The Weekly Quill — Commercial Real Estate meets Adam Smith

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Even in 1893, $213.43 was a pittance of a profit on a $6,000 investment. This poor return might have had something to do with what Eadweard Muybridge was selling — plodding footage of California’s Yosemite Valley’s animals in motion. And yet, history cannot deny his charging a quarter to enter Zoopraxigraphical Hall which he’d paid to construct on the grounds of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair with the blessing of the Fine Arts Commission. As dry as the not-so animalistic images were, it was still a marvel to witness movement on Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope, a device he’d invented to project motion pictures to spice up his lectures. And the 25-cent price of admission did secure Muybridge’s distinction as the purveyor of the world’s first commercial movie theater.Unlike Muybridge, few dispute the business acumen of “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” While no fewer than 1093 US patents are credited to his name along with his founding of General Electric, one Thomas Alva Edison was caught on the wrong foot headed into the World’s Fair. That’s saying something considering he’d been in discussions with Muybridge about his invention since 1888. By 1891, the great inventor had a working prototype of a kinetoscope, an individual viewing device featuring a 35mm filmstrip conceived by George Eastman. Luckily, Edison’s building of his estimated $200 million net worth was not sidelined by his disbelief in the commercial viability of motion pictures. This hesitation was combined with a most unfortunate incident. Shortly before the Fair’s May 1st opening, the employee he’d charged with assisting on mass producing the device ahead of the Fair, William Dickenson, suffered a nervous breakdown.

And so, the kinetoscope’s debut was delayed until May 9, 1893 and took place not in Chicago, but Brooklyn. Three years on, Edison began public showings of his films at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall on 34th Street in New York City. By then, competitors had popped up across the country and around the world. Be that as it may, aesthetic purists didn’t embrace the venue until a dedicated structure was erected that commanded palace stature. And so it was on April 11, 1914 when the million-dollar ($26 million equivalent) Mark Strand Theatre opened its doors at the corner of 47th Street and Broadway. According to the New York Dramatic Mirror, part of the princely sum had gone to luring away Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel from the Regent Theater with the “highest salary ever paid to the manager of a theater of any kind.”

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