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    Default The Apollo Theater

    Excerpt from NEW YORK TIMES February 10, 2002
    The Changing Look of the New Harlem

    The Apollo Theater at 253 West 125th Street may create a performing arts center that encompasses the neighboring Victoria Theater. Meanwhile, it has closed for two months in the first phase of a $50 million renovation.

    Another ambitious cultural project that is now taking shape is an Apollo performing arts center that might encompass the Victoria Theater, 233 West 125th Street, whose auditorium is only 15 feet apart from the Apollo on the 126th Street side.

    "We'd certainly be in favor of any kind of expansion of the activities of the Apollo into the Victoria Theater," said Charles A. Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, who said the matter was under negotiation. The state owns both the Victoria and the Apollo, which it has leased to the Apollo Theater Foundation for 99 years. One possibility, Mr. Gargano said, is a 3,000-seat theater on the Victoria site.

    Foundation executives said it was premature to talk about reconstruction, demolition, restoration or even acquisition of the Victoria. They focused instead on the renovation of the 1,483-seat Apollo itself, by Davis Brody Bond and Beyer Blinder Belle.

    "We've thought long and hard about the best way of holding on to the historical richness of the theater while at the same time bringing it current," said Derek Q. Johnson, president of the foundation. The renovation is to occur in phases; staged so that the performance schedule is not disrupted unduly and also, Mr. Johnson said, "to allow our financial power to meet our real estate aspirations."

    Apollo executives see their project in terms of the overall vitality of 125th Street. "The issue is how you keep it busy after 6 or 7 o'clock at night," said David D. Rodriguez, executive director of the foundation. "The key answer is to have a vibrant Apollo."

    In the first phase of the renovation, to be completed in October at a cost of about $12 million, the great yellow-and-red blade sign out front will be rehabilitated, the marquee will be updated with light-emitting diodes, the terra cotta facade will be restored, the roof will be repaired, seats will be fixed and carpeting replaced, power capacity will be increased, computer-assisted moving lights will be added and new dimmers, speakers and audio mixing consoles will be installed.

    The second phase, costing about $38 million, is to begin next year. It will include the restoration of architectural details and ornament in the auditorium and the construction of a new lobby and gift shop. Seats will be replaced, dressing rooms renovated and restrooms increased. Fiber-optic lines will be extended inconspicuously throughout the theater. All three levels will be made accessible to the disabled.

    It is the uncharted phase, involving the 84- year-old Victoria Theater, that concerns Michael Henry Adams, author of the forthcoming "Harlem Lost and Found, An Architectural and Social History: 1765-1915."

    Designed by the celebrated theater architect Thomas W. Lamb, the Victoria facade is ornamented with Ionic columns, anthemion leaves, lions' heads, rosettes and rhytons — horn-shaped cups with animal heads. The Victoria is not a landmark but has been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, Mr. Adams said. "It is the most architecturally distinguished theater to survive in central Harlem," he said. "It shouldn't be necessary to destroy what is special and unique about Harlem."


    The Victoria Theater at 233 West 125th Street.

  2. #2

    Default The Apollo Theater

    From Apollo Theater website


    Convinced that restoration of the Apollo Theater will provide a dramatically improved experience for its devoted audience, the Apollo's leadership took a bold step toward this vision, moving forward with a comprehensive renovation of the historic Apollo Theater in January 2002.

    Phase I of this major renovation project is already complete which includes installation of state-of-the-art digital lighting and sound systems; repairs to the roof; new carpeting, seat repairs and ADA compliance to give greater wheelchair accessibility and provision of infra-red listening devices for the hard of hearing. The heating and air-condition system was optimized by re-routing current HVA system to make it more efficient and comfortable for both the artists and the audience. In addition, two display areas showcasing future phase renovation of interior theater walls, molding and details were completed to allow our patrons a sneak preview of future revitalization plans.

    Phase 1b of the renovation restoration of the Apollo south facade recently commenced with the dismantling and removal of the landmark Apollo blade sign and the historic Apollo marquee. Future restoration phases will include among other things, renovation and restoration of the front façade of the theater; the installation of a new marquee and signage; the completion of a new gift shop; the installation of new seating; new HVAC system and complete restoration of the auditorium and lobby area.

    Attracting old and new patrons alike, a revitalized Apollo will:
    Offer a broad range of cultural, retail and community outreach activities
    Serve as the economic development anchor for the emerging 125th Street Cultural District
    Leverage the powerful Apollo name to create a state-of-the-art cultural resource
    Strengthen the Apollo's position as one of New York City's top attractions
    A revitalized Apollo will bring entertainment, employment and community development opportunities to the surrounding community, while expanding the Apollo's far-reaching ability to influence trends and shape popular culture for decades to come.

  3. #3

    Default The Apollo Theater

    About four miles south of the Apollo Theatre, home of the new musical Harlem Song, George C. Wolfe, the show's creator, is sitting in his softly lit second-floor office at the Public Theater getting ready to go to a rehearsal. It is a steamy summer afternoon near the end of June, but Wolfe, the Tony-winning writer, director, and producer, exhibits no signs that he is wilting from the heat of the day or the pressure of opening a new show.

    Instead of obsessing, the slim, loose-limbed Wolfe is doing one of the things he does best: telling stories, stories about putting Harlem Song together. "Oh, God, I had this open call for the show that started at 10:30 in the morning and didn't finish until 10 at night. For close to twelve hours, we had people lined up to dance and sing. It was astonishing. I found one woman so intriguing and really moving," he says, shifting in his chair like a nervous teenager.

    "She came out onstage, dressed very nicely, and she said, 'I've never done anything like this before.' She sang a song, and it was clear she was not a performer. And I was wondering, did she sneak away to do this? Did her children know she was coming? Did her husband know? Did she come with her girlfriend? I just love the fact that she did it."
    Then he tells the story of an Asian woman at the audition who walked out onstage and sang "Precious Lord." "Her performance was filled with these gospel riffs and the whole thing. And she didn't speak a word of English. It was just so wonderful."

    One reason Wolfe isn't feeling the pressure is that he's handled it before. He's had ten shows on Broadway in the past ten years, including (along with a couple of flops) such diverse hits as Topdog/Underdog, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, Bring in 'da Noise Bring in 'da Funk, and Angels in America. But, exuberance notwithstanding, Harlem Song, in its first week of previews, is the biggest challenge he's faced in years. It is the first time in the Apollo's history that it will be home to a show with an open-ended run. Harlem Song is scheduled for seven performances a week, three on Saturdays, two on Sundays, and two on Mondays.

    Raising the stakes, Wolfe has chosen to tell the social, cultural, and by extension the political history of Harlem from the Roaring Twenties to the present within the confines of a 90-minute musical revue that is striving for the broadest possible appeal. "I know there's going to be criticism," Wolfe says equably. "There are a lot of people who believe they own the history, the mythology of Harlem. You know, they believe it's their story. But I have to tell the stories that intrigue me. The piece is about the energy of the day and, ultimately, about the regenerative power of community. That gave me my clues about what I needed to do."

    This is not a typical Broadway or Off-Broadway opening -- in fact, the show is, in a very real way, about the future of Harlem. And it carries with it the hopes and expectations of the community. "This is not just about Harlem Song or the Apollo," says Derek Johnson, a Harlem resident and former AOL Time Warner executive who left his corporate post to head the Apollo Foundation and to direct the renovation and (he hopes) the resurgence of the forlorn landmark. "This can be a transforming, catalytic event for the community that will have great spillover effect for all of the other businesses."

    Harlem Song comes at a critical point in Harlem's still-nascent resurgence. After almost ten years of significant capital investment in residential and commercial projects, the community is at a kind of crossroads. Five years ago, Harlem, which has about the same population as Vermont, had no supermarket, no video store, no place to get a salad at lunchtime, buy a television, or go to the movies. Private investment was kept away for years by Harlem's political cronyism. "But that's all changed dramatically," says developer Bruce Ratner, head of Forest City Ratner, which is completing a 300,000-square-foot retail and office building on 125th and Lenox Avenue called Harlem Center. "And you have to give the credit to Governor Pataki. You wouldn't have expected it given that there's not a lot of Republican votes uptown. But he and his people took the politics out of what was being done up there."

    Then a Pathmark supermarket, a Blockbuster video store, movie theaters, a mall, and a variety of other retail outlets opened up. And now that the path has been cleared, there are at least a dozen new commercial developments under way. At the north end of Central Park will be a 220,000-square-foot cultural and office complex slated to house the corporate headquarters of Edison Schools and the Museum for African Art.

    Gotham Plaza on 125th Street is due to open in a matter of weeks with its own payload of chains and national brands. On 135th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, in what used to be Smalls' Paradise, the Reverend Calvin Butts and the Abyssinian Development Corporation are building a new home for the Thurgood Marshall Academy, a successful public school started by the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Over on the east end of 125th Street, Potamkin has planned an auto mall that will fill three blocks from 125th to 128th. There's also Gateway Plaza, a retail center on 125th near Lexington; as well as the Hue-Man Bookstore, at 125th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, specializing in black history and culture, due to open in a few weeks. And lest you think the picture seems somehow incomplete, Harlem already has a Starbucks.

    But retail development has its limits, particularly on 125th Street, which will, from river to river, very shortly be almost unrecognizable from what it was a few years ago. Consequently, people are now starting to look at the future, at the next step. And that is where the opening of Harlem Song and the $54 million renovation of the Apollo Theatre are expected by many people to play a crucial role.

    If phase one of the Harlem revitalization was eliminating the impediment of the local politicians (who were stunningly inept, except for maintaining their own power) and phase two was that first burst of commercial and residential development, what shape should phase three take? "The real issue now is to get people to come up and spend money here," says Derek Johnson. "For too long we've been recycling the same dollars in this community."

    The way to get people uptown, particularly when significant psychological barriers still exist for many, is to give them a compelling reason to go. "The crux of this whole Harlem economic revitalization has nothing to do with the Disney store or any of the other chains that are opening on 125th Street," says Michael Eberstadt, owner of Slice of Harlem, a pizzeria, and a creole restaurant named Bayou, both on 125th. "It's just more retail, and who cares? Nobody is coming uptown for the glory of shopping in overpriced sneaker stores on 125th Street."

    Eberstadt, who is white, opened his first Harlem restaurant a little over four years ago after working in social services (he ran a soup kitchen) and completing a master's in public policy at Columbia. He believes his experience with Bayou illustrates the difference between Harlem's current economic reality and its potential.

    Eberstadt has struggled with Bayou for two years and is just beginning to break even now, though the restaurant has gotten lots of good press (in part because he has regularly catered events for 125th Street's best-known resident, William Jefferson Clinton) and word of mouth.

    "People might come up here the way they'd go to an interesting Indian place in Jackson Heights, or an Italian restaurant in Bensonhurst," Eberstadt says. "They'll go once for an unusual experience and to tell their friends they did it, but they won't come a second time, and repeat business is where the money is in restaurants."

    But when there are shows at the Apollo, like recent appearances by Whoopi Goldberg and by Wynton Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Bayou is packed. "The real underlying economic asset of Harlem is that it's the capital of African-American culture, past and present," says Eberstadt. "And moving forward now, that's what everything else should be built around. This gives people a real reason to come uptown. That's why Harlem Song is so important. It will show what the potential up here really is."

    While every producer will tell you it's a challenge getting an audience to come to anything, the people behind Harlem Song know that getting people to go above 96th Street is a special challenge. Everything flows from ticket sales, so the producers have identified half a dozen different audiences they are targeting: residents of upper Manhattan (meaning blacks and Latinos); domestic and international tourists; students and college groups; avid theatergoers; eventgoers (families who plan four or five outings a year in the city); and culture seekers (Manhattan opinion leaders and trendsetters).

    Harlem Song producer John Schreiber, whose credits include Hard Rock Live on VH1 and, with George Wolfe, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, knew when he began this project that Harlem is the third-most-visited tourist destination in the city. "The problem is the tourists often don't get off the bus except maybe for church or Sylvia's." To change this, Schreiber and his partners have made a deal with Gray Line tours to be a featured attraction, which means the guides will talk up the show. They have also made a deal with a group of eleven nonprofit institutions -- including the Studio Museum and the Dance Theatre of Harlem -- known as the Harlem Strategic Cultural Collaborative. One dollar from every ticket sold will go to the group, which will cross-promote the show.

    They've even tried to address the comfort level of potential showgoers who are perhaps a little nervous about going to Harlem. Free parking has been arranged at a garage one block from the theater, and there will be concierge service in the lobby of the Apollo available to arrange car service or dinner reservations.

    The hope is that a successful run for Harlem Song will provide the kind of boost that will resuscitate the moribund landmark. Ever since the state took over the shuttered and bankrupt theater in 1992 and leased it back to the nonprofit Apollo Foundation, the woeful history has been one of underperformance, financial impropriety, and flat-out neglect.

    Finally, in 1998, the state attorney general stepped in and the mess -- which essentially centered on Percy Sutton and the contract held by his company Inner City Broadcasting to produce the syndicated television program It's Showtime at the Apollo -- began to get cleaned up. In the process, Sutton, a close friend of Congressman Charles Rangel's, was forced to make a million dollars in back payments, and there was a shakeup of the board that oversees the theater, including Rangel's resignation.

    Now Derek Johnson has put together a new team that includes David Rodriguez, an experienced theater manager, and Nicole Bernard, a sharp lawyer and businesswoman who will handle marketing, new business, and promotion of the Apollo as a brand. The first task was fixing up the tattered Harlem icon, which had, essentially, become a dump. Seats were broken and torn, the carpeting was ripped and worn out, the paint was peeling.

    The renovation is in its first phase, a $14 million sprucing-up that includes new carpeting, fixing the broken seats (and eventually replacing them), splashing around some fresh paint, bringing the sound and lighting up to current standards, repairing the famed yellow-and-red blade sign, and computerizing the marquee. The $39 million second phase will include restoring neglected architectural details; constructing a new lobby, gift shop, and bathrooms; and redoing the dressing rooms.

    But returning the Apollo to anything resembling its glory days will require more than new seats and fresh paint. "We realize that credibility is a huge issue," says Johnson. "We're trying to distance ourselves from the theater's recent history, and the best way for us to accomplish that is to do what we say we're going to do."

    There are also long-range plans for the Apollo, which involve using the theater as the focal point for a huge performing-arts center that would require taking over several retail spaces immediately to the east as well as the Victoria theater, a movie house that's been closed for years.

    This would include building a larger theater -- one of the Apollo's primary problems is that it doesn't have enough seats to be economically competitive in today's entertainment market -- more rehearsal space, and perhaps a hotel and jazz museum. Johnson refers to these plans as "aspirational," but quiet fund-raising has actually been going on for some time.

    Throughout the difficulties, the Apollo, or at least the idea of the Apollo, has maintained its luster. "Performers know there is something special about this place," says Rodriguez. "A couple of times recently, James Brown has pulled up unannounced out front and asked to come in and just play the piano for five minutes. People really want to experience the ghosts here."

    Not everyone agrees that one of the keys to the community's economic future is a thriving Apollo Theatre. Carl Redding, owner of Amy Ruth's, the popular soul-food restaurant on 116th Street, is skeptical about trying to attract visitors by turning Harlem into a kind of living museum dedicated to the arts and culture. "The people who come to Amy Ruth's are primarily people from the community," says Redding, a lifelong Harlem resident who spent eight years as Al Sharpton's driver before opening his restaurant three years ago. Partly because of his time with Sharpton, the restaurant attracts celebrities in politics, sports, and entertainment.

    "I put no faith and no trust in tourists. And 9/11 proved it. When the tourists stopped coming, places like Sylvia's suffered," says Redding. "My business went up during that period, because people in the community were looking for a place to get together and talk and to mourn."

    Redding is an interesting case, because he represents both the old and the new Harlem. He is at once a testament to the opportunities that now exist uptown for the savvy, determined small-business man as well as an example of all those residents who are angry about what they believe is the gentrification of Harlem.

    While he dismisses the tourist business ("I used to get angry when I'd see the buses riding through filled with people looking at us like we were monkeys in the zoo") and ambitious attempts to attract outsiders on the one hand, he applauds the arrival of what he calls triple-A businesses like Starbucks, Pathmark, Disney, and Magic Johnson's movie theaters on the other. And when he praises these changes, he points out that he knows there will be lots of people who won't be happy about his comments.

    Redding started Amy Ruth's by getting some of the people he'd met through Sharpton to invest in his idea (Percy Sutton and Johnnie Cochran, to name just two). He didn't go to the empowerment zone for help. "I had no credit and no financial history, which is usually the problem with black businesses."

    But there was another reason as well. "I'd heard all the bad stuff about them," he says. "They had a really bad reputation. Everyone said the empowerment zone was only here to re-gentrify Harlem. That they were only giving loans to big businesses coming in from outside the community like Starbucks and Disney and they didn't care about the small, black businessman."

    Redding is not alone in his ambivalence about the changes uptown. Harlem's state assemblyman, Keith Wright, who lives with his family in the very same Harlem apartment he grew up in, has similarly conflicting emotions. "Every community wants to see progress and development," says Wright, "but you have to balance it by making sure the indigenous folks don't get left out. And right now there are a lot of folks up here who are feeling left out. People are worried about rising housing costs, and I have to say it's reaching crisis proportions. I've been here all my life, and I can't afford one of these brownstones now which are selling for $700,000 and up."

    In truth, however, with all of the change and development that have taken place, Harlem is light-years away from being gentrified. It is, in every sense, still what politicians and developers euphemistically refer to as an emerging neighborhood. In other words, it remains predominantly a neighborhood of poor people. Much of the investment, particularly the high-profile kind, has taken place on the major commercial strips, including 116th, 125th, and 145th Streets. In between these thoroughfares, there are islands of rehabbed and renovated and newly built residential properties floating in a sea of run-down and abandoned buildings.

    Many in the community, like the Reverend Calvin Butts, believe that arts and culture are critical to Harlem's continued revival, but that affordable middle-class housing is as well. And that means housing for two-income couples making between $60,000 and $100,000 a year, to build a desperately needed middle class in the community. "Phase three," says New York secretary of state Randy Daniels, "must be home-ownership. Right now it's only about 6 percent in Harlem. But if we could get it up around the citywide average of 30 percent, that would do more for long-term empowerment of the residents than just about anything else. It gives you a stake, and we've got to preach it from the pulpits. It's an absolutely essential step."

    And with all of the change in how things are done uptown, there are still anachronistic pockets of the old obstructionist political infighting. The empowerment zone, for example, continues to be a kind of rat's nest of animosity between the governor, Rangel, and the mayor (though perhaps not as bad as when Rudy Giuliani was in office). In seven years, the zone has given out only slightly more than a third of its $300 million. And only three weeks ago, Terry Lane, head of the empowerment zone, announced his resignation.

    Insiders say that city and state officials have long been unhappy with Lane. They claim, however, that Rangel protected him. But all that changed when Johnnie Cochran was named to head the zone's board. He surprised everyone who assumed he'd be just a figurehead by actually attending board meetings and, as one official put it, "looking under the skirts" to find out why the place was such a mess. Cochran challenged Lane's management, the two men clashed, and Lane's hand was finally forced. Lane emphatically denies this version of events. He says leaving was his decision and he and Cochran continue to have a good relationship.

    Even at the Apollo, some things are more intractable than others. Almost inexplicably, after the financial mess was uncovered by the attorney general's office in 1998, Sutton's company was allowed to renew its contract for It's Showtime at the Apollo.

    That agreement has now expired again, and the Apollo is now seeking bids. One of those who want the contract is Frank Mercado-Valdes, founder and CEO of the Heritage Network, a $60 million television-sales-and-syndication company. Mercado-Valdes's company, now located in the financial district, is set to move to Harlem Center next year. The building, on 125th and Lenox, is on the same corner where Mercado-Valdes once sold T-shirts.

    His welcome in Harlem, however, may be a little muted. Mercado-Valdes, a voluble, ambitious salesman, tried to secure the rights to the Apollo show back in 1998 when Sutton was under investigation. Sutton retained the contract, but because of Mercado-Valdes's bid ended up paying 30 times what he had been paying: The fees for the rights went from $50,000 to $1.6 million.

    Mercado-Valdes's bidding war with Sutton attracted the attention and wrath of his friend Charlie Rangel: "I was turned into a pariah. In fact, I'm still a pariah. I still can't give my credit card to half the people in Harlem without them looking at the name and saying, 'Oh, you're that guy who went after Mr. Sutton.' When I decided to move my company uptown, I put in a grant application with the empowerment zone. But when I found out Rangel still has a problem with me and the application wouldn't be approved, I withdrew it." (Rangel says he wouldn't know Mercado-Valdes if he bumped into him. However, he says he does remember Mercado-Valdes bidding in 1998.)

    Mercado-Valdes started his company ten years ago with a simple idea. He'd read that Ted Turner had purchased the rights to all the old MGM movies to run them on his cable channel. Mercado-Valdes decided to do the same thing with black movies: secure the rights to run them on TV in syndication.

    Now his company, which was once called the African Heritage Network, also produces original programming, including a syndicated show called The Source: All-Access, done in conjunction with the hip-hop magazine, and a new fall show being done with Dick Clark called Livin' Large, which is a kind of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meets Cribs.

    "My feeling about the Apollo deal is that it should be kept in Harlem," he says. "Let Sutton and his company continue to produce the show, and my company will handle syndication and sales. Why let a syndicator like King World do it? They're part of Viacom, which just moved BET out of Harlem. But I know Sutton will never go for it. I can't beat that guy."

    For George C. Wolfe, the idea of creating an original piece about Harlem, a piece that would be a running attraction at the Apollo and a kind of symbol of the community's continuing vitality, was irresistible.

    "I've had, for lack of a better word, a very fortunate career downtown. So the idea that I could use my skills and my profile to bring energy to the Harlem community appealed to me on a very fundamental level," Wolfe says.

    A particular challenge within this context would seem to be the past 30 years, those decades when the community was declining and suffering and yielding few if any reasons to celebrate.

    "I don't look at it that way," Wolfe says. "I think one of the unwritten stories of the history of Harlem, which is the story of every single thriving black community in America, is the consequences of integration." Wolfe recounts a trip he made with his father ten years ago back to his hometown in Kentucky. "I was riding around with his sister and she was going, 'Oh, and the ballroom was over there. And that's where Dr. So-and-so's office was. And the coffee shop was on that street.' And she was describing all these black-owned businesses in this little town of Providence, Kentucky, which was completely segregated, so black people had to have all their own things," he says, narrowing his eyes and leaning forward.

    "So a real phenomenon is that from Harlem's inception as a thriving black community and well into the fifties, it was the only game in town for black people living in wonderful, fabulous places and not being victimized. So what ends up happening is not how the community died, because it didn't, but how the community was dissipated by the phenomenon of integration and who and what kept the community together. The story throughout Harlem Song is what is the driving collective energy of the day."

    Of course, he also hopes that Harlem Song will contribute to the current collective energy. "I would love this piece to be a source of pride for the community and for it to serve as an economic catalyst," he says, standing in the doorway now.

    "And I'd really love it if Harlem Song could contribute to shattering the idea that Harlem is a separate nation on the island of Manhattan."

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    Loans To Apollo Theater Under Federal Investigation

    JULY 29TH, 2004

    A loan deal for the landmark Apollo Theater in Harlem has come under the scrutiny of federal investigators

    The oversight relates to $4 million in federal grants already received by the non-profit Apollo Theater Foundation. Investigators from the Commerce Department are concerned the Bank of America loan may have inadvertently violated federal grant rules.

    They're trying to determine whether the for-profit Bank of America may benefit from the grant, something that is prohibited by federal statutes.

    The $21 million in loans from the bank were to be used for renovating the theater.

    Copyright © 2004 NY1 News.

  7. #7


    New York Times
    December 15, 2005


    The marquee of the Apollo Theater in Harlem as it is now, after a restoration.

    The marquee as it was in 1971, when Stevie Wonder was the attraction.

    Like any 92-year-old, the Apollo Theater has been alternately cherished and neglected. There was one moment when the theater was scheduled for demolition, then one when it was declared a historic landmark. But through it all, the Apollo, a 1913 former burlesque hall designed by George Keister, has stood on West 125th Street as a beacon of black entertainment, an aging Harlem icon.

    Now, the distinctive yellow-and-red blade sign out front beckons once again. Today, a restoration of the Apollo's regal terra-cotta facade is to be unveiled. The marquee has been modernized with light-emitting diodes meant to resemble as much as possible the original hand-applied letters. The theater's storefront has been updated in the spirit of a 1930's design, with a semicircular box office of stainless steel. Flat screen monitors built into the storefront have replaced the original poster cases.

    "How do we introduce modern design elements that have a dialogue with the old elements," said Richard L. Blinder of Beyer Blinder Belle, the lead architect on the project, "but also tell the story that this is a new theater?"

    The restoration architects charged with returning the Apollo to its former glory chose to go back to its glory days - the late 30's and early 40's. That was the era when Amateur Night became a signature tradition and top comedians graced the stage, along with legends like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughan.

    "We wanted to restore it to when it was really a Harlem theater, dedicated to the black community," Mr. Blinder said, "to restore it to its heyday and add an element of today that didn't entomb it."

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is expected to be on hand this afternoon when the renewed marquee and blade sign are illuminated, along with former President Bill Clinton and Richard D. Parsons, chairman of the Apollo Theater Foundation and chief executive of Time Warner. The renovation is meant "to signal to the public that the theater is back as the jewel in the crown on 125th Street," said Jonelle Procope, the theater's president and chief executive.

    The Apollo was the subject of controversy in 1998, when the New York attorney general, Dennis C. Vacco, sued the theater and six members of its foundation board - including Representative Charles B. Rangel, the Harlem congressman who was then the board's chairman - and accused them of mismanaging the Apollo's finances. Although Mr. Rangel denied wrongdoing, he resigned as chairman and later agreed to leave the board as part of a settlement with Mr. Vacco's successor, Eliot L. Spitzer.

    The Apollo considered a more ambitious expansion into the neighboring Loews Victoria Theater, but abandoned that in 2002 for economic reasons, which prompted the foundation's president and chief executive at the time, Derek Q. Johnson, to resign. But the theater recently bid to be part of a proposed entertainment complex in the Victoria and is one of four finalists. A selection is expected early next year.

    Apollo Real Estate Advisers and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide proposed a $103 million W Hotel with 156 rooms, 58 residential condominiums and 4,000 square feet of office space for the foundation. The Apollo Theater would also get rehearsal and education areas, a black box theater and a cafe. The architect on the Victoria project is Davis Brody Bond, who also worked on the theater's current renovation.

    The Apollo's facade and marquee project started in 1999, although the work did not begin until 2001. In 2001 it was described as a $6 million undertaking, then $12 million; the final price tag turned out to be $17.9 million. And there is still an interior phase of work that includes the theater's lobby, stage and dressing rooms. (All historical material was removed from the lobby and lost in the 1960's.) In January, the theater plans to close for six weeks to replace its 1,483 seats.

    At one point, the entire restoration project was estimated at $53 million. Now, the cost is expected to be closer to $65 million. The Apollo used $7.1 million of the $11.9 million committed by the city for the initial portion; the city has committed $5.25 million for the second phase. Other money came from the federal government, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, individuals and corporations.

    The changes coincide with an effort to step up programming. The new vice president for programming, Laura E. Greer, said there would be more collaborations with groups like Alvin Ailey and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

    It was George C. Wolfe's 2002 musical revue, "Harlem Song," that in part inspired the Apollo to develop more of its own material. The show - which celebrated Harlem's history since the 1920's through song, dance, dialogue, photographs and film - had people lining up for tickets and critics showering praise. It also increased the Apollo's annual operating budget markedly, to about $10 million from about $3 million, from 2001 to 2003.

    Because the Apollo was declared a landmark in 1983, every adjustment requires approval from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office. Tracing the building's architectural heritage wasn't easy. Beyer Blinder Belle conducted paint analysis on remnants of the original walls and ceilings and interviewed people who had lived in the neighborhood.

    Keith L. Wright, an assemblyman from Harlem, said he remembered sneaking into the Apollo as a child. "I could see Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson," he said. "It's our theater. As the Apollo goes, Harlem goes - economically and culturally. It remains a reflection of the heart and soul of what Harlem is all about."

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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    Nov 2002
    New York City


    I was in a cab last week on 125th and noticed that the Apollo has a new marquee with an LED display.

    Edit: Blah, didn't see the article BigMac posted.
    Last edited by TLOZ Link5; January 19th, 2006 at 02:13 PM.

  9. #9


    February 19, 2006

    A Star in Harlem Is Reborn, One Velour Seat at a Time


    Jonelle Procope, the president and chief executive of the Apollo, is heading a $65 million renovation expected to be completed in 2008

    In 1934, when Frank Schiffman, a white theater manager, took over Hurtig and Seamon's New Burlesque Theater on West 125th Street in Harlem, he decided to rename it.

    "He named it after Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, of poetry and of healing," said Billy Mitchell, the Apollo Theater's resident historian.

    Today, the four-story building — where a 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald was the winner on its first amateur night — is undergoing yet another, and perhaps its most significant, transformation.

    After a bruising conflict that began in the late 1990's — in which a lawsuit by the state attorney general was narrowly averted — new management led by an entertainment lawyer was installed in June 2003.

    The lawyer, Jonelle Procope, 54, is heading a $65 million renovation of the Apollo, a sweeping structural and institutional makeover expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

    In December, a major part of the renovation was unveiled: about a third of the theater's crumbling facade had been rebuilt, its dilapidated marquee replaced with a computer-driven display and its faded signature "Apollo" sign given a new gleam.

    Last week, the theater presented more renovations, including velour seats that are wider and have more leg room. The cramped seats they replaced had been left over from the first half of the 20th century.

    In July and August, the theater will close for still more renovations, including the installation of better dressing rooms and the rebuilding of the stage to better accommodate dance companies and other types of entertainment.

    Those renovations, known as Phase 1, have consumed about half of the $65 million renovation budget, which was financed by private contributions as well as a $4.5 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration and $20.4 million from the city's Economic Development Corporation.

    Phase 2, which involves walls, ceilings and everything else, is set to be completed in 2008. It will require extensive fund-raising at a time when corporations and government agencies are reluctant to give.

    "It will be very difficult," said Ms. Procope, who worked at the Manhattan law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

    But the work is important, she said, because the Apollo was not only "a cultural icon" and "a beacon of light" for Harlem, but also "an economic driver for 125th Street.

    "When people come uptown to the Apollo," she said, "they shop at local shops and eat at local restaurants. It's a beautiful thing."

    Although the Apollo has been a nonprofit foundation since 1992, it is pursuing its mission with a new fervor, Ms. Procope said.

    Favorite acts still appear. The O'Jays, best known for their 1973 hit "Love Train," appeared on Valentine's Day. Cece Winans and Roberta Flack are scheduled for next month.

    Wednesday Amateur Nights resumed last week, and taping of the television show "Showtime at the Apollo" is to start up again this month.

    As part of its new focus, the Apollo is also presenting a "New Works" series in April that will include poetry and theater works. For example, Cristal Chanelle Truscott, an actress and playwright, will stage her first play, "Peaches," about the stereotyping of black women from slavery days to modern times.

    The nonprofit mission may also help on a longstanding problem. The theater is too small to compete with larger houses. As something approaching a community arts center, it now does not have to.

    With fewer than 1,500 seats, it could never sell enough tickets to compete with bigger houses with 6,000 to 8,000 seats. Big-name acts performed, but more out of respect than for fees.

    From the late 1990's until 2002, the theater considered expanding into the 2,800-seat Loews Victoria Theater, four doors east on 125th Street. But with the stricken economy after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ms. Procope said, "it was an ambitious project that would have been difficult to fund-raise around."

    A recent Apollo bid to be part of a proposed entertainment complex in the Victoria Theater failed when the Apollo was not picked as a finalist.

    Still, the Apollo has come far from its most turbulent years. In 1999, in return for a new board of directors, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer agreed to drop a lawsuit charging that the board and its chairman at the time, Representative Charles B. Rangel, had failed to collect millions of dollars owed by Inner City Broadcasting — a company headed by Percy Sutton, a former Manhattan borough president and friend of Mr. Rangel's.

    Mr. Sutton, a major benefactor of the Apollo, and Mr. Rangel denied any wrongdoing. On Friday, Mr. Rangel did not return calls. Mr. Sutton, asked if he wanted to comment on the new management, replied, "I think not."

    Last week, Mr. Mitchell, the Apollo's resident historian and its tour director, noted that the Apollo's chandeliers were made of fine Venetian crystal, not ordinary glass.

    "My grandmother taught me how to tell the difference," he said, as he rocked from side-to-side, like Stevie Wonder when he performed on the Apollo stage. "See?" Mr. Mitchell said, noting the many colors reflected. "It's the genuine article."

    * Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

  10. #10


    Only been to the Apollo once, the renovation looks nice though.

  11. #11


    Geeenta on Flickr
    April 26, 2007

  12. #12

  13. #13
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    Apollo Theater Wants to Grow Next Door

    The theater plans to raise $12 million for space to expand its community programs.

    By Jeff Mays

    A rendering of a proposed expansion of the Apollo Theater. Retail space would be on the lower level.
    (Grid Properties)

    HARLEM — The Apollo Theater is in talks to expand into a lot next door, which has been vacant since 1985.

    Grid Properties Inc. planned to build a three story retail complex on the site and was in discussions to sell the third floor to the Apollo, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

    Grid Properties is the developer behind the Harlem USA retail project a block from the Apollo on 125th Street. The lot was formerly the site of Showman's jazz club.

    "We have been trying to support [the Apollo] in any way we can so now it is just a question of whether they are able to get the funding," Scott Auster, managing director for Grid Properties, told the Journal.

    The Apollo Theater Foundation plans to raise the $12 million needed to purchase the space. The Apollo would use the space as additional administrative space and to handle growing community outreach programs.

    "We have had ongoing dialogue with the owners of that property, of course it would make natural sense for us to expand onto that site," said Nina Flowers, the Apollo's associate director for marketing and communications.

    Since its 75th anniversary season last year, the Apollo has been working hard to expand its cultural offerings.

    On Friday, the theater launched the Apollo Music Cafe in an effort to appeal to younger audiences with diverse artists in a lounge setting. A new exhibit displaying artifacts from some of the famous artists who have graced the Apollo stage was recently launched in conjunction with the Museum of New York City and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

  14. #14
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    It was worth clicking on this story for the video alone.

    The Apollo Theater and How It Shaped American Entertainment: New Exhibit at Museum of the City of New York

    by Kate Kelly

    Apollo Theater by AlejandraPT, on Flickr

    Since its inception as a black performance space in 1934, the Apollo Theater in Harlem has been a home to black performers through the years; it eventually became so well-known that it became a shrine to performers of all colors.

    In its very early years--before 1934--the theater was a segregated burlesque hall, but the demise of burlesque gave birth to a new type of entertainment that was to have a profound effect on American culture. Nearly all forms of entertainment--comedy, dance, swing, jazz, rock 'n' roll, soul, hip hop, and more--were welcomed on the Apollo stage.

    Some of the best-known names in entertainment launched and advanced their careers there--dancers Charles "Cholly" Atkins, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson; band leaders Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington; comedians Redd Foxx and Jackie "Moms" Mabley; and musicians ranging from Louis Armstrong, James Brown, and Lionel Hampton to Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, and the Jackson Five.

    The Apollo showcased every big name African American performer, and white performers came to study the magic. Milton Berle was just one of the artists who came regularly to sit and listen at the Apollo to figure out how to transform the jokes to use for a white audience downtown. Musicians like Elvis Presley and John Lennon arrived in New York with the Apollo at the top of their must-see New York destinations.

    The history of the Apollo is documented in a lively and engaging exhibit at the Museum of the City Of New York that was organized for the 75th anniversary of the theater's opening as a performance space for black performers by the National Museum of African American History and Culture in collaboration with the Apollo Theater Foundation.

    At a public program about the exhibit held at the museum last week, a panel of speakers brought to life stories of the Apollo. Opening remarks were provided by Robert G. O'Meally, the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. O'Meally stressed that the atmosphere at the Apollo was special because there was such a strong sense of community. In clips that he played of some of the performances, there was a consistent sense of audience involvement with shouts of pleasure and encouragement as the performers went on.

    The panel was moderated with warmth and humor by Kinshasha Holman Conwill of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Zita Allen, former dance critic for Dance Magazine, talked of the chorus girls who performed at the Apollo, and the nonstop schedule they followed. Mel Watkins, author of Stepin Fetchit: The Life & Times of Lincoln Perry, gave a great overview of the comedians at the Apollo, telling one particularly notable anecdote about Bill Cosby appearing for a less-than-impressive-sized crowd long before he was known as a world-class comic.

    Greg Tate, editor of Everything but the Burden: What White People are Taking from Black Culture, talked of James Brown, who considered the Apollo an incubator for developing his music, and who was known for precision and the amazing discipline under which his band members played. Herb Boyd, author of Baldwin's Harlem: a Biography of James Baldwin, talked of the Apollo's intersection with white and black culture and the role the theater played in helping raise money for civil rights.
    The post-burlesque format of the theater was established by Leo Brecher and Frank Schiffman, two businessmen who had come to control most of the theaters in Harlem.

    Brecher was the silent partner, and Schiffman was loved by some and hated by others, but together, they built a business that dominated the black entertainment scene.

    Long before there was television's American Idol, there was Amateur Night at the Apollo, and aspiring performers knew that the reward for four first-place wins was a one-week professional engagement at the theater. During the first 20 years, an estimated fifteen thousand performers came and tried their luck with the Apollo audiences. Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Gladys Knight, Wilson Picket, James Brown, and Billy Kenny of the Ink Spots are just a few of the performers who broke through on amateur night.

    One of the film clips shown at the public program was particularly remarkable, providing the audience with one of those "I'll never forget this" moments. If you watch this clip, you will understand the magic that emanated from the Apollo for more than 40 years. On YouTube the clip is identified as from the film, "Stormy Weather" (1943) and featuring Cab Calloway and his orchestra performing "Jumpin' Jive." the Nicholas Brothers. Stay with the clip until about 1:45 into it to see some remarkable dancing. Then continue until the end--the last minute is awesome.

    "Ain't Nothing like the Real Thing: How the Apollo Theater Shaped American Entertainment" is the title of the exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York that is well worth the time of anyone passing through New York between now and May 1.

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