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by BWW News Desk
New York City Center, dedicated by Mayor LaGuardia in 1943 as Manhattan's first performing arts center, today begins the final phase of its historic renovation and restoration. Designed by Ennead Architects LLP, (formerly known as Polshek Partnership Architects), the renovation will preserve and restore the landmark 1923 building's historic features while modernizing and upgrading the facility to create a world-class cultural center. A gala re-opening is scheduled for Tuesday, October 25, 2011.
The renovation was designed in two phases to limit the interruption of performances. Phase I, from April to September 2010, included behind-the-scenes improvements such as the installation of a new, state-of-the-art sprung stage floor, new elevator shaft, modernized dressing rooms and backstage areas.
City Center's interior features elaborate arabesque ceilings and detailed plasterwork, reflecting its original purpose as a meeting hall for the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Ennead Architects' design preserves its essential character while restoring and dramatically enhancing the building with modern patron amenities. An illuminated marquee on 55th Street will welcome audiences. The auditorium's walls, long covered over with white paint, will once again be painted in rich colors that highlight the theater's original decorative detail. The original box office and mezzanine lobbies will be restored and several dramatic new spaces will be introduced, including an expanded and redesigned street level lobby, a new patrons' lounge, new bars and increased and revamped restrooms. A new elevator will be installed and the existing elevator will be upgraded. The auditorium will be reconfigured to improve sightlines, and new, wider seats with expanded legroom will make it more comfortable and accessible. The total number of seats will be reduced to 2,235 (from the current 2,753).
The $75 million Campaign for City Center: Preserving the Past, Securing the Future will both realize the renovation of the landmark building and support City Center's current and future programs, such as the acclaimed Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert series and the immensely popular Fall for Dance Festival.
In recognition of the civic importance of City Center's artistic contributions to the cultural life of
New York, its educational outreach throughout the five boroughs and its vital place in the
architectural fabric of midtown Manhattan, the City of New York has committed more than
$35.6 million to the capital campaign to renovate the city-owned property, with funds coming
from the Office of the Mayor through the Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York City Council and the Office of the Manhattan Borough President.
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 December 11, 1943, with Mayor LaGuardia himself conducting the New York Philharmonic in the national anthem.
Throughout the 1940s and '50s, City Center flourished as a popular, affordable alternative to the Broadway theater, the Metropolitan Opera House and Carnegie Hall. City Center was so successful in fostering the performing arts that New York City Opera, New York City Ballet and New York City Symphony were founded under its dome. A very young Leonard Bernstein conducted the New York City Symphony in low-cost, after-work concerts. Luminaries of the theater, including Paul Robeson, Orson Welles and Tallulah Bankhead, played the classics on City Center's stage. Still-rising stars such as Bob Fosse, Barbara Cook and Walter Matthau appeared in popular revivals of Broadway musicals.
After the opening of Lincoln Center and the departure of New York City Opera and New York City Ballet, the building became under-utilized and was threatened with demolition. It was saved in the 1970s when, under the leadership of then-chairman Howard M. Squadron, the theater was dedicated as New York's premier home for dance and given landmark status, and New York City Center was formed to manage the complex and ensure its survival as a performing arts center. By this point, however, much of the vintage architectural detail had faded or been covered up, and the functional shortcomings of a former Shriners' hall had never been adequately addressed in converting the building into a home for dance and musical theater. The grand re-opening, in October 2011, of the modernized and restored theater will give way to a new era for the building and for New York City Center.
Today, City Center is home to many distinguished companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Manhattan Theatre Club; a roster of renowned national and international visiting artists; and its own critically acclaimed and popular programs. The Tony-honored Encores! musical theater series, now in its 18th season, has been hailed as "one of the very best reasons to be alive in New York." Dance has been integral to the theater's mission from the start, and dance programs, including the annual Fall for Dance Festival and a partnership with London's Sadler's Wells Theatre, remain central to City Center's identity. City Center is dedicated to providing educational opportunities to New York City students and teachers with programs such as Encores! In Schools and the Young People's Dance Series. Special workshops cater to families, seniors and other groups, while events such as the Fall for Dance DanceTalk series offer learning opportunities to the general public.
For further information and updates on the renovation, visit www.NYCityCenter.org
Photo Credit: Robert Kern