The ghost of David Belasco, which reportedly stalks Broadway’s Belasco Theatre, must be extremely pleased to see his home not only lovingly restored but also carefully relit. Architect Francesca Russo, who oversaw The Shubert Organization’s historic renovation for the theatre, notes that the restoration and general improvement of the lighting in the Belasco was “a key element. The overall lighting in the theatre is very artistic and many of the fixtures were created by Tiffany Studios following Belasco’s instructions,” she says, pointing out that Belasco and Louis Comfort Tiffany were good friends, and Tiffany’s manufacturing firm received the commission to create the theatre’s light fixtures.
When the theatre opened in 1907, the lighting was the talk of the town, as noted by Arthur David in Architectural Record at the time: “…lights veiled in tinted glass, whose color is borrowed from the decorations against which they are placed: the soothing color scheme in which the whole interior is floated—amber, golden brown, dusty gray, orange, and faded green blues.” David Belasco lit the theatre as if entertaining guests in his living room.
Ted Jacobi, engineering project manager for The Shubert Organization, coordinating the restoration of the lighting, a major feature of which are the 22 octagonal panels of Tiffany glass set in the coffered ceiling as “lay lights.” Jacobi notes: “They were part of the first phase of the restoration, two years ago.” Also restored are 22 rosette-style fixtures on long pendants suspended from the ceiling. These beam uplight onto the elegant palace-like geometric pattern overhead. Femenella & Associates, Branchburg, NJ-based restoration specialists replicated new fixtures from the surviving examples. “We replaced the existing 11W incandescent lamps with 40 watts to enhance the visibility of the ceiling,” Jacobi relates.
Three of the13 Tiffany stained glass fixtures on the orchestra and mezzanine balcony ceilings that were missing were also replicated to exactly matched the glass of the original century-old fixtures. “The originals, which had been in storage for 40 years, had eight sockets each which I assumed held 25-W lamps, or 200 watts per fixture, for a total of 2,600 watts,” Jacobi says. “We installed a new bracket with four 6-W LEDs in each, or 24 watts each, a savings of 2,280 watts.”
Thomas Stein, project manager for The Shubert Organization, notes that the new lighting accents the theatre’s very warm palette of earthy colors comprising terra cotta, verdigris, wood graining, and gold. Tiffany-made stained glass glowing in the fixtures installed on column capitals in the orchestra and the mezzanine features bunches of purple glass grapes affixed to the upward tapering columns are now lit from behind with LEDs.
“The equipment installed in 1906 took up a great deal of space inside the capitals and blocked the reflective surface, making it impossible to light the lower half of the fixture,” Jacobi says. “There were four 40-W lamps in each of the orchestra’s five columns, or 3,200 watts total. I had it all removed and replaced with four 6-W 12-inch LED strips and four 3-W six-inch strips in each capital, a total of 36 watts each, a total of 180 watts, saving 3,020 watts. “The capitals over the box seating were given the same treatment,” Jacobi continues. “There were approximately 12 40-W lamps in each of four fixtures, or 1,920 watts. We brought the total down to 118 watts by installing LED strips, a saving of 1,802 watts.”
Broadway lighting designer Ken Billington consulted on the lighting of the restored murals on the first and second floors, as well as the lounge level and lobby. “Some of the murals had been painted over in the 1950s with white paint, totally hidden from view. Others were coated with dirt from a century of cigarette smoke and dust,” Billington indicates. “Some of the reflectors on the fixtures were just black from age; they all needed to be thoroughly cleaned.”
Once the murals were restored, Billington specified the wall washes to bring them to life. In the lobby, he opted for Philips Color Kinetics LED iColor Cove MX Powercore in 2700K white. “The lobby had never been lit like this before. You can really see the exceptional murals that were created by three artists, including Everett Shinn,” he says. For the lounge level and first floor murals, he selected warm white LED strips, Westflex Covemax from TPR Enterprises. “They come with their own dimmer and can be dimmed down to 100 percent, which is better for house lights,” explains Billington. On the second floor, the lamps had to fit into a very shallow ceiling space, so recessed MR16s dimmable downlights were specified. “The challenge,” Billington notes, “is putting modern fixtures into a historic building like the Belasco and still be eco-friendly.”
Billington set the levels for the mural lighting with the assistance of programmer Victor Seastone. An ETC Unison architectural lighting control system handles the house lights and lobbies. “We set several levels: walk-in; house to half, house out with lights in boxes and stairs still on, and a cleaning cue,” notes Billington. “We never set the lights to 100 percent, to increase lamp life, to keep the house lights off as much as possible to save power.”
“When you walk in and see the lighting, you might image that it looked just this way when the theater was constructed,” Billington muses. “But of course today’s lighting program meets all current safety standards and regulations.” In the opinion of New York Times critic Charles Isherwood: “It is as beautiful as any theatre in the United States.”