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Entries in Beacon Theatre (1)


Living with History: The Beacon Theatre

Part II of the report from the  Living with History forum.

The legendary Beacon Theatre was built by theatrical impresario Samuel “Roxy" Rothafel.  Constructed between 1927 and 1928, and designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager, the 2,800 seat theater is located on Broadway and 74th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  It was bought by the Warner Brothers in 1929, and remodeled to accommodate vaudeville acts, musical productions, plays, and movies.

The theater’s interior was designated as a New York City Landmark in 1979.  In the Guide to New York City Landmarks, Andrew Dolkhart wrote that, “The lavishly appointed lobbies, stairways, and auditorium of the Beacon, with their eclectic Greek, Roman, Renaissance, and Rococo detail, are characteristics of the great movie palaces built in the 1920s.” The theater is also well-known for its nearly flawless acoustics.

Cleary Larkin, a preservation architect at Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, gave an excellent overview of the seven-month, $16 million renovation of the storied venue.  Madison Square Garden purchased the theater in 2006.  Beyer Blinder Belle was hired in 2007 to do an infrastructure upgrade and renovation of the Beacon Theatre. 

Ms. Larkin said, “The Beacon Theatre is one of the premiere rock houses in Manhattan. It’s been used as a rock venue since the 1980’s.  The acoustics are superb, but the decoration was not.  Over the years it had been overpainted, and it had a gritty interior that exemplified a rock house experience.  The original intent of the project that was created by Madison Square Garden was to really keep this rock house vibe.” 

The theater was built to give visitors the feeling of entering into another world, a place to escape and engage in fantasy.  Ms. Larkin said that there was always an element of surprise, and that attending a performance was meant to evoke a magical journey.  However when Beyer Blinder Belle surveyed the space before renovation, it had undergone severe years of wear and tear.  The theater had an illustrious history as a “gilded palace” and the “Baghdad on Upper Broadway” but they had no initial idea of what the colors and finishes were.  Part of the extensive renovation process included a thorough examination of the original and decorative painting elements that had been hidden under 10 layers of paint. 

“We did a finishes analysis all throughout the theater, and because it was an interior landmark, we had to go through LPC (Landmarks Preservation Commission) review.”

Madison Square Garden was very interested in the restoration of the theater, and encouraged the team to push beyond “a gritty renovation.  Some locations had sponge-finishes.  Others walls were gilded, glazed, and gold-leafed, and stippled paint. It was really a wild interior.  We decided to do a historic interpretation that brings out the aspect and finish of the original intent.”



Ms. Larkin mentioned that Beyer Blinder Belle worked with Brooklyn-based muralist Mason Nye to recreate a custom mural above the entry doors.  She said that the original mural was designed by Rambusch Studios, and it was an advertisement.  It was removed, and replaced by wallpaper in the rotunda.  Fortunately, they found a color palette that reflected the time period, and recreated the Rambusch mural.

More than 1,000 people involved in the crafts, trades, and other artisans worked on the project.  The entire theater was modernized from its infrastructure to the backstage functions.  Overall, the renovation was deemed a great success, because the client took an interest in revitalizing one of New York's landmark theaters without any hesitation.  The theater reopened in February 2009, and continues to attract major musical acts from across the globe.

All photos: Madison Square Garden