stood and where "Oklahoma!" in
That cinema had been demolished in the eighties and is now
replaced by a black monolith building. Lunch was within reach of
us and we finally met John Belton in a chinese restaurant. John
was all ears when we told him about our Widescreen Activities of
the past week. The next day we were going to find the old
Cinerama headquarters in Oyster Bay on Long Island. John was
sorry he couldn't go, but he was too busy with work.
Sunday morning was a beautiful day with sunshine from a clear
blue sky. Richard C. Babish arrived at 10 am at Dennis Furbush's
apartment. After formal introductions we drove off towards Oyster
Bay. During the 90 minute drive Dick Babish thrilled us with
stories about Vitarama and Cinerama. In 1942 he installed
Waller Gunnery Trainer in several places in the US and Hawaii. He
later served as optical engineer and vice president of
He was Research & Development Engineer for Cinerama and
technical advisor on "This is Cinerama" and "Cinerama
Holiday". He holds several Cinerama patents.
Bay tennis court exterior, 8 Pond Place.
After driving around looking for the address we finally found
Woodward leading up to Pond Place, and then, number 8. Bingo!
Here it was. I felt the history of wide screen blowing in the
winds. Thanks to the vision of Fred Waller, it was here Cinerama
took shape. This is where the mother of all super wide screen
film formats was born. A simple idea of re-creating human vision
in the cinema was transformed into a very complex first person
film presentation system in this very house! Amazing to believe.
So many years ago, this place was a beehive of creative people.
Musicians, engineers, projection experts, sound experts and movie
The day we arrived, Sunday May 4, 1997, everything was absolutely
quiet. There was no trace left of any film activities, except 4
crazy, but very happy, wide screen enthusiasts walking around the
building taking pictures. I am sure if any representatives from
the police community had seen us, they would have asked us
serious questions about what was going on. It must have been
their day off... we were not arrested.
Bay, Dick Babish and Willem Bouwmeester convincing two nuns it's OK to get
in to see where Cinerama was born.
The next question was simple: How do we get inside the tennis
court? We did not come all the way from Europe to not get inside!
Willem and Dick Babish met two people living there. It turned out
to be a convent of Daughters of Mary St. Pius V Chapel, offering
a Sunday traditional latin mass. I didn't feel any specific need
for a latin mass that morning and I just asked for the tour
inside, please. After a few minutes of asking, they let us in.
Armed with cameras, a wealth of questions and a stack of stills, we all humbly entered
the building. Inside the tennis court were a temporary office, a
tent, several cars, 2 basketball baskets, a wide selection of
chairs and endless boxes with the belongings of the convent. They
excused the mess inside as they were using the tennis court as
storage room for the time being. Of course we didn´t mind at all.
Once inside, I believe we all preferred the mess instead of the
Bay tennis court interior. Click to see enlargement
Imagine a simple tennis court with walls on all sides and a glass
roof to let in daylight. That is really it. (Editors note: Look
for a 4-second cut of a similar indoor tennis court in the main
titles of "Sabrina" (1996)). To access the tennis court,
there is a door leading to the Convent gift shop and the library.
45 years ago it led to the sound room where all dubbers were.
Willem and I examined the room carefully and looked at old stills
to find out where things had been. There is a balcony and several
windows. In one end of the tennis court Fred Waller installed the
Cinerama screen, several of which were experimental. Three
projection rooms A, B and C were installed in the opposite end of
the court. Below Baker, a standard 35mm projection room took up
space. In the middle were a wide selection of recording booms, a
60 piece Cinerama orchestra, loads of electrical units like
recorders and mixers. Willem showed the sisters old black and
white stills taken in the fifties. It was easy to imagine where
the screen and projectors had been. The sisters had no idea of
the cinematic past of their tennis court. They had never heard of
Cinerama. They were surprised to see all the stills of the place
and what it used to look like. They made photocopies of some of
the pictures for their library. I assured both sisters the tennis
court is a "holy" place for many Cinerama enthusiasts.
They both smiled and seemed to enjoy the international visit.
The visit brought back many fond memories of Fred Waller,
Vitarama and Cinerama. Dick Babish showed us where he ran 3-strip
camera tests. He had brought some of the original camera
negatives along to illustrate. Camera tests were also carried out
outside the tennis court. Once the tour was over, sisters and
movie buffs all lined up outside for the traditional group shot
in memory of the visit.
Bay group pictures with Thomas, Dennis, nun, nun, Dick and Willem.
What was it like to see? Well, it was amazing to see it. Or,
actually, what was there to see? Nothing, really! I knew the
building from pictures. It is a big yellow 3-story building
surrounded by trees, with a parking lot outside. An automatic
door and a small office has been added to the facade, but
otherwise it looked as it did 50 years ago. The building looked
as if it was in pretty good condition. The Indoor Tennis Court is
not your average Studio Tour. It is completely different, and
probably less than a handful of people would ever dream of
visiting it. First of all, there is no film to see anywhere! But
from a historical point of view it is interesting to see where a
chapter in wide screen history was written. I am happy to have
seen it. We thanked the Daughters of Mary St. Pius V Chapel for their hospitality. Maybe
they should consider putting a plaque on the wall telling
everyone this is were Cinerama was born.
Hauerslev, Catherine Monroe, Dennis Furbush, Willem Bouwmeester and Dick
Babish. Image by Thomas Hauerslev
The same afternoon we visited the home of
Fred Waller in nearby
Huntington. His granddaughter, Kathrin Monroe, her husband and
their son are living in Waller's house. After presenting
ourselves and almost being
eaten by their dog, Mrs. Monroe invited us inside for some liquid
refreshments. We told her about the visit to the tennis court and
why we came from Europe to do that. Pure enthusiasm and love for
the history of movies.
Catherine Monroe (Now Clarke) holding Fred Waller's portrait. Image by
Also see Cinerama Test
Mrs. Monroe never met her famous grandfather Fred Waller, but
knew his history very well. Mrs. Monroe was very pleasant young
woman and quite surprised to have her house invaded by 4 Cinerama
enthusiasts on a Sunday afternoon! She was especially happy to meet Dick Babish, who had
worked closely with Fred Waller and who knew her house from
visits 50 years earlier. Behind her house, was Fred Waller's old
barn a.k.a. Waller Stvdio. In this barn all Waller's ideas took
form. Water-skis, The Gunnery Trainer, Photometric Fit Picture
and Cinerama. Until recently, the barn was in very poor shape
after 40 years of non-use. It was more
or less untouched by the late Mrs. Waller since Fred Waller died
in 1954. 40 years of decay finally ended last year when the
Monroes began to restore the barn. Before we left I took the
traditional Everybody Line Up, please picture in front of the "Waller Stvdio". It had been a memorable day in Oyster Bay and a
moving conclusion to our US visit. Not only did we see the place
of the event, Fred Waller's house and studio, but we also met
Mrs. Kathrin Monroe, granddaughter of Fred Waller.
and Willem in New York.
On our way back to New York, we went looking for the first
purpose-built Todd-AO cinema. It had opened in
Syosset in 1956.
We found, to my great disappointment, the United Artists Theatre
Circuit had demolished a theatre here a few years ago which could
be the one we were looking for. The demolished cinema had
Cinerama and Dimension 150 installed. It was gone today along
with its DP70s. Finally back in New York, we said goodbye to Dick Babish, who still had a 90 minute drive ahead of him. The
following day, Dennis and I visited Radio City Music Hall while
Willem went to visit the widow of Nicolas Resini. Once was the
owner of Cinerama, Inc. But that is another story. Wednesday
morning I was back in Copenhagen. My suitcase was full of notes,
film clips and many other historical souvenirs. Many individuals
gave their time, help, support, assistance and hospitality during
the visit. To all who assisted us, I remain forever grateful.
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