220 West 48th StreetNew York, NY
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Andre De Shields
Architectural Historian, Columbia University
The Longacre was the last theater designed by Henry B. Herts.
One of the great theater architects of the early twentieth-century in America, Herts studied architecture in Paris and loved European design. The Longacre’s ornate decoration, including a neoclassical French facade with eighteenth-century-inspired terra-cotta, reflected this passion. The theater was originally built for H. H. Frazee, who started out as a theater usher in the Midwest and steadily advanced, eventually becoming a powerful Broadway producer. Frazee was also a sports impresario—he sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees when he owned the Boston Red Socks—and he occasionally tried to combine his two interests. Herts designed the low-ceilinged balconies to extend very close to the stage to create the intimate experience that Frazee desired. The theater was named after Longacre Square, the original name of the area around 42nd Street and Broadway until 1904 when the New York Times moved its headquarters to 42nd Street and the area was renamed in its honor. The Shuberts acquired the theater in 1919 and leased it to WOR as a radio and television studio in 1943. In 1953 the Shuberts returned it to a legitimate theater that has since housed productions such as The Ritz, Joe Egg, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Talk Radio.
Henry B. Herts was known as a technical innovator and inventive designer. Born in New York, he was the son of Henry B. Herts of the Herts Brothers firm of decorators. He originally went to City College but left before graduation to work in the office of architect Bruce Price. Herts eventually graduated from Columbia University in 1893 then traveled to Europe to study architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts and the universities of Rome and Heidelberg.
Herts is best known for his partnership with Hugh Tallant. Although, Herts & Tallant were well-known theater architects, the partnership dissolved in 1912, and Herts continued designing with his assistant Herbert J. Krapp and on his own. Herts pioneered the use of steel cantilevers to eliminate the problem of blocked sightlines from pillars supporting the balcony. He also served as architect for the Playground Commission of New York City and helped improve fire codes.
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