A Storied History of the Palace Theatre, Present Home of “An American in Paris”
Broadway’s 1,743-seat Palace Theatre was built in 1913 by the architects Kirchoff & Rose under the mastermind of theatre impresario Martin Beck to become a vaudeville house. Situated prominently on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets, it was originally a venue for such greats as the Marx Brothers, Fanny Brice, Ethel Barrymore, Bert Williams, Nora Bayes, and Weber & Fields. From 1930 to 1965, it was transformed into a movie house, and from 1957 it was exclusively for movies; the only exception in this time period was a special performance by Harry Belafonte. In 1965, however, the Nederlander Organization – one of Broadway’s biggest landlords and the present owner of the Palace Theatre – bought the venue and reinstated it as a traditional theatre for plays and musicals. The first show in this newly utilized theatre was Sweet Charity, which ran from 1966 to 1967, and further shows to play in the Palace have included Applause from 1970 to 1972, the Jule Styne musical Lorelei in 1974, the Kander and Ebb musical Woman of the Year from 1981 to 1983, La Cage aux Folles from 1983 to 1987, The Will Rogers Follies from 1991 to 1993, Legally Blonde the Musical from 2007 to 2008, a revival of West Side Story from 2009 to 2011, Priscilla Queen of the Desert from 2011 to 2012, a revival of Annie from 2012 to 2014, and An American in Paris from March 2015 to the present.
Theatre to Rise 29 Feet Upwards to Accommodate Retail Space
All of these shows have benefitted from the Palace Theatre’s enviable location in the middle of the Broadway district right next to the TKTS booth, with a giant 75’ marquee advertising to tourists and locals. Though the marquee location will not change, the lobby will. In an unusual move, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee has granted permission to the Nederlander Organization to reconstruct the Palace Theatre, moving the entire venue intact upwards by 29 feet. This renovation will accommodate new street-level retail space, as well as additional dressing rooms, a new lobby, new elevators, and restrooms. The current lobby faces onto Seventh Avenue, and this will be the new location of the retail space. When the adjacent Doubletree Hotel skyscraper was built in the 1990s, it encased around the 1913 historic theatre. Fortunately for this renovation, the two buildings were not conjoined, allowing the upwards shift of the theatre to happen without disrupting the hotel. Furthermore, as the Palace Theatre generally has no interior columns, it is built with a very robust infrastructure that is expected to withstand the move quite well. The $2 billion redevelopment project is led by Maefield Development, and will ensure that the interior of the theatre remains intact. No word has been mentioned regarding the timeline of this renovation, and how it will affect the presently running An American in Paris.
It’s Happened Before: the Old Eltinge Theatre Was Moved in 1998
Though it is not a frequent occurrence, Broadway theatres have been moved before. Specifically, in 1998, the theatre formerly known as the Eltinge Theatre was moved 170 feet to the west during a renaissance period of 42nd Street. That theatre is now known as the Empire Theatre, and is home to one of the major movie theatre complexes in the Broadway district: the AMC Empire 25 cineplex. While moving a theatre to the west may be simpler than moving it towards the sky, the same difficulties remain of keeping the entire structure intact, and separating it from its outskirts, in order to accommodate the ever-evolving needs of the midtown Broadway district in its moneymaking and modernizing efforts.
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