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Architectural Historian, Columbia University
Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
The Broadhurst Theatre was one of many simply designed theaters built by the Shuberts, who wanted spaces that were functional but not spectacular or architecturally distinguished.
The Broadhurst was the first independent work designed by Herbert J. Krapp after he left the firm of well-regarded architects Herts & Tallant. Built as part of a pair of theaters with the Plymouth, the Broadhurst is the smaller of the two. At the Broadhurst, Krapp introduced a design element he used in many of his other theaters: complex brickwork. The facade’s bricks were laid in intricate patterns—a technique that added visual interest without additional cost. The exterior’s most interesting ornamental detail is an iron balcony. The interior features a proscenium arch with Doric pilasters and a central relief panel with a frieze based on the original from the Parthenon; Krapp referred to it as “the Greek theater.” It opened under the direction and management of the playwright George Howells Broadhurst. In 1921, he staged his version of Tarzan of the Apes with live lions and monkeys. The Broadhurst has since been home to Auntie Mame, Cabaret, Grease, Amadeus, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Herbert J. Krapp was the most prolific theater designer on Broadway; he was the architect for fifteen of the remaining Broadway theaters. Krapp studied at Cooper Union and started his career at Herts & Tallant, where he met the Shubert brothers.
Krapp became the Shubert brothers’ house architect and designed twelve theaters for them. He also designed six theaters for the Chanin brothers. Krapp was famous for his ability to work with low budgets and small or awkward plots of land. For example, Krapp designed a diagonal floor plan for the Ambassador Theatre to fit it into an awkward space.
He innovated the use of stadium seating, first seen in the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Krapp often used most of his budget on the interiors of his theaters. While he left the exteriors relatively bare, he used elaborate brickwork to add visual interest for a small cost. Examples of this brickwork can be seen on the exteriors of the Broadhurst and the Gerald Schoenfeld Theaters. Krapp's career as a theater designer ended with the bust of the theater boom during the Depression. He transitioned to industrial design and became a building assessor for New York City. He also continued to work with the Shuberts until 1963 as the supervisor of existing venue maintenance and renovations.
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