First opened in 1913, the Palace Theatre was resplendent. The original building had an office wing from Times Square that was about 12 stories tall, as well as the theater wing that contained the auditorium or theater on 47th Street. The main entrance was through the office wing, which had a palatial marble facade, a private elevator, and lavish decor like you see pictured above. The theater entrance was 40’ feet wide, with an outer lobby adorned with yellow Italian marble and an inner lobby made with Siena marble. Visitors accessed these lobbies through two sets of stained glass, bronze framed doors. Those doors led to a foyer, which directly accessed the auditorium of the theater. The auditorium had an ivory, crimson and gold theme with French interior decor. You can see from the picture below the degree of intricacy that went into the luxurious design and adornments.
The coved ceiling had panels with scrolls and ornate floral molding. Other design features include modillions, rosettes, fruit and flower ornate moldings, and artistic flair and influence that could be seen in every detail. Spanning 14′ feet across, an ivory and bronze chandelier hung above theater patrons like a priceless crowning jewel.
But on opening night in March 2013, the vaudeville theater house was a flop. Headlines from the Variety screamed, “Palace $2 Vaudeville A Joke: Double-Crossing Boomerang” as people thought the $2 ticket price for the show was far too expensive. “The theatre itself, living up to advance publicity, was spacious, handsome, and lavishly decorated in crimson and gold. But nothing happened that afternoon to suggest the birth of a great theatrical tradition,” wrote screenwriter Marian Spitzer of opening night.
However, by December 2014, Variety had completely changed its tune, saying, “the Palace is the greatest vaudeville theater in America, if not the world.” After about 6 weeks from opening, a visit from French actress Sandra Bernhardt finally turned the theater around, and from then on – for the next few decades, anyway – it remained extremely popular. All the big vaudeville acts had a run at the Palace, and if you got to perform there, you could say you’d made it. Actors regarded it with awe and wonder the first time there; it was special.
The Palace Theater Over Time
Over time, however, vaudeville acts lost their charm as the first motion pictures and television shows came out, and theater attendance waned. By 1932, vaudeville acts alone were no longer popular enough to keep people coming, so they started showing movies there, too, alternating between live acts and movies for a time. Then from 1933 on, they began showing films exclusively under RKO Pictures. For example, Citizen Kane in 1941 had its world premiere debut there. It became known as the RKO Palace.
By 1965, the theater was no longer profitable as a movie theater, and RKO was ready to sell. They sold the Palace to the Nederlander Organization for between $1.4 and $1.6 million for conversion to a Broadway theater. At that time, the Nederlanders spent $500,000 for renovations of the largest, and only theater actually on Broadway that refurbished and legitimized the location.
And finally, at the beginning of 1966, the Palace re-opened with the musical Sweet Charity. The Nederlanders wanted the theater always open, so live concert performances would be held when there wasn’t a production running. This went on successfully for the next two decades.
But in the mid-80s, developer Larry Silverstein wanted to build a hotel on the site, but it came under review for landmark status in 1987. The interior of the theater was landmarked, while the exterior was not. Regardless, this meant Silverstein would have to build around the theater, but this didn’t stop the progression. The theater closed in late 1987 after the last performance of La Cage aux Folles. Silverstein built a 43-story Embassy Suites hotel all around the theater, while the theater itself received a $1.5 million renovation out of the $150 million hotel project that was completed in 1990. By 1991, the Broadway venue opened once again.
The Transformation of the Palace Theater
In 2015, Nederlander and Maefield Development announced new renovation plans for the theater area in conjunction with the new TSX Broadway development. This time, there would be a new lobby and entrance on 47th Street, new dressing rooms added, and patron amenities, but the theater itself would need to be lifted 30 feet up to accommodate ground floor retail space, as well. There were concerns over this, of course, but the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans the same year, and the NYC Council approved plans finally in mid-2018.
The theater closed at the end of 2018 after the last production of SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical. At the end of 2019, demolition of all but the theater commenced, which experienced a $50 million renovation that included the restoration of original plasterwork and the original chandelier, adding sound insulation, new restrooms, and a new box office.
The first week of January 2022, the news reported that work had begun on the unprecedented feat of actually lifting the iconic landmark to a new resting spot – a full 30 feet in the air, to become part of the $2.5 billion, 47-story TSX Tower. The entire development will contain hotel rooms, restaurants, and an experiential space. The idea of how to lift the landmark structure took 5 long years of planning. Similar technology has been used before, such as back in 1998 when the Empire Theatre on West 42nd Street was moved several feet down the block, but nothing quite like this has ever been done before. Most of the time, when moving a building, it’s to move it to another location. This project took a little more innovation.
L & L Holding Company is the main developer responsible for the project, and executive vice-president, Robert Israel, spoke to ABC7NY to explain the process. He explained the Palace Theatre first had to be detached from its foundation, and then the bottom was supported by a layer of reinforcing 5 feet of concrete. Ultimately, the structure weighed 14 million pounds or 7,000 tons and took a total of 34 strategically placed custom-made steel posts, hydraulically controlled by a machine described as a hybrid between a structural steel shoring post and a hydraulic jack.
According to YIMBY, the actual lifting took a span of about 4 months at a speed of just a quarter of an inch an hour. This was done with incredible attention to detail, and safety measures were excellent. The theater was outfitted with sensors, vibration monitors, and GPS systems and was inspected inside and out after every inch it progressed. The painstaking procedure was recently accomplished, and the historic theater now sits 30 feet above street level, unharmed and ready for the rest of its $50 million makeover.
Urban Foundation and Engineering, the firm responsible for overcoming this challenge and overseeing its progress, is the same one that moved the Empire Theater back in 1998. The president of the firm, Anthony J. Mazzo is the man behind the original invention of the giant lift used 30 years ago for a project involving the roof of a warehouse in Queens. Despite that, he was still awestruck with the system of jacks and telescoping beams, saying, “It’s been quite a feeling to see it happen. I feel like it’s worked like a charm.” So they did have a little experience doing this type of thing. But, the Empire weighed half as much as the Palace, and it only had to be raised a few inches off the ground to be placed on metal tracks that helped to move it 170 feet westward. Nothing like the Palace’s elevation feat has ever been accomplished before.
The Palace Theater and TSX Broadway
The big picture for the development at 1568 Broadway – and the reason for this lift – is to unlock the retail space at ground level in an area with some of the priciest square footage. It’s being called the first “entire building immersive experience,” likely taking advantage of the hype from the trending immersive experiences lately in NYC. Regardless, Times Square is the place to be, and TSX Broadway is not just going to be part of the action – they’re going to be THE action.
The 46-story tower will contain a 660+ key hotel of the highest class, where every room is a front-row window seat to Times Square. The building will also contain 4,000 ft² of outdoor entertainment, a restaurant, 75,000 ft² of experiential retail space, and integrated streaming, broadcasting, and live performance capabilities. But probably the coolest, most talked about feature will be the extendable, cantilevering stage above Times Square for iconic performers and epic performances. New Year’s Eve will be off-the-hook!
TSX Broadway is currently set to open in 2023, with various stages of the project, like the giant screen, being released in stages.
Rochelle Harris is a passionate writer originally from Phoenix, AZ. who credits her success to integrity and determination. She has a great sense of humor, loves music and her family, and writes fiction and poetry in her spare time. She is excited about the New York experience and lifestyle! Follow Rochelle on Twitter at @LinguisticAnRky or get in touch at [email protected]