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Thread: City Center (formerly Mecca Temple) - West 55th Street

  1. #1
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002

    Default City Center (formerly Mecca Temple) - West 55th Street

    City Center to Begin $75 Million Renovation


    A computer rendering of New York City Center's renovated 55th Street façade.

    A rendering of New York City Center's renovated mezzanine lobby bar.

    City Center, dedicated by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in 1943 as Manhattan’s first major performing arts center, is embarking on a $75 million renovation and restoration of its landmark neo-Moorish building on West 55th Street.

    The renovation, which City Center is to announce on Wednesday, will be designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, a firm responsible for several cultural projects, including renovations of Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Museum and the Public Theater.

    “We wanted to make sure that City Center is competitive into the 21st century,” said Arlene Shuler, its president and chief executive.

    The plans call for improved seating and sightlines and a new illuminated glass-and-bronze canopy. Because City Center is a landmark, exterior alterations will be subject to the approval of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Polshek will also restore the theater’s mosaic walls, arabesque ceilings and detailed plasterwork.

    “It’s a venue that is so loved, so whatever we did to enhance that wonderful, quirky building, we wanted it to still be City Center,” said Duncan Hazard, the partner in charge of the project at Polshek. “That said, we really wanted to cure a lot of the limitations that the venue has always had.”

    The priority was improving the sightlines, Mr. Hazard said, “to redesign the building so we offered to all the seats a full view of the stage.”

    The new design elements are based on a study of the center’s underlying motifs of Islamic architecture. “What we were trying to do was to work with the existing vocabulary of the design, not necessarily design something innovative,” Mr. Hazard said. That vocabulary is “heavily based on intricate geometries,” he added.

    “You can interpret them and extrapolate from them,” he continued, “and end up doing something contemporary that also fits in with the building.”

    The performing arts complex — which includes a 2,753-seat main stage, two smaller theaters, four studios and a 12-story office tower — is home to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Manhattan Theater Club. To minimize interruption to the performance schedule, the renovation will be done in two phases, the center said: from late April through September this year, and from mid-March through October 2011.

    The arts center said it had raised 76 percent of its capital goal — or $57.2 million — $35.6 million of which was committed by New York City. (City Center is a city-owned property.)

    “City Center is one of our oldest performing arts centers in Manhattan,” said Kate D. Levin, the commissioner of cultural affairs. “The project will provide the amenities audiences expect and help artists do their best work.”

    Some of the money will go toward supporting current and future programs, like the Encores! concert series and the Fall for Dance festival.
    Built in 1923 as a meeting hall for the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, or Shriners, the former temple officially became City Center on Dec. 11, 1943, with Mayor La Guardia himself conducting the New York Philharmonic in the national anthem.

    In the 1940s and ’50s, City Center served as a popular, affordable alternative to Broadway theater, the Metropolitan Opera House and Carnegie Hall. New York City Opera and New York City Ballet were founded there before moving to Lincoln Center. Actors including Paul Robeson, Orson Welles and Tallulah Bankhead performed on its stage; Bob Fosse and Walter Matthau appeared there in popular revivals of Broadway musicals.

    After the opening of Lincoln Center, the building became underused and threatened with demolition. It was saved in the 1970s when the theater was rededicated as a home for dance and given landmark status, and the City Center 55th Street Theater Foundation was formed to manage the complex.

    City Center had originally planned to close for the 2007-8 season to proceed with the renovation as part of a partnership with Carnegie Hall that was ultimately abandoned. Plans for the renovation then became uncertain, affecting dance institutions that used its stage and prompting American Ballet Theater to hold a truncated fall 2009 season at Lincoln Center. It is unclear when or if the company will return to City Center.

    The construction project will restore the original box-office lobby and mezzanine lobby but will introduce an expanded and redesigned street-level lobby and a new patrons’ lounge, using existing alley space. The number of restrooms will also be increased.

    The auditorium will be resloped to improve sightlines, and the seating will be reconfigured, spaced differently and resized to make it more contemporary, comfortable and handicapped-accessible.

    Back-of-house improvements include a new sprung stage floor suitable for dance, new theatrical support systems and refurbished dressing rooms.

    In addition to the new canopy, the exterior will have new blade signs — subject to landmark approval — that will be visible from the Avenue of the Americas and Seventh Avenue. “We are doing a lot to try to give it more of a street presence and also to make sure people can see more of the original architecture,” Ms. Shuler said. “I want City Center to be a place where both audiences and artists are excited to be there.”

    An earlier version stated that the auditorium’s orchestra and balcony levels will be resloped; only the auditorium will be resloped.

    Wikipedia entry

    nyc-architecture page

  2. #2


    Saw a show or a concert there once, long ago. Can't remember the show, but the building sure left an impression. Fixed up, it'll be one of New York's premier venues.

  3. #3


    I think the Alvin Ailey company used to perform there.

  4. #4


    For $57 Million N.Y. City Center Restores Aladdin’s Arabesque Lair: Review

    By James S. Russell - Oct 27, 2011

    Above a narrow Manhattan street, leaves and vines explode in colorful arabesques. This desert fantasy in ceramic tiles is pasted over the entrance on the domed pile of New York City Center.

    After months of frantic work, the scaffolding has just come down in this home for theater and dance, a short walk from Carnegie Hall.

    The achievement is major.

    As recently as April 2010 I stood on the stage and looked at an auditorium whose every inch was slathered with dingy beige paint. I couldn’t imagine the pulsing colors I had been told lurked beneath. I wondered just how architect Duncan Hazard, of the Manhattan architecture firm Ennead, was going to fix the famously terrible sightlines that seemed to obscure views from a good third of the 2,753 seats.

    The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theatre perform annually at the center, which also offers the Fall for Dance festival with its $10 tickets and the “Encores!” series that resuscitates musicals.

    The building dates from 1924 and served as the meeting place of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, better known as fez-wearing Shriners. The City of New York ended up owning it when the Shriners couldn’t pay their taxes during the Depression.

    Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia reopened the building in 1943 as a home of affordable performing arts. He helped start City Opera that year, and “the people’s opera company” played its first performances at City Center before moving to Lincoln Center, from which it has since departed.

    Moorish Romanticism

    The center’s original designer, Harry P. Knowles, gave the building an over-the-top Moorish-style romanticism that has been wondrously restored.

    On a visit last week, I saw floral patterns in gold, sage- green, and maroon swirl up the side walls to meet a ceiling spider-webbed with brightly colored panels. A pair of domed, columned and gilded archways that look swiped from some Arabian Nights lair frame the stage. Plump brass Aladdin’s lamps dangle in front of the proscenium. What was once a drab room best appreciated when the lights were low is now a delight.

    Hazard said there were no color photographs to help identify the original palette, so every square inch of the walls and ceiling had to be painstakingly stripped and analyzed to match the old colors.

    No ‘Knee Crunchers’

    By borrowing a few inches available within the massive steel supports concealed in the fronts of the two large balconies, Hazard was able to change the rake of the seats so that almost all viewers can see the entire stage. He replaced what he called “knee crunchers” with wider seats and added legroom. The sightlines, if not perfect, are now improved more than I thought possible.

    After all, in 2007, it looked like the only way to fix the hall was to lift the entire auditorium a full story. That project was estimated to cost $150 million and would have taken years to do. This project got done in two summers for $57 million.

    City Center is close to its $75 million capital campaign goal. The difference will underwrite programming. Six of the center’s directors were victims of Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme, although the board has said the renovation wasn’t affected. Madoff himself was a director for at least a decade, until his arrest on Dec. 11, according to City Center tax returns.

    Architectural sleight of hand found space for much-expanded bathrooms, an additional elevator and a more generous orchestra- level lobby. Long-suffering patrons will be delighted. Hazard’s team overhauled stage lighting and behind-the-scenes technology.

    Seats Lost

    In the process City Center lost 500 seats, which is worrisome to the extent that it seems to accept smaller audiences as a given. It’s a trend: new performing-arts halls rarely surpass 2,000 seats these days, and Hazard, who was the Ennead partner in charge of Carnegie Hall’s 1986 restoration, has been asked to shrink Cincinnati’s 3,400-seat Music Hall by 1,500 seats.

    “You are not in a hall to suffer for art but to be comfortable and enjoy,” Hazard explained. Especially in orchestra venues, “People want to see the musicians and watch the process,” so he’ll bring the Cincinnati stage closer to the middle of the hall and wrap it with seats.

    At City Center, smaller is certainly better. The hall lost its worst seats. That allows the “Encores!” series, for one, to justify adding additional performances.

    (James S. Russell writes on architecture for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Island Press has just published his book, “The Agile City.” The opinions expressed are his own.)

    To contact the writer of this column: James S. Russell in New York at

    To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

    Exterior view of New York City Center, a venue for theater and music that has been restored by Ennead Architects.
    The building was opened in 1924 in neo-Moorish style. The decorative tiles were restored and a new marquee
    installed with a transparent roof to reveal the decoration to passersby.

    The auditorium of New York City Center, at its gala reopening. Originally built in 1924 as a Shriner's hall,
    the theater was restored and sightlines improved over two summer construction periods, costing $57 million.

    A view looking up to the decorative ceiling and proscenium of New York City Center.
    Layers of beige paint had to be painstakingly stripped to reveal the hall's original colors.

    A view of the restored upper lobby of New York City Center at is gala reopening.
    Once a Shriners auditorium and long an affordable theater for dance, musicals and opera,
    the midtown Manhattan venue reopened Oct. 25 after a $57 million restoration undertaken over two summers.

    ®2011 BLOOMBERG L.P

  5. #5


    "INTERESTING"........."Built in 1923 as a meeting hall for the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, or Shriners, the former temple officially became City Center on Dec. 11, 1943, with Mayor La Guardia himself conducting the New York Philharmonic in the national anthem. The organization is best known for the Shriners Hospitals for Children they administer and the red fezzes that members wear. The organization is headquartered in Tampa, Florida.[2] Shriners International describes itself as a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth. There are approximately 340,000 members from 194 temples (chapters) in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Republic of Panama, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Europe and Australia. On July 6, 2011, Shriners International commissioned Emirat Shriners of Heidelberg, Germany, as its 194th temple, and passed the first steps toward forming a new temple in Mindanao, The Philippines. [3]

  6. #6


    I just poked around and found that I can get tickets for select performances for $10 as an NYU student. Nice!

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