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Thread: Restoring the Longacre Theater - 220 West 48th Street

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    Default Restoring the Longacre Theater - 220 West 48th Street

    On Broadway, Revivals Aren’t Only for Shows



    The interior of the Longacre Theater after its renovation, which cost $12 million and took two years.


    By GLENN COLLINS
    Published: May 3, 2008

    As Christine Baranski, Mark Rylance, Bradley Whitford and the other cast members of the 1960s farce “Boeing-Boeing” face a house full of first-nighters on Sunday, one concern may be whether the play will be upstaged by the theater’s new ceilings, new seats, new carpets and — not inconsequentially — new restrooms.

    “That’s why we’re overacting — so dramatically,” Mr. Whitford said. “We’re competing with a lot of gold leaf here.”

    The play’s Broadway home, the Longacre Theater at 220 West 48th Street, has had “a gut renovation,” in the words of Keith Marston, the facilities director for the Shubert Organization, the building’s owner. “This is our opening night too,” he said of the 400 restorers, carpenters, electricians, painters, plumbers and other workers who have toiled over the last two years to complete the $12 million reconstruction.
    Who, exactly, are their critics?

    “Anyone and everyone,” Mr. Marston said. “Everybody is a designer.”

    The project has been one of the more extensive and grimy renovations that Shubert has ever done, said Mr. Marston’s boss, John P. Darby, the company’s vice president of facilities. “So wouldn’t you know that the production coming in has an incredibly white set, with a white carpet?” he said of “Boeing-Boeing,” a comedy of errors about a bachelor (Mr. Whitford) juggling multiple flight attendant fiancées.

    The Longacre, which opened in 1913, is the latest of the 17 Broadway theaters owned and operated by Shubert to be completely redone, following the $9 million renovation of the Ethel Barrymore Theater on 47th Street in 2004 and the more than $12 million refurbishment of the Winter Garden Theater on 50th Street and Broadway in 2001.

    The Longacre is described in its New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designation as “one of the historic theater interiors that symbolize American theater for both New York and the nation,” and both its exterior and interior are recognized as landmarks.

    Built to house the shows of the producer and baseball magnate Harry H. Frazee, it was named for Long Acre Square (renamed Times Square during the construction of the New York Times Building in 1904). The theater’s two-balcony design “creates a strong sense of intimacy,” the Landmarks report says.

    “John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson told me that the Longacre’s intimacy made it the finest theater they’d ever played in,” said Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization. The actors performed there in 1976 in “No Man’s Land” by Harold Pinter.

    Or as Mr. Whitford, formerly of the television series “The West Wing,” put it: “It’s great to be in a theater where you don’t have to be miked.”

    The prerenovation Longacre, though, “was something of a basket case,” Mr. Darby said. “Improving it wasn’t simply a story of dressing up the house.”

    And so, after decades of wear and tear, the Longacre has been given an entirely renovated interior skin, including its lobby, ticket windows, lounges and lighting. Old seats and carpets have been ripped out and replaced. And the theater’s climate-control system, plumbing and wiring have been renewed. Its neo-French Classical exterior facade, largely faced with white terra cotta, has been repaired and cleaned, and the building now has a new $200,000 marquee.

    In the lobby the original mosaic floor has been restored, but only after two dreadnought-size cast-iron radiators were removed and replaced with radiant heating.

    The reconstruction got so serious that, last fall, a backhoe was excavating an 80-foot-wide hole in the floor, nearly the full width of the orchestra, all the way from Row H to Row Q.

    “We had to go into bedrock,” Mr. Marston said, to upgrade the subterranean men’s and ladies’ lounges.

    Now there is a grand, contiguous 1,600-square-foot lower lounge, complete with a bar. The capacity in the ladies’ room has gone to 15 stalls from 4, “because there is nothing more annoying than a long bathroom line,” Mr. Marston said.

    The designers also created a new upper lounge with restrooms and its own recessed bar, carved from former attic storage space; the two lounges cost $3.5 million.

    The 1,077-seat theater now has teal cushioned seats with walnut-stained exposed maple seatbacks (called Amsterdam backs because they were popularized in the New Amsterdam Theater). The post-restoration house is 18 seats smaller because of sight-line improvements and access for patrons with disabilities.

    The original interior, with its elaborate Beaux-Arts style ornaments and French-inspired design by the architect Henry B. Herts, was given a rich decorative scheme that includes high-relief plasterwork, stylized shields and grotesque figures.

    “We tried to bring back as much of the original detail as possible, working from historic photographs,” said Michael Kostow of Kostow Greenwood Architects, which oversaw the project.

    In the 1970s most of the theater’s interior plaster surfaces had been slathered in, as Mr. Marston called it, “hideous” cream- and mushroom-colored paint that “blotted out all the detailing.” This has yielded to a palette of gold, terra cotta, teal, forest green and Dutch metal (a less expensive form of gold leaf) “to make the space shimmer,” he said.

    The backstage has been renovated, including the stage deck itself, where the likes of John and Ethel Barrymore, Stockard Channing, Ruby Dee, Robert De Niro, Clark Gable, Julie Harris, James Earl Jones, James Mason, Zero Mostel, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer, Robert Redford and Diana Rigg once trod.

    A new fire-alarm system, backstage bathrooms, showers and a doorman’s vestibule were also installed.

    The renovation bill doesn’t include the cost of having the theater sit empty since June of last year, when “Talk Radio” ended its run. Virtually the entire air-rights square-footage for the Longacre was sold, along with the Barrymore’s, in the late 1980s.

    “The theater-facility fee doesn’t come close to covering the cost of these renovations,” Mr. Schoenfeld said of the $1.50 charge added to each ticket. “And the possibility of recouping our investment at the Longacre, dollar for dollar, is unlikely.”

    So why spend so much?

    “We have to present these theaters to the next generation,” he said.
    As for the current generation, it is otherwise preoccupied. “I can tell you one thing,” Mr. Whitford said. “The mice in the dressing room have survived the renovation.”

    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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    Default More photos


    The Longacre Theater, seen here around the time of its opening in 1913, is the latest of the 17 Broadway
    theaters owned and operated by the Shubert Organization to be completely redone.



    The theater, at 220 West 48th Street, has had a full renovation over the last two years.



    The project involved 400 restorers, carpenters, electricians, painters, plumbers and other workers who
    toiled to complete the $12 million reconstruction.



    Built to house the shows of producer and baseball magnate Harry H. Frazee, it was named for Long Acre
    Square (renamed Times Square after the construction of The New York Times building in 1904).



    The Longacre is described in its New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designation as “one of
    the historic theater interiors that symbolize American theater for both New York and the nation,” and both
    its exterior and interior are recognized as landmarks.



    Old seats and carpets were ripped out and replaced.



    After decades of wear and tear, the Longacre has been given an entirely renovated interior skin, including
    its lobby, ticket windows, lounges and lighting.



    The theater’s climate control system, plumbing and wiring have been renewed.



    The theater’s neo-French classical exterior facade, largely faced with white terra cotta, has been repaired
    and cleaned, and the building now has a new marquee.



    In the lobby, the original mosaic floor was restored, but only after two large cast-iron radiators were
    removed and replaced with radiant heating.



    The original interior, with its elaborate Beaux-Arts style ornaments and French-inspired design by
    architect Henry B. Herts, was given a rich decorative scheme that includes high-relief plasterwork,
    stylized shields, grotesque figures and even projecting helmets with winged figures.


    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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    Just wonderful to see and especially heartwarming to hear stuff like this...

    So why spend so much?

    “We have to present these theaters to the next generation,” he said.
    ...kinda restores your confidence in this city (and humanity), doesn't it?

    With this restoration along with the completely redone Henry Miller Theatre soon to open in the Bank of America tower, Broadway theaters in general have not looked better in decades.

  4. #4

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    ^ totally agree.

    What a result!!!

    (Though it still saddens me that the journo/d-bag felt it even intelligent to rhetorically ask "why spend so much?"...."

  5. #5

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    Looks like they did a beautiful job. After seeing recent shows in both The Music Box and the New Victory, I'm in awe of how beautiful some of our theatres are. I look forward to seeing the Nederlander restored once Rent is out and hope someday to see a restored Studio 54.

    The Henry Miller was demolished with only the facade saved right? Why no interior landmark designation when so many others received it.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Christopher667 View Post
    Why no interior landmark designation when so many others received it.
    I'm guessing that you never saw the Henry Miller interior. The theater's last show, I believe, was, fittingly, Urinetown.
    Last edited by ManhattanKnight; May 6th, 2008 at 03:49 PM.

  7. #7

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    I did see Urinetown, but remember very little about the interior. Maybe that speaks for itself. I do remember a lot of plywood everywhere though.

    I imagine the theatre was in better shape in '82 when the facade was designated. Besides, the LPC just seemed to be rubberstamp landmarking the theatres at that point to prevent a repeat of the Helen Hayes/Bijou /Morosco/Astor tragedy.

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    Rest assured, the Cook+Fox/Durst people know what they're doing and anything in the interior that is worthwhile would be salvaged. Here's the description of the project:

    As per Bank of America & Durst Organization's direction, and with the goal of creating a state-of-the-art Broadway playhouse that captures the intimacy and proportions of the original 1918 Allen, Ingalls & Hoffman Theater the historic Henry Miller Theater is being reconstructed. The Georgian-style land marked façade will be preserved and restored, the oval reception room, doors and decorative plasterwork, including the iconic urns marking the 43rd Street entrance, will be salvaged and incorporated into the new design.

    The seating will be increased to 1,000, the majority of which will have a prime location at orchestra level. A sophisticated acoustics system will be integrated, as well as a larger orchestra pit and fully functional fly-tower and scenic loading facilities. Other new amenities will included improved public circulation, box office and concessions areas, with a spacious lobby bar at the orchestra level, a bar and café at the ground level, a restaurant on the upper mezzanine and significant increase in women's restrooms.

    The new theater will also be fully handicapped accessible with 20 wheelchair-viewing positions. In addition, the theater will have an auxiliary exhibition space - an adjacent through-block pedestrian passageway that provides views into the documentary style multimedia presentation exploring the life and times of the historical Henry Miller playhouse.
    Here's a cross-section of the Henry Miller Theatre:



    ...and out front...

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