Built in 1923 for the Shriners (Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine), New York City Center reopened in October 2011 after a $56 million, two-phase facelift. A performing arts center since 1943, the theatre has now been revitalized as a home for world-class performances. Modern amenities have been added, while at the same time historic details restored, from the painted ceiling in the mezzanine lobby to the auditorium’s arabesque dome and Moorish color scheme.

The renovation was spearheaded by Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership), with Duncan Hazard, partner-in-charge and head of the design team, working closely with City Center president & CEO Arlene Schuler and the entire in-house staff. Consultants on the project included Auerbach Pollock Friedlander for the design of new lighting, dimming, and distribution systems, new performance sound, video and communication systems infrastructure and equipment, new lobby video signage and display systems, and a large video display wall in the lobby to showcase video art in a partnership with the New Museum. Fisher Dachs Associates worked on restoring and reconfiguring the hall, including sightline improvement and a new seating plan.


TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

Concentrating on backstage and technical considerations, and to upgrade some of the technical systems that existed from the ‘80s, phase one took place over five months in the summer of 2010. “The contractor had estimated 18 months to two years for the full job, and we didn’t feel we could close that long,” notes Mark Mongold, director of production at City Center. “We hung swing scaffolding that allowed the painters to work on the ceiling over the winter to keep the work going.”

The lighting system was updated, with ETC Sensor+ dimmers installed. “We replaced old Colortran workhorses, as we were having trouble getting parts,” Mongold explains, noting that a pair of ETC Eos consoles (one as full backup) had been put in two years earlier as a first step in the renovation.

“Permanent circuits now terminate in the fly balcony, and we replaced old 10-circuit multi-cable connectors with standard 6-circuit multi-connectors run to loose multi-cable breakouts we can hang on the pipes,” adds Mongold. “The system is now very flexible. We can put a lighting bar any place. With the counterweight fly system, we went from a single piece of pipe for each batten to a flat truss system. We also developed an odd spacing plan for the cross members, which allows us to hang the lights where we need them without a cross member interfering with a light’s C-clamp.”

With an ETC Ethernet system and CAT-6 backbone, the consoles can be used out in the house, while Apple iPads over Wi-Fi serve as remote focus units. “Before, the consoles were always backstage, but now there is a front-of-house booth,” says Mongold. Lighting fixtures include numerous ETC Source Fours in various sizes, Fresnels from Altman and ARRI, Altman Far Cyc units, and three Lycian 1293 3,000W Xenon followspots in the spot booth at the back of the second balcony. “We don’t own any moving lights, and every designer has his own preferences,” indicates Mongold. “Over the past two years, Clay Paky [via A.C.T Lighting] has helped us get new models to try out and test, and show to visiting designers.”

City Center staffers, including associate production manager Meghan Von Vett, production assistant Avery Lewis, master electrician Eric Schultz, and audio engineer Augie Propersi, were instrumental in the process. “The consultants at Auerbach were amazing, fabulous,” asserts Mongold. “They understood we knew what we were doing and were very supportive. Steve Friedlander and Paul Garrity were the leads, and also Matt Ezold helped with the initial audio consulting. It was different here from new theatre construction. We work 40 weeks a year with a great IATSE Local 1 crew and crew heads who knew what it took to keep the place running. We needed someone to help us fine-tune and perfect it.”

On the audio side, Kirkegaard Associates served as acoustic consultant. “We didn’t change the acoustics much, but they advised us on how the other physical changes might affect things,” Mongold recalls. The in-house audio upgrade includes new d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers and amplifiers: J12s, B2s, Ci6s, C7s, E0s, E3s, E8s E12s, Q1s, Q-Subs, T10s, and D6 amps. “Scott Lehrer, one of our main sound designers, worked with the folks from d&b, and we kept the systems pretty much as Scott, d&b, and Augie designed them,” notes Mongold.

A new Studer Vista 5 compact digital mixing console (42-fader model) has been added, while there are 12 Sennheiser wireless mic units with antenna positions on stage. “They are the theatre’s workhorse mics,” Mongold points out. “We have 12 and rent supplements, if needed. The audio control booth was also moved into the last few rows of seats. The old one was in an alcove with a window, and it was very hard to hear. There was always a learning curve to mix here. The hall is primarily an amplified sound hall or a natural sound, slightly sweetened to be more audible.”

Gerry Griffen, master carpenter at City Center, consulted with iWeiss, who also provided all soft goods, on the re-rigging of the house. As Mongold notes, “We thought about a motorized rig and adding 30' of wing space stage left, but the budget didn’t allow for that, so iWeiss refurbished the single purchase counterweight system and installed a 91st line-set that was made possible when we demolished an old decrepit upstage catwalk/paint bridge from the 1920s on the back wall. iWeiss also replaced the counterweight arbors. Each line-set can now handle 800 to 900lbs, as we tweaked arbors and pulleys to add more weight capacity.”

Jimmy McWilliams, City Center property master, worked with American Harlequin and Haywood Berk Floor Co. on a new sprung stage floor that was raised by 4". “Perry Silvey from New York City Ballet came up with the concept for a multilayer, basket-weave floor with a layer of neoprene pads for extra spring. The floor is flame-retardant, pressure-treated pine, with two layers of marine-grade ≤" plywood, in case water seeps in,” explains Mongold, who had been Silvey’s assistant at the Ballet. The floor is topped with a permanently installed Harlequin Cascade dance floor in black. There is a second Harlequin floor for ballet. For flamenco dance, an acoustic plywood floor with space for microphones is used, while for musicals with tap dancing, wireless mic tap rigs are used on the dancers’ ankles.

PHASE TWO

Segue to April 2011, when City Center closed for the second phase of the renovation, remaining dark for seven months until the grand reopening last fall. “The schedule was tight. Sciame, the general contractors, did a great job, even with unseen eventualities,” says Mongold.

Bob Campbell, primary consultant for Fisher Dachs Associates, worked on improving the sightlines. “Previously, the main focus for the Shriners was to see the grand potentate on a dais in the middle of the floor, but that wasn’t so good for a dance performance,” says Mongold, who notes that the 2,750 seats before the renovation were reduced to 2,250. “We wanted to build on what we had, not put in new steel, and regularize the row spacing—make it more even—as well as get the elevations right,” says Mongold. The new spacing is 36" from row to row. “The higher capacity was grandfathered from the ‘20s, but current codes don’t allow that densely packed seating,” he adds. “We also eliminated some on the far sides that had terrible sightlines.” There are also about a dozen score-reading seats with desks in the balcony for people who don’t need to see but want to hear and follow a score.

The aisles have been made wider, especially in the orchestra level, and the side aisles were pushed further out to provide a wider center section. The seats, by Irwin Seating, feature blue/green upholstery selected in homage to the Shriners’ historic color scheme. “They are very solid, and Irwin met a hectic construction schedule, with seats being installed while construction was still going on,” Mongold adds.

HISTORIC RENOVATION

Although the City Center project is more renovation than restoration, one of the challenges for the architects and artisans was the lack of color photos of the original interior color scheme. Old paint was chipped away to see what was underneath. “It was like paint archeology,” explains Ennead Architects’ Hazard, noting the proscenium arch is now three shades of green without any trusses to block the architecture. Instead, there are capped sleeves where rigging points can be added.

The lobby has also been reconfigured, with the center steps pulled out to the sides to help audience flow and avoid congregating at the foot of the steps. “We gained seven crucial feet in the center of the lobby and lost only two rows of seats, one on each side in the back of the auditorium,” Hazard says.

Now, when entering City Center, instead of seeing the former landing for the stairs, there is a neo-Moorish patterned wall with 24 Orion Infinite Plasma bezel-less monitors for video art. “The idea was to add something modern to the lobby,” adds the architect. “Images can weave their way across the wall and create a sense of movement and excitement.

With reconfigured lobby spaces, additional box office windows, a new bronze and glass marquee, and blade signs adorning the handsome terracotta façade, plus the new color scheme for the interior, with deep Moorish tones and a lot of gold trim, City Center has truly been revitalized. “In terms of the architecture, the place should be City Center,” notes Hazard. “It is a beautiful, quirky place now renovated to the nth degree, but we wanted people to recognize it as the place they loved. There are a lot of cherished memories here.”

City Center: Selected gear list

Stage Floor: Black Harlequin Cascade dance floor.

Chain Motors: Six 1ton CM chain motors

Lighting:
Control: ETC EOS
Fixtures:
Balcony Rail (Upper Rail): 30 ETC Source Four 19°
Grand Tier/Mezzanine Rail: 2 8" 1500W Altman Fresnels (curtain warmers)
Box Booms: 4 ETC Source Four 19° (2 each left and right) 24 ETC Source Four 26° (12 each left and right)
Stage Instruments:
20 ETC Source Four 10° (Barrels only)
35 ETC Source Four 19°
115 ETC Source Four 26°
135 ETC Source Four 36°
40 ETC Source Four 50°
16 8" 1500W Altman Fresnels
18 6.9” ARRI Studio Fresnels 1000W
70 PAR64 MFL 1000W
13 ETC Source Four PAR (with full lens kits)
8 PAR 64 MFL 500W 9 light, 3 circuit striplights 7’-0”(2.13m)
10 R40 300W FL 15 light, 3 circuit striplights 7’-6”(2.29m)
10 Altman FarCyc units 1000W, 3 circuit 4’-3”(1.3m)
8 MR 16 EYC (flood) 75W 30-light, 3 circuit striplights
6’-6”(1.98m)
10 ETC MultiPAR-12 Strips 575W 12-light, 3 or 4 circuit striplights
8’-6” (2.45m) (with full lens kits and flipper)
3 ETC MultiPAR-3 Strips 575W 3-light, 3 circuit striplights
2’-0” (0.62m) (with full lens kits and flipper)
5 9’-0” (2.75m) T-3 500W 12-light 3 circuit Ground Row striplights
Followspots: 3 3000W Xenon Lycian 1293 in Spot Booth

Sound
Four-channel Clear-Com communication system
2 HME Pro 850 wireless intercom systems
24 Beyer DT108 headsets
1 Studer Vista 5 Digital Mixing Console (42 fader)
FOH center cluster: 12 d&b audiotechnik J12
Stereo System:
2 d&b audiotechnik C7 (Main L&R Orch)
2 d&b audiotechnik E12 (fill L&R Orch)
2 d&b audiotechnik B2 (Subs L&R Orch)
2 d&b qudiotechnik QSUB
2 d&b audiotechnik C7 (Main L&R Mezz & Gallery)
Delays & Under Balcony
5 d&b audiotechnik E3 (Orch Delay)
2 d&b audiotechnik T10
6 d&b audiotechnik Q1 (Gallery Delay)
Front Fill: d&b audiotechnik E0
Orch Fill: 2 d&b E0
Gallery Fill: 2 d&b Ci6
Monitors: 6 d&b audiotechnik E12 powered by 2 amps
2 Apogee AE-6nc speakers powered by 1 Crest 48-1
amp
2 Apogee AE-5 speakers powered by 2 Crest 4801
amps
6 Hotspot speakers powered by Rane MA6S amp
2 Meyer Sound 500 speakers/ Meyer 500 amp
4 Bose 802 speakers, 2 mixes, 1 Crest 4801
12 Apogee SSM; 2 Crest 4801 amps
1 Anchor AN1000X self-powered speaker
6 JBL Control one speakers
Microphones:
1 AKG D112
1 AKG 414
2 AKG 416 clip on
2 AKG 418 clip on
1 AKG 535
2 AKG D653 with switch
2 Countryman Iso-Max cardioid lavaliere
6 Crown PCC 160
3 Crown PZM 30 RB
2 Crown CM700
5 Electrovoice 408B
6 Earthworks Flex 2-FM360, 2-FM500, 2- FM720
4 Schoeps CMC6/MK4
2 Sennheiser 518
1 Shure SM 57
1 Shure SM58
6 Shure Beta SM 57
4 Shure Beta SM 58
4 Shure Beta SM 87A
1 Shure 565 with switch
1 Shure 408 with switch
5 Active DI boxes (three Countryman 85, two Hot box)
2 Astatic CTM1500
Wireless (1) Sennheiser EW 550 receiver 2 channel
(2) SK 500 body packs (mke 2 lavs)
(2) SKM 500 me865 handhelds

Signal Processors:
4 Klark-Teknik 410 equalizers
1 Lexcion PCM 81
1 Lexcion PCM 91
1 Yamaha REV 5 digital reverberator
1 Yamaha SPX 900 programmable effects processor

Video:
Cameras: 1 Stage picture Sony model BRC-2700
Playback/Record:
1 Panasonic DMR-E100H DVD video recorder
1 Panasonic AG 1980 VHS VCR
1 Panasonic DVD-S53 DVD/CD multi format player
Switcher: 1 Kramer 2066 6x6 audio/video switcher