Photography by Whitney Cox
The New Amsterdam is the largest and most architecturally distinguished theater on West 42nd Street. Its rich history and splendid interior are unmatched by any other theater in New York. Designed by Henry Herts and Hugh Tallant in 1903, the New Amsterdam was the first major Art Nouveau building in the United States, celebrated as much for the luxury of its decor as for the size and sophistication of its stage facilities and large public spaces.
The theater’s decaying condition made its restoration a tremendous undertaking. There was extensive water damage to the plaster, wood, and painted decoration as well as to the steel structure. Less than 50% of the original decorative scheme was intact.
A combination of paint analyses and historical documentation helped determine the theater’s original appearance. Special painting and glazing techniques insured that elements would not look too new after restoration. The theater’s exuberant ornamentation, including decorative murals, terra cotta balustrades, bas reliefs, and carved and wood paneling were all re-created. Seating boxes, which had been removed to accommodate a movie screen in the 1950s, were reconstructed. A proscenium arch, ornamented with 16 plaster peacocks entwined with vines and flanked by murals of “Virtue” and “Courage,” was restored to dramatic effect.
Modern technology enabled custom, computer-generated designs of carpeting, seat coverings, and stage curtains whose colors and textures were in keeping with the theater’s original decorative spirit.
Notice the extension of seating into the rear cross aisle, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission approved this change. This provided the seat count needed.
Was filled with several feet of water.
At the same time, amenities such as air conditioning, expanded lobby space on the mezzanine and balcony levels, men’s and women’s lounges, and elevator access have been subtly added. Stage lighting, rigging, sound systems, and all of the technology required for modern performance have also been carefully and unobtrusively inserted.
None of these fixtures existed until one was found during construction, then replicated.
Each painting framed by wood carving told a different story.
Now used for live performances by Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, the theater has become an aesthetic pinnacle of 42nd Street’s transformation.
The original facility included a rooftop theater that showed the Midnight Frolic after the Zeigfield Follies. Disney later turned this into their NYC Theatrical offices.
Stewart Jones managed this project for Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates. DeSimone Consulting Engineers performed structural engineering, Edwards & Zuck MEP Engineering, Theatre Projects Consultants theatrical consulting, Jaffe Holden Scarbrough Acoustics, Fisher Marantz Renfro architectural lighting design, 212 Harakawa graphics & signage. Tishman Construction as construction manager.