245 West 52nd StreetNew York, NY
scroll down to view more
Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
Executive Vice President, Jujamcyn Theatres
Matthew A. Postal
Historian, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
George C. Wolfe
Built in 1925, The August Wilson Theatre, originally called the Guild Theatre and later the ANTA (American National Theatre and Academy) Playhouse and the Virginia Theatre, was founded as the home of the Theater Guild, a subscription-based drama club that presented high quality productions untainted by commercial considerations.
In 1923 the Theater Guild formed a building committee, which included banker and philanthropist Otto Hermann Kahn and journalist Walter Lippmann, to raise funds for a permanent home. The architects C. Howard Crane and Kenneth Franzheim drew inspiration from fifteenth-century Tuscan villas, which set the theater apart from many others built in the neo-classical tradition of the time. When it first opened, the New York Times considered it the finest theater in New York. It housed classrooms, a clubroom for Guild stockholders, and a library. President Coolidge threw a switch at the White House in 1925, signaling the start of the theater's opening first production, a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra starring Helen Hayes. The production was a huge flop and closed after forty-eight performances. In 1981 Jujamcyn Theaters purchased the house and renamed it the Virginia Theatre for co-owner Virginia McKnight Binger, daughter of William McKnight, an industrial magnate and Jujamycn founder. In 2005, the theater was renamed August Wilson in honor of the great American playwright.
Howard Crane was a very successful theater architect. who designed more than two hundred theaters in the United States and many others in Canada and Great Britain.
Crane was born in Harford, Connecticut, and moved to Detroit in 1905 to apprentice with Albert Kahn. By 1909 he had established his own practice in Detroit that served as his main office the rest of his career. Well known for his expertise in theater acoustics, Crane was proficient in many different design styles. He moved to Europe in 1932 and lived in Italy before permanently moving to London. In London, he is well known for his Earls Court Exhibition Centre. To better address the effects of World War II, Crane spent the later part of his career practicing industrial design and rebuilding and modernizing factories.
Kenneth Franzheim was born in Wheeling, West Virginia. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1913 and began his architectural career in Chicago. After coming to New York in 1921, he became a senior associate of C. Howard Crane and was in charge of Crane's New York office.
Franzheim is best known for his theater and airport designs.; he designed airplane terminals in Philadelphia, Houston, Baltimore, and New York. Franzheim eventually opened his own offices in New York in 1925 but eventually moved his practice to Houston in 1937. There, he became the city’s foremost commercial architect, known for his modernist buildings and the incorporation of art into his architecture. Some of his most famous buildings include the Texas National Bank building and the award-winning Foley's Department Store in Houston as well as the National Bank of Commerce in San Antonio.
back to top