How a 7,000 ton Broadway theater was hoisted 30 feet

If you’ve ever lost in Jenga by knocking down a tower after removing a block, you might appreciate what the devs have accomplished at TS...


If you’ve ever lost in Jenga by knocking down a tower after removing a block, you might appreciate what the devs have accomplished at TSX Broadwaya hotel and entertainment complex in Times Square.

The developer of the 46-story building managed to loosen its lower floors and lift them 30 feet without sending anything crashing to earth.

And what has been brought up is not just any old section. This is the Palace Theatre, a home for Broadway shows that was designed by the architectural firm Kirchhoff & Rose in the Beaux-Arts style. The theater, which weighs 14 million pounds, is a protected monument, which means that the structure, from the stage to the balcony, had to be moved without suffering as much as a crack in the delicate plasterwork that adorns the ceilings, the arches and lodges.

“It was a thrill to watch this happen,” said Anthony J. Mazzo, president of Urban Foundation/Engineering, who accomplished the heavy lifting using a system of jacks and telescoping beams that he invented it 30 years ago for a project involving a warehouse roof in Queens. “I feel like it worked like a charm,” he added.

Even in a city known for its outsized construction prowess, the project was fraught with risk, from possible damage to the ornate interior to the possibility of the entire theater crashing to the ground. But it was a crucial part of a $2.5 billion transformation of the building, which will include a 661-room hotel and an outdoor stage facing Times Square when it opens next year.

Since 1913, the 1,700-seat palace had taken up most of the ground floor of West 47th Street and Broadway, drawing hundreds of visitors eight times a week to see musicals like ‘Annie’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and “West Side Story”. But offering only live theater was stifling an even bigger source of revenue: the tens of millions of tourists who throng Times Square in a typical year, eager to spend money in the shops.

Annual retail rents in Times Square, nearly $2,000 per square foot, are generally among the highest in the country. The pandemic has depressed the neighborhood, which drew just 35,000 daily weekend visitors in the spring of 2020. But two years later, that number has risen to 300,000, according to the Times Square Alliance, a coalition that works to improve and promote the neighborhood.

To tap into some of this potential revenue, L&L Holding, the lead developer of the TSX project, has made arrangements with the theater’s owner, the Nederlander Organization, to raise the palace and fill the void with three floors of new commercial space, a 10-story portion of retail in the tower. The theater will have a new entrance on West 47th as well as a new lobby, marquee and backstage area.

“It was essential for us to lift the theater to create the space, but also to unlock the potential of the theater, with everything that would help it become a modern building,” said David Orowitz, CEO of L&L.

Urban Foundation had a playbook to follow. In 1998 he rolled up the Théâtre Beaux-Arts Empire on West 42nd Street 170 feet west as part of a plan by developer Forest City Ratner to make way for stores. Today, the building is the 25-screen AMC Empire Cinema with a glittering marquee.

But at 7.4 million pounds, the Empire was half the weight of the Palace. Additionally, the tracks used to move the Empire were essentially driven into the ground below, meaning the building only had to be raised a few inches, said Mazzo, who was also the engineer for this project.

Anyone who has ever changed a car tire using a jack or a strategically placed luggage rack might know how Palace rose to fame.

A team of three dozen workers first reinforced the theater by adding a six-foot-thick layer of concrete around the edge of the base, then poured 34 30-foot columns into the Manhattan bedrock below. . Fitting snugly into the columns, like hands in gloves, were smaller beams that could move up and down like parts of a telescope. Four hydraulic jacks resembling large paint cans with arms that extended upwards were placed under collars on each beam.

When the sockets were on, they pushed the collars up, and the theater with them. After the jack arms were raised just five inches, the workers stopped the elevator, fixed the theater at its new height, adjusted the collars and fastened them with large bolts, repositioned the jacks and restarted the whole process.

In March, when the palace had cleared 16ft, the elevator project was halted so workers could build new floors in the newly landscaped space, which also helped sustain the theatre.

Throughout the process, a handful of people crowded into a plywood shack, their eyes glued to monitors set up in the theater. A slight tilt of less than half a degree in either direction would have been enough for a hard stop, said Robert Israel, executive vice president of L&L who worked on the TSX project.

To further complicate the delicate nature of lifting a 7,000-ton theater, many aspects of the TSX project have overlapped since work began in 2019, including the demolition of the former Doubletree Hotel above the theater and the construction of its replacement, the pouring of a new foundation and the addition of 51,000 square feet of signage outside the building.

Additionally, zoning codes have changed since the tower was added in the late 1980s, which could have meant a significant reduction in square footage for the final product. But under current New York zoning law, if a renovation project keeps a quarter of its floor space in place, it can retain its original square footage.

To ensure TSX Broadway maintains its size – approximately 500,000 square feet – L&L had to keep many of the existing concrete slabs from the 16th floor upwards, essentially keeping them suspended in the air as construction continued around them. in another Jenga-like feat.

“This is by far the most complex project that I have ever undertaken, that L&L has undertaken,” Mr. Israel said as he stood in a dark and cool space under the palace, which bore notes from construction scribbled in spray paint that viewers will never see. see.

The theater reached its peak on April 5, a feat that was celebrated a month later with a media event attended by city officials, L&L executives and Broadway producers.

One of the oldest theaters on Broadway, the Palace had already undergone alterations. In 1926, its owner installed an “electric piano in its lobby to compete with the popular nearby Roxy”, according to the 1987 report by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission which led to protected status for much of inside the theatre. But the concourse, which was transformed in the 1930s, 1960s and again in the 1980s, was never given landmark status and was demolished as part of the TSX redesign.

Operating primarily as a movie theater for RKO Pictures in the mid-20th century, the palace was also home to artists like Harry Houdini, Diana Ross and Judy Garland, who completed a 19-week run in 1951 and 1952. The Nederlander family bought the theater in 1965 and gave it a $500,000 makeover, after which it began hosting Broadway musicals, starting with the premiere of Neil Simon’s “Sweet Charity.”

Now, as the theater prepares to welcome visitors back, it’s seen as an indicator of Times Square and New York’s rebound.

“We were symbolic of the pause in the pandemic, and we are symbolic of the determination of recovery,” said Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance.


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Newsrust - US Top News: How a 7,000 ton Broadway theater was hoisted 30 feet
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