History Of New York’s Beacon Theater

Beacon Theater History

Photo: Photo: Andreas Praefcke, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Culture lovers in New York City usually have at least one or more events at the Beacon Theatre on the top of their lists. The theater is a perfect place to enjoy a live theater, music or comedy show. Dozens of artists have set foot on their stage to perform for audiences of all ages and interests. People have been flocking to the theater to enjoy entertainment ever since its early days as a first-run movie house.

Film producer Herbert Lubin initially came up with the idea for the Beacon Theatre in 1926. It was intended to be a part of a larger chain of more upscale movie theaters in New York City. Entrepreneur Samuel L. “Roxy” Rothafel and Lubin would run the Roxy Theatre Circuit.

Chicago architect Walter Altschlager designed the building that was originally known as the Roxy Midway Theatre. 2,600 seats were placed in the new venue, which was supposed to be a smaller version of the renowned Roxy Theatre in Times Square. Unfortunately, the building didn’t open for several years. The proposed theatre chain never materialized because Lubin lacked the finances to turn that dream into a reality.

Warner Theaters would eventually purchase the building, which opened as Warner’s Beacon Theatre in 1929. It premiered many Warner Brothers movies for several years. It was created for silent films, although the first film shown was Tiger Rose, one of the new “talkies” that later replaced silent movies.

The Beacon Theatre continued to run new movies into the 1970s. Steven Singer bought the venue in 1974. Stephen Metz was hired to promote several pop concerts held at the theater. Two years later, the theater was purchased by Allen Rossoff and Marvin Getlan. Its primary focus would soon change from movies to live music.

Rock legends the Grateful Dead were one of the first bands to play at the Beacon Theatre in 1976. Many other acts in a variety of different genres would follow over the years. Queen played several shows at the venue during their 1976 A Night At The Opera tour. Rockers Steely Dan were the first artists to hold residences at the theater. Trey Anastasio of Phish, Mariah Carey, Jerry Seinfeld and many others would follow.

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee named the building a city landmark in 1979. In 1982, the venue was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Attempts were made in 1987 to turn the theater into a nightclub. However, those efforts were prevented when brought to court. Opponents were concerned that the proposed changes would affect the building’s unique neo-Grecian decor. It soon became known as a very popular medium-sized concert hall in New York City. The theater is still regularly booked for performances by rock artists, pop singers, R&B crooners and many other acts because the hall’s acoustics are outstanding.

The Beacon Theater has also hosted several live comedy acts. The late George Carlin taped several of his HBO specials at the venue. Television host Conan O’Brien taped the tenth anniversary special of his Late Night program at the theater in 2003, and returned to host a week’s worth of his Conan show in the fall of 2011.

Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, Tom Petty, and Eddie Vedder are a few of the renowned artists who have performed at the Beacon Theatre over the years. The Allman Brothers played their first of 238 concerts at the venue in 1989. The group played at the theater for three consecutive weeks in 2009 to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Eric Clapton, Levon Helm and Boz Scaggs were some of the special guests that performed at their anniversary shows. Their show at the Beacon Theatre on October 28, 2014 was the Allman Brothers’ final live concert.

The Tony Awards were held at the theater in 2011, 2012 and 2016. An autism fundraiser and awareness event known as the “Night of Too Many Stars” was held at the venue in February 2015. The Beacon Theatre has regularly hosted live theater performances and film screenings, including Shine A Light, the Rolling Stones concert performance that was filmed at the theater by director Martin Scorsese. It has also been home to theater productions and political debates.

In 2006, the Madison Square Garden Company took over Beacon Theatre operations. The holding company, also known as MSG Sports, manages the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League and the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association. Cablevision Systems Corporation began a twenty year lease with the venue later that year. The building was renovated in 2009 to restore its original beauty. Workers uncovered original paint and carefully studied archived photographs and film of the venue during the project. Its restoration has garnered multiple architecture awards.

The venue itself is a true work of art. Visitors open the vestibule bronze doors to gain access to the two-story lobby. The thirty foot tall statues of Greek goddesses are one of the first things that most people see when they enter the stage area. The stage itself can be raised and lowered from the basement if needed, even when musicians or other artists are onstage. The mezzanine and orchestra levels of the theater have mahogany bars and floors made from white marble. Brass staircase rails, hardwood floors and gilded plaster moldings are in the seating sections. There are 2,894 seats spread across three levels. Impressive detailed murals depicting many animals involved in trading caravans adorn the corridors.

The Beacon Theatre has been a fixture in New York’s Upper West Side for almost a century. Several generations of New York natives and visitors have watched a movie, attended a play or witnessed a memorable live music event. Some legends who have performed at the Beacon Theater and released live albums recorded there include Joe Bonamassa, The Allman Brothers, Duran Duran, The Doobie Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Steely Dan, The Eagles, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, and Joan Baez. New artists and residencies are announced every year. It’s become a popular destination that will undoubtedly be a favorite gathering place for individuals and families for many more years to come.



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