I received several comments from friends about my mention of the recently renovated Kings Theatre in my blog entry about Ditmas Park. They agreed that it’s a majestic theater and that the theater itself is worth a visit, whether you’re going to a concert or not. The comments prompted me to research and write about other historic and majestic theaters around NYC. Many of these theaters have seen two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Broadway revival, and are still standing today. Here’s a look at some of the historic theaters around NYC:
1027 Flatbush Avenue
Ditmas Park, Brooklyn
Originally designed by architectural masters Rapp & Rapp with interior design by Harold W. Rambusch, the Loew’s Kings Theatre was a movie and live performance theatre from its inception in 1929 until it closed in August of 1977. After being shuttered for more than 37 years, it was renamed Kings Theater and slated for renovation by the city of New York. ACE Theatrical Group, LLC was selected and contracted as the developer for the $95 million restoration. Martinez + Johnson Architecture was selected as the architectural firm for this restoration project, which took place from 2013 to early 2015. Original plaster and painting schemes have been restored, vintage carpet and seating have been recreated and historic lighting fixtures have been renovated and re-installed. New building systems and technical improvements include new HVAC, expanded restrooms and concessions facilities, and professional sound and lighting systems.
Upper West Side, Manhattan
Designed by Chicago architect Walter Ahlschlager in the Art Deco style, the Beacon Theatre opened in 1929 as a forum for vaudeville acts, musical productions, drama, opera, and movies. In 1979, the historic venue was designated a national landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Now owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment, the Beacon underwent a seven-month restoration in 2009, which cost about $16 million. The renovation was based on extensive historic research, as well as detailed, on-site examination of original, decorative painting techniques that had been covered by decades-old layers of paint. The Beacon Theatre has won several architectural awards recognizing its outstanding restoration, and is a top-grossing music venue which has hosted artists like the Rolling Stones, Jerry Garcia, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Radiohead, and Queen.
111 W 44th St
David Belasco opened this theater as the Stuyvesant in October 1907, and changed the name to the Belasco when his eponymous 42nd street playhouse closed in 1910. Belasco conceived the auditorium of the Belasco Theatre as a living room, and commissioned George Keister to design it (Keister later went on to design the Apollo and 11 other theaters). The theater came under ownership of the Shubert Organization in 1948 and was renovated in 2009 under the supervision of architect Francesca Russo. The $14.5 million project involved restoring the original architectural and design details of the theater, including the neo-Georgian dark woods and leaded glass. The project took a little over a year, and The Belasco reopened in the fall of 2010 with the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
AMC Empire 25 Theater
234 West 42nd Street
Originally located at 240 W. 42nd Street. The Empire Theatre was designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb and opened in 1912 as the Eltinge 42nd Street Theatre, named for Julian Eltinge, the top female impersonator of the American stage. The Eltinge Theatre became the setting for decades of theatre and burlesque. It was converted into a movie theater in 1942 and later renamed the Empire Theatre, until it closed in the 1980s. In 1997, AMC bought the theater and converted it into the lobby of its 25-screen theater. To accomplish this, developer Forest City Ratner actually lifted the building from its foundation and moved it 168 feet westward. The cost to move the theatre was $1.2 million. The historic facade has been left largely intact, while a new marquee has been added. Untapped Cities has a list of other historical remnants that can still be found in the building today.
220 W 48th St
The Longacre, named for Longacre Square (now Times Square), was built by producer/manager H.H. Frazee, the Boston Red Sox owner who sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The theater was designed by architect Henry B. Herts with a French Neo-classical exterior and a Beaux-Arts style interior. Astor Theatre Incorporated bought the theater in 1919 and it is now owned by The Shubert Organization. In 2007 and 2008, architect Michael Kostow oversaw the $12 million restoration of the Longacre, restoring the original architectural detail, expanding patron amenities, and repairing and cleaning the facade.
253 W 125th St
The Apollo was built in 1913-1914 and was originally called Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater. It was designed by George Keister in the neo-Classical style. The theater reopened in 1934 as the Apollo, welcoming black patrons for the first time and launching the soon-to-be famous Amateur Night at the Apollo. It quickly became the leading showcase for many new performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, who got her start at the Apollo at 15 and went on to become the Queen of Jazz. In 1991, the Apollo was purchased by the State of New York, which created the non-profit Apollo Theater Foundation to run it. Architecture firms Beyer Blinder Belle and Davis Brody Bond undertook a major restoration project from 1999-2005, which cost upwards of $65 million and resulted in a complete overhaul of the interior and exterior of the building. Today, the Apollo draws an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually.
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 West 43rd Street
Formerly Henry Miller’s Theatre, the Stephen Sondheim was designed in the Neo-classical style by the firms of Paul R. Allen and Ingalls & Hoffman, and opened in 1918. It became a movie theater in 1968, then a discotheque in 1978, and a nightclub in 1985. The space returned to performance use in 1998, when the Roundabout Theatre Company renovated it and opened it as the Kit Kat Club, named for the club featured in Cabaret, the revival it was housing. The Durst Organization demolished and rebuilt the theater underground in 2004, in order to make room for the 57-story Bank of America tower that was being erected above – both the Durst Organization and Roundabout declined to disclose financial details. The theater reopened in 2009 and was renamed in 2010 to honor the American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
149 West 45th Street
The Lyceum is Broadway’s oldest continually operating Broadway theatre. David Frohman built the theater in 1903, and architects Herts and Tallant designed it in the Beaux Arts style. Above the theatre, Frohman built an apartment for himself which included a small door that offers a bird’s eye view of the stage below. The apartment is currently home to the Shubert Archive. The Shuberts took ownership of the theater in 1950 and have operated it ever since. Much of the original structure remains intact, including the gray limestone façade with six ornate Corinthian columns. In 2005, the Shubert Organization undertook a $1 million renovation for a new roof, supervised by Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.
Times Square Theater
217 West 42nd Street
This theater isn’t open to the public yet, but the New York Post reported in March that the London-based Ambassador Theatre Group is in negotiations to take over ownership. The Times Square Theater was built in 1920 and designed by Eugene DeRosa for Edgar & Arch Selwyn. In 1934, the theater was converted into a movie theater, with the stage being converted into a retail store. In early 2011, it was announced that the theater would become home to a film presentation dedicated to the history of Broadway, and some $80,000 was spent on renovations before the project ran out of money. Now, ATG is looking to take over the lease, complete renovations, and turn the theater back into a Broadway house.