Saturday, February 14, 2009
Beacon Restored to Glamour of Vaudeville Days
By GLENN COLLINS
Published: February 11, 2009
There were dozens of quasiarchaeological discoveries during the seven-month renovation of the 80-year-old Beacon Theater in Manhattan. The most telling, though, was the Folgers coffee can.
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It had long been thought that a sparkly, 10-inch-wide, cut-crystal ball — the principal ornament at the tip of the 900-pound chandelier in the rotunda of the former movie palace — was attached with a sturdy bronze fixture.
But when the chandelier was lowered to be cleaned, rewired and repaired, the real support for the crystal orb was revealed: a vintage 6-inch-tall coffee tin.
“It was slathered with gold house paint” to match the chandelier, said Marc Tarozzi, a vice president of facilities at Madison Square Garden Entertainment, a division of Cablevision Systems Corporation, which in 2006 leased the Beacon for 20 years. “The original bronze was lost in the mists of time.”
He added, deadpan: “Actually we’re not certain it was Folgers. But the original color was definitely bright red.”
Now replaced with a bronze fixture, the dented tin was a slipshod token of neglect in the theater, at 2124 Broadway at West 74th Street. It is familiar to generations of New Yorkers as a film and vaudeville mecca, an all-around performance space, and, in recent decades, as the Carnegie Hall of city rock rooms.
During a rehearsal on Wednesday, Paul Simon, the headliner for the reopening celebration on Friday night, said: “I’ve performed here many times and it was always fun, but I was overwhelmed to see how beautiful it is now.
“It’s a great house with a great vibe and its funkiness matched the music in a way,” he added. “But it’s nicer to have clean seats.”
During the renovation, which cost about $16 million, about 1,000 workers toiled in the opulent theater, an “Arabian Nights” pastiche of Greek, Roman, Renaissance and Rococo elements.
They uncovered many surprises in the Beacon, which was declared a landmark in 1979 and had been partially renovated many times, “often ineptly,” said Jay Marciano, president of Madison Square Garden Entertainment.
The unsightly main box-office kiosk on Broadway, coated in layers of cheap house paint, was revealed as a delicate birdcage of brass, glass and marble.
A long-lost stairway also came to light, yielding a remnant of venerable carpeting that inspired a replacement to adorn the lobbies, auditorium and stairways: 2,100 square yards of custom-patterned wool woven in gold, yellow, green and maroon.
In addition, an alert worker preparing to repaint an original water fountain — which was not working — was startled to realize that it was made of alabaster, Mr. Tarozzi said. It was cleaned and restored to working order.
During the renovation, the Beacon’s electrical system was redone for the first time since the theater’s construction, said Richard Claffey, senior vice president for theater operations at the Garden. New draperies with gold tassels replaced long-missing originals. A misplaced canvas mural in the neoclassical rotunda was recreated based on historical photographs.
New end standards along the aisles of the 2,829 new rust-red seats were cast from patterns close to the originals. Furthermore, multiple levels of ceiling cove lighting were rewired, then the fixtures rebulbed, as restorers say, returning the illumination to a glory not seen for 50 years, Mr. Tarozzi said.
Back to that poorly painted coffee tin: What will become of it?
“We’ll wrap it in plexiglass and put it in someone’s office,” Mr. Marciano said. “It should forever be part of the folklore of the place.”