You're grinning like the cat that caught the canary. What's up?
"Here's your hard hat. We've been making a lot of progress. I wanted to give you a tour of the new theatre."
Sounds good to me. Let's go.
"No, not that way. I want to start at the top floor. This way."
You got the elevator running!
"And certified. All aboard. I decided not to do too much with this old elevator but clean it up. It's big, old and slow, but it's also incredibly well built and reliable. There's even an emergency crank so you can lower it to street level in case of a power outage. How long has it been since you've seen something like that? Here we are, all out."
"Fourth floor rehearsal rooms. What do you think?"
I don't believe all this sunshine.
"It looks like this floor was originally some sort of garment manufacturing space. The whole roof was opened with skylights. It was probably cheaper than providing electric light. Anyway, we cleaned em up and replaced and resealed the glass."
It's like a park in here.
"We've got four rehearsal rooms up here. The big one is as wide as the stage and wings combined, and half again deeper than the stage. The middle size one is the size of the stage itself. The two smaller ones are 14 x 20. All the walls are triple soundproofed. We've also got two bathrooms at the end of the hall and two small lockable storage rooms for props and such. We've got a decent size waiting area by the bathrooms. I figure we'll put a couple of pay phones and vending machines in there at some point."
Everything looks so clean.
"Amazing what a fresh coat of white paint and plain, refinished pine floors can do."
Does the pine floor meet Equity guidelines for stage floors?
"Completely. There was also that thing about providing water fountains in each rehearsal room. It costs too much to run plumbing for that. I figure we'll just put in bottled water for each room. That's more sanitary than water fountains anyway."
What about garbage disposal?
People bring food in. And when rehearsals run long, producers have to provide hot meals you know. That happens more often than you might think. You end up with mountains of styrofoam cartons and aluminum trays.
"Would industrial size garbage cans work?"
Only if you empty them every day.
"Let me think about that. Okay, lets take the back stairs down to the third floor. I want to show you our new office."
What's that thing?
In the corner of the stairwell, up there.
"Security camera and microphone/speaker, motion detector, and fire sensor, all in one package. The whole building is covered except for the bathrooms and dressing rooms. The dressing rooms are all on a two-way PA system, like you suggested."
Who's going to monitor all that?
"I figured we contract with an outside security agency. It's expensive, but cheaper than hiring a full time security guard in the building."
The second and fourth floors have two public bathrooms. How come this floor only has one?
"Step into your new office and you'll see. I moved the door of the second bathroom from the hallway into our office, giving us a private executive bathroom. One of the perks of owning the place."
Oh, my heavens!
"You like it?"
What is it?
"An antique walnut partners desk."
"It belonged to my great-grandfather. My grandmother's had it, along with the matching conference table and chairs, in storage for years. She wanted me to have it and use it."
It's beautiful. All of it.
"Which side do you want?"
No, which side do you want? It's your desk.
"I'd like the side facing the windows, if you don't mind the side facing the bathroom."
Fine with me.
"And around the conference table, through this door, is another smaller office for our secretary."
This is a good layout.
"And through this door on the other side of the secretary's office is another office which completes the suite. I figure the General Manager should go in there."
"This will be the main office door. On down the hallway we have the elevator and going back around we have more small offices and the tech support rooms. Take a look in here. I've used the larger of these two big rooms at this end of the building for the electric shop."
"I was talking with that guy you called in about the PA system wiring. He was telling me we could save a lot of money by putting one of these in. We've got the shop bench for making repairs to sound and lighting equipment with lots of cabinets for parts storage over it. We've got a small sound proofed booth for making and editing audio tapes. We've got this computer console for programming the light and sound systems, which can also act as a backup emergency running board if the main one in the theatre craps out for any reason. And all these pipes running along this wall are for hanging storage of our lights and speakers, when they're not being used for a production."
Are we planning to buy our own lights? I always rented.
"He says we'll end up owning a lot of instruments, one way or another."
Why not? There may be a tax angle in it somewhere.
"The other room on this end of the building is storage. I've filled it with shelves and hanging racks for props, costumes, and drapery. Over time we'll inevitably collect a lot of stuff. We may as well set aside some storage for it. We'll have to make other arrangements for furniture and large scenery pieces."
Looks good to me.
"Along the other side of the hallway I've put in nine private cubicle sized offices. I don't know what we'll use them all for yet. But, I figured we would need that many offices sooner or later. Let's take the elevator down to the stage level. I want you to see the theatre from the stage first."
How soon can we move in?
"Should get the certificate in about six weeks."
I guess we'll have to hire a secretary.
"Let me talk to you about that later. I've got some ideas. Here's the door to the stage. Close your eyes and let me guide you. I'll tell you when to open em."
I've seen empty houses before, you know.
Okay, but against my better judgement.
"Before you open your eyes just listen for a few moments. What do you hear?"
Nothing. Hey, I don't hear anything! Where are all the street noises?
"There's enough soundproofing in this building that a bomb could go off right out in front and you'd never hear it."
Can I open my eyes yet?
"Yes. Well? Well? Say something!"
I'm astonished. It's beautiful. With this parabolic seating rake, it looks like a smaller version of the Richard Rodgers, but classier. The seats, are they real leather?
"Yep. Overstuffed red leather. Some casino up in Connecticut made a mistake and ordered 600 more of them than they needed. I bought em from the manufacturer for a song."
"We're only using 499, of course. The rest are in storage, to use later for replacements."
And you covered the walls in red leather too?
"No, that's just fake upholstery leather, but a perfect color match to the seats. When we sprayed the permanent fireproofing on the walls, it gave the fake leather this antique sheen and crackle pattern. Even the expensive looking carpeting is just industrial grade, in a standard color just a shade darker than the seats and walls. Nobody expected it would turn out like this, but I think it looks great."
It does. You decided not to use all those hand carved walnut panels that used to front the balcony?
Oh, my heavens!
"All of them were refinished and hung within this gold gilt drop-grid to form the house ceiling. Spectacular, no? And it completely disguises the sprinkler system."
Spectacular, yes. I didn't realize we were able to save so many of them.
"We weren't. Nine of these panels are fake. But, you'd never be able to guess which nine, would you?"
"And dropping the house ceiling effectively masks the lighting catwalks over the stage. All in all a great solution for a number of problems. The acoustics, by the way, are superb."
This has to be the most luxurious looking theatre in New York. At first glance this room could have been one of the sets for that Titanic movie. And running the ceiling panels side to side makes it look so much bigger than it really is.
"But it still feels like a small, intimate theatre. I know. I'm very proud of myself."
You should be. This, all this, is quite an accomplishment. Have you decided what you're going to name it?
"Not yet, but we've got plenty of time. I figure there's still about a month of construction left, to finish up the lobby and put the final touches on everything. It's a shame nobody will see it for another eighteen months, until Neverland opens."
You're planning on letting this house sit empty for a year and a half? Are you out of your mind?
"Don't we want to save it for Neverland?"
If we were talking a few months, maybe. But we could book this theatre for the fall in a heartbeat. That would mean money coming in and give us a chance to work out all the operational problems. How soon will everything be finished?
"Maybe six weeks if I push it. Are you sure you want to let someone else open this theatre?"
Yes. We can't afford not to.
"It's just that . . . it seems so . . ."
You don't want to let go, do you?
"What do you mean?"
For the last six months you've been pouring your heart and soul into putting this theatre together. Now that it's almost ready, you don't want to turn it over to all the people who will be running and maintaining it, do you? It's still your baby, isn't it?
"I guess so."
Perfectly understandable. But, take a look around you. What you've created is exquisite. But it isn't alive yet. It needs actors and technicians and a house staff and, ultimately, an audience to make this theatre come to life. Hundreds of thousands of people will enter this space over its lifetime. At first sight, each one of them will gasp in astonishment at what you've accomplished here. And then everybody will get down to business and a play will happen. And then they all go home. It's after they've left that this space takes on its own life. It lives in their memories, when they recall the experience of being part of something happening in this special place.
"Okay, looking at it that way makes it easier."
And, of course, I've got another book I want you to read. Lost Broadway Theatres by Nicholas Van Hoogstraten. You need to start thinking long term. Lost Broadway Theatres will help you understand what your baby is going to end up meaning to thousands of other people.
Theaters are more than just buildings, more than giant musical instruments, as some have described them. For regular theatergoers, they're old friends. When a theater disappears, there's a palpable sense of mourning. Updated to 1997, Lost Broadway Theatres recalls, in photos and memories, playhouses from the colossal and opulent American Theatre, now a parking lot, to the cozy Punch and Judy, now the site of an office building. The good news is that several of the houses previously considered doomed but not yet demolished have been restored in the Times Square boom. Lost Broadway Theatres celebrates their return, and pleads on behalf of other hidden beauties whose fate may not yet be sealed.
Lost Broadway Theatres (2nd Edition)
CLICK TO PURCHASE
by Nicholas Van Hoogstraten
Published by Princeton Architectural Press