The New Theatre on Central Park West,
New York City, 1909.
Alternative names New Theatre
Century Opera House
General information Type theatre, opera house Architectural style Beaux-Arts Location Central Park West at 62nd Street, New York City Coordinates Construction started 1906 Inaugurated 1909 Demolished 1931 Cost $1,700,000 (budget) Technical details Structural system exterior supporting masonry, internal steel columns and girders Design and construction Architect Carrère and Hastings References Barber, Donn, editor (November 1909). The New York Architect 3 (11). New York: Harwell-Evans.
The Century Theatre, originally the New Theatre, was a theater located at 62nd Street and Central Park West in New York City. Opened on November 6, 1909, it was noted for its fine architecture but due to poor acoustics and an inconvenient location it was financially unsuccessful. The theater was demolished in 1931 and replaced by the Century Apartments building.
The New Theatre was once called "New York's most spectacularly unsuccessful theater" in the WPA Guide to New York City. Envisioned in 1906 by Heinrich Conried, a director of the Metropolitan Opera House, its construction was an attempt to establish a great theatre at New York free of commercialism, one that, broadly speaking, would resemble the Comédie Française of Paris. Thirty founders each subscribed $35,000 at the start, and a building designed to be the permanent home of a repertory company was constructed on Central Park West on the Upper West Side at a cost of three million dollars. Architecturally, it was one of the handsomest structures in the city, designed by the prominent Beaux-Arts architectural firm Carrère and Hastings.
With Winthrop Ames as the only director, the New Theatre Company occupied the building for only two seasons, 1909—10 and 1910—11. Capable of seating 2,300 persons, the New Theatre was opened on November 6, 1909, with impressive ceremonies and apparently under the most favoring auspices, but a serious defect in the acoustics became apparent at once and this was only partly remedied by the installation of a sound-deflecting bell. Several Shakespearean plays were given, by far the most notable presentation being that of The Winter's Tale. On the whole the company did its best ensemble work in some of the modern plays of that time, like Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird and Sister Beatrice, Galsworthy's Strife, and Edward Sheldon's The Nigger starring Annie Russell. A poetic drama of distinction was Josephine Preston Peabody's The Piper. From Europe in 1912 came Judith Gautier and Pierre Loti, producers and supervisors of The Daughter of Heaven. In most cases the stage settings were of very high quality.
"Not long ago an institution which was expected to benefit the Stage and the Public went down in miserable failure, in the collapse of the New Theatre. The Directors of that institution provided 'practically unlimited capital' for the venture, — an aid which Lester Wallack, for one, never had and never dreamed of having. The observer of to-day was able to see at first hand exactly what kind of theatrical company could be formed after a long absence of stock-companies; half a million dollars was lost in the effort, and persons of experience, knowledge, and taste have had an opportunity to see what the much-vaunted 'commercialism' has really done for the American Stage, and how necessary it is that other forces should control it." William Winter, The Wallet of Time. Moffat, Yard and Company, New York 1913, vol. 1, p. 36.
The building was located a mile above the theatre district, and it was exceedingly expensive to maintain. Financially, the venture proved to be a boondoggle. At the end of the second season, it was found to be impracticable to plan for a third. The building was leased to other theatre managers, who changed the name to the Century Theatre (1911), the Century Opera House (1913), the Century once more (1915), with Florenz Ziegfeld as manager.
In 1917, producers Florenz Ziegfeld and Charles Dillingham opened the roof garden as a nightclub and named it the Cocoanut Grove, based on the success of a similar venue, Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
It was of no use. The "Shrine of Snobbism" as a populist New York paper dubbed it (WPA Guide) was demolished and the Art Deco Century Apartments, designed by the office of Irwin S. Chanin, rose on the site in 1931.
Consult The New Theatre (New York, 1909), which gives the names of founders, officers, etc., with biographical sketches and portraits of the company, and The New Theatre, Season 1909-10 (New York, 1910), for titles of plays, dates of production, casts, etc. Both the foregoing were privately circulated by the management. Consult also the magazines of 1909-11, especially W. P. Eaton, in the Atlantic Monthly, volume cv (Boston, 1910), and John Corbin, in the World's Work, volume xxii (Garden City, New York, 1911).
- ^ "The Century Roof Opens Its Doors," New York Times (Jan. 20, 1917).
- The WPA Guide to New York City (1939, 1982). Listing at WorldCat. Snippet view at Google Books.
- This article incorporates text from an edition of the New International Encyclopedia that is in the public domain.
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