On Sept. 1, the chandeliers and lights inside the old Embassy movie theatre at 1560 Broadway (actually Seventh Avenue, between 46th and 47th Streets) glowed again, as the building began its new life as the Times Square Visitors Center. The previous Center, on 42nd Street, was housed in a building that collapsed Dec. 30, 1997.
Members of the press were allowed to preview the new Center Sept. 1, though the venue will officially open to the public Sept. 2.
The Times Square Business Improvement District expects the 5,000 sq. ft. center will draw 20 million people annually. The Embassy was built in 1925 by MGM as a luxury movie palace and was the first theatre in America to convert to an exclusive screening of newsreels. The building was landmarked in 1987.
Designed to comply with the venue's landmark status, the building's renovations were designed by architect Ronnette Riley and made by F. J. Sciame Construction Company, at a cost of $1.1 million. Walking past the blonde wood paneling of the lobby, one enters what was the auditorium, which now holds the center's many services. The walls are decorated by floral reliefs, ornate column sconces and two restored murals by Arthur Crisp. (Two more are to be restored.)
At the center is a circular booth manned by the Times Square BID. Surrounding it are a newsstand, a booth for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, a full-price ticketing center run by the League of American Theatres and Producers, four Fleet Bank ATM machines, a sightseeing information desk, a bank of brochures, several computers provided by Yahoo, offering free access to the internet; and an unmanned display by Panasonic sporting a video about the history of Times Square hosted by Dick Clark and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Most of the 598 chairs were removed and donated to Brooklyn churches, but a few remain for tourists' comfort. The seats face what was once the movie screen but is now a mural titled Curtain Call, by artist Jessica Daryl Winer. The colorful work depicts 200 famous artists from Broadway history. At center, Leonard Bernstein hands roses to Ethel Merman in her Mama Rose costume. Merman stands next to Katherine Cornell in Candida on one side and Helen Hayes in Happy Birthday on the other. Famous performances range in time from Maude Adams' Peter Pan from early in the century to Gregory Hines' most recent Jelly Roll Morton in Jelly's Last Jam. Famous composers sit in the orchestra pit, while directors and producers can be found in the box seats.
Winer, who researched the work with her sister, said the 200 artists were whittled down by her and the BID from an original list of 500.
The center will be open to the public beginning Sept. 2.