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Eyes on the City: The Palace Theatre

MAS Testimony to the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding the Certificate of Appropriateness for the Palace Theatre, located at 1564 Broadway, Block 999, Lot 63. Zoned C6-5.5, C6-7T – Community District 5, Manhattan

The Palace Theatre was designated in 1987, a year before the famous slate of 28 Broadway theatres were designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. If that alone did not indicate the importance of the Palace, the designation report is positively exuberant in its statement of significance:

If one theater in New York’s Broadway theater district were to be named the most famous, the privilege would fall virtually uncontested to the Palace. It is one of the oldest theatres to survive on Broadway, designed not as a legitimate stage theater but as a vaudeville house…

The Palace’s reputation has not faltered since its conversion in 1966 to the legitimate stage, offering one box office sensation after another amid the splendor of its baroque, Beaux-Arts interior. In addition to its configuration, much of its extravagant ornamental plasterwork remains intact, evoking the history of the Palace as one of New York’s great theaters. As a national symbol of vaudeville, currently housing Broadway theater, the Palace continues to help define the Broadway theater district, the largest and most famous concentration of legitimate stage theaters in the world.

And so, without a doubt, any alteration to “the splendor of its baroque, Beaux-Arts interior,” “configuration,” or “extravagant ornamental plasterwork” requires thoughtful consideration by the project team, the Commission, the public, and advocates alike. This proposal has implications not only for this significant landmark, but for other present and future interior designations. If the Preservation Committee at the Municipal Art Society had been afforded the opportunity to review a full presentation of this application by the project team, we would have raised the following questions:

  • First, what is the rationale for this application? In other words, why?
  • Is a hardship application better suited for this substantial project?
  • What was the original agreement that allowed for the surrounding building to be demolished
  • The Empire Theatre has not been designated, is this truly a precedent?
  • Hamilton Grange is an individual landmark that was obscured by its mid-block context, and had already been moved from its original site, is this truly a precedent?
  • Among the Broadway theaters, the Ambassador, Biltmore, Ed Sullivan, Embassy, Eugene O’Neill, Imperial, and Winter Garden Theatres are all designated interiors only. Would this treatment be suitable for them too? What about others around the city like the Beacon, Lane, Loew’s Paradise, Louis N. Jaffe Art, Plymouth, RKO Keith, and Walker Theatres? What about Gage & Tollner?
  • How can the integrity of the interior be guaranteed?
  • How can we be sure that there will not be any damage to the fragile plasterwork?
  • Would the remaining exterior wall be moved with the theatre?

The Municipal Art Society has long supported the preservation of our Broadway theatres. In 1988, Charles Platt testified before the LPC in favor of that group of 28 theatres on behalf of MAS, stating that “Architecturally these structures add to the physical character of New York’s entertainment district, and historically and culturally they have played an integral part in the tradition of our city.” As ever, we agree. MAS respectfully asks the Landmarks Preservation Commission to work with the applicant to answer the questions of our Preservation Committee and explore appropriate alternatives to this proposal.

Download the full testimony (PDF) »»