Henry Miller Gets a New Theatre

By Robert Simonson
28 Nov 2009

The fact that Bank of America would be doing business just above the theatre was taken into account at every turn. The giant banking house has its cafeteria and its own corporate auditorium on the floor above the theatre, and a trading floor directly above that. "There are two set of columns within these walls," explained Campbell. "One that holds up the building, one that holds up the theatre's auditorium. So there's no transfer of sound or vibrations between the two."

With the bank directly above, Cook+Fox had now choice but to build downward when designing the theatre. The result is one of only two subterranean theatres on Broadway. (The other is Circle in the Square.) When you walk through the theatre doors off the lobby, you enter the very top of the theatre's mezzanine. (The theatre's flytower actually rises up through the first floor of the Bank.)

The look of the first Henry Miller's Theatre is remembered not just through the preservation of the façade, and the honoring of Miller's Little Theatre Movement principles. "We took some sample artifacts, some of the more decorative pieces, and we wanted to preserve them as a sort of note of the past," pointed out Campbell. As you walk out of the lobby, you're confronted by a darkened piece of decorative plaster depicting more dancing ladies. It was part of that frieze that went around the ceiling of the auditorium. Other sections of the frieze are displayed in other areas of the theatre. "We basically cleaned up and stabilized them, but didn't restore them to the original state," said Campbell. "We thought it was far more interesting to show how it had been aged."

At the corners of the proscenium, segments of another frieze remain in place, and, along the walls of the auditorium, the old exit doors, which feature decorative panels in the same Grecian muse theme, hang like artwork. Meanwhile, just inside the stage-door entrance hangs an old neon sign that used to be suspended outside the theatre back in the 1950s. It reads "Henry Miller's Theatre" in bright white bulbs.

While the new structure harkens back to the past in many ways, the building is forward-thinking in others. The architects designed it intending to qualify for a "Green building" certification. Building materials were chosen carefully, and included healthier glues and paints. The air brought in from outside is filtered to a very high degree. The wood used is North American Cherry from a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forest, and the carpet is made of wool, a "rapidly renewable resource." The grey, stone-like material on the walls is paperstone, which is actually made of highly condensed recyled paper. Washrooms contain waterless urinals; they do not flush, but are cleaned with a spray. In fact, all the water in the building, from the sinks to the showers backstage, goes through a Green water system, in which it is treated and used again.

Also green — not Green, but green — is the wall behind the main bar. "Bright English green," actually, according to stories in 1918 covering the opening of the theatre. "That was the color of the original lounge," said Campbell. "We had to do some research to find out what exactly Bright English Green might look like back then!"