Landmarks Commission Approves the Move of Broadway’s Palace Theater
Landmarks Commission Approves the Move of Broadway’s Palace Theater-The landmarked interior of the Palace Theatre. Photo by PBDW Architects
Landmarks Commission Approves the Move of Broadway’s Palace Theater-Left: Hotel/Palace Theatre complex Right: rendering of the Palace Theatre (green) sits inside the Doubletree Hotel building. Photo by PBDW Architects
Landmarks Commission Approves the Move of Broadway’s Palace Theater-Existing cross-section of the Palace Theater, with the auditorium on the ground floor. Photo by PBDW Architects
Landmarks Commission Approves the Move of Broadway’s Palace Theater-Proposed renovation, with new retail space marked in yellow. Photo by PBDW Architects
At a November 24th Landmarks Commission hearing, the Conservancy testified in favor of a controversial proposal to vertically move the Palace Theater, an Interior Landmark, located on the corner of Broadway and West 47th Street. The proposal involves lifting the entire theater a total of 28 feet within the existing volume of the undesignated building in which it is housed. The theater entrance and box office will be moved from Broadway/Seventh Avenue to West 47th Street. From there, escalators will bring theatergoers to a new lobby that will lead to the historic theater, which is to be thoroughly restored to its period of significance. Part of the restoration work will include the redesign of theater infrastructure and equipment, such as lights and sound equipment that will undo unsympathetic past alterations.
The Palace is an interior landmark only, designated in 1987, located within a non-landmarked contemporary building built in 1990-91. It is a Beaux-Arts style theater with Baroque detailing built in 1912-13. The Palace was originally a Vaudeville House and has an amazing cultural history. It featured such Vaudeville stars as Bob Hope, Sophie Tucker, Ed Wynn, Will Rogers, George Jessel, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Jimmy Durante, Harry Houdini and Eddie Cantor to name a few.
Lifting the masonry box that holds the theater will be done inch by inch over the course of approximately two months. The engineering for this is made possible by four massive steel columns that were built surrounding the theater in 1991 to support the new building in which it sits. These columns will be used as supports for the theater itself as it is moved upwards. The technical aspects of the project are challenging and the Conservancy urged the Commission to keep close tabs on the work as it moves forward.
Although moving a landmark interior vertically within an existing building is a new concept, the moving of landmarks is an old one. In recent years the Empire Theater, built of brick and terra cotta, was moved several hundred yards on West 42nd Street. The Hamilton Grange had to be lifted almost forty feet to clear parts of an adjacent church in its move to a new site. The moving of historic buildings, though nerve racking, has often been done in New York City and elsewhere. The Conservancy found that moving the interior landmark, which has no connection via a designated space to the exterior (neither the existing theater lobby, box office or entry is landmarked) would not be affected the protected features of the landmark. In our statement, we urged the LPC to closely monitor the work.
During the public testimony portion of the hearing, three speakers were opposed to the project, the Conservancy spoke in favor, the Times Square Alliance, the Building & Construction Trades Council and the local Community Board wrote letters in support.
The Commission discussed the proposal and asked many pointed questions of the technical team. The unanimous consensus was to approve the proposal on the condition that a peer review process is set up, with an independent engineer reporting directly to the Commission. If the independent engineer finds any faults or problems with the proposal or while the work is moving forward, all work would be halted and the project would return to the Commission for another hearing.