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The legendary Palace Theatre is climbing to new heights as part of the ongoing development of Times Square’s TSX Broadway center, where it will be raised inch-by-inch in its entirety to reside on the third floor of the massive new retail complex.
The 1,700-seat theater — originally opened in 1913 as a popular performing venue in the heyday of New York’s vaudeville scene — will remain wholly intact (the auditorium itself is a New York City designated landmark) within the multi-story TSX Broadway building, joining several new performance spaces, 75,000-square feet of retail, and a hotel.
Using 34 hydraulically-controlled steel posts specifically designed for the project, construction crews began the process of lifting the 5 million-pound structure on Friday morning, raising the building a careful quarter of an inch per hour. The theater is expected to complete its 30-foot ascent in approximately six to eight weeks, after which it will undergo a $50 million dollar rehabilitation, including a detailed refurbishment of every inch of its plaster molding and the addition of a new entrance and updated theater technology.
The Palace will bring an important element of Old New York to the definitively modern, $2.5 billion-dollar TSX Broadway building. After exhausting its first life as a vaudeville theatre, The Palace pivoted into a cinema, operating as an RKO movie house from the 1930s to the 1950s, with the occasional appearance of a revived vaudeville act. After falling on hard financial times, the theater was purchased in 1965 by the venerable Nederlander Organization, in the first of what would become many Broadway venues owned by the family conglomerate.
The Nederlanders began their reign at The Palace with the original production of Sweet Charity in 1966, which ran a successful 608 performances. In addition to the long line of Broadway shows that would follow (including George M!, Oklahoma!, La Cage aux Folles, and Legally Blonde), The Palace was home to a series of iconic concerts in the 60s and 70s from Josephine Baker, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, and most notably, Judy Garland. Garland’s concert (which would remain one of her last public performances) was recorded as a live album in the theater, forever memorialized in the record Judy Garland at Home at the Palace: Opening Night. The last production to be seen at the Palace before its closure was SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical.
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As the rich legacy of The Palace is lifted (literally) into its newest chapter, developers are optimistic that the theater will make a smooth transition into the future. Chairman and CEO David Levinson (of L&L Holding Company, presiding over the project) told Observer: “I’m very confident that when this theater opens, it’s going to be very well received by the public and the Broadway community [….] Not only are we going to be lifting up and fully restoring a very historic and important theater to its original glory and beauty, the backbone of that theater is going to be advanced technology. It’s going to be spacious, and safe.”
And thus begins the next life of one of New York’s theatrical giants.