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Architectural Historian, Columbia University
Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
Director / Choreographer
The Brooks Atkinson, built in 1926 and originally called the Mansfield Theatre, was named after the celebrated actor Richard Mansfield who died at the height of his career.
Irwin Chanin, the theater’s owner, named it for Mansfield after hearing him speak while at college at Cooper Union. More elaborate than many of the theaters designed by Krapp, this one was done in a modern Spanish style with twisted columns on the facade and an ornate interior designed by Roman Melzer that contains elaborate murals. In 1930, The Green Pastures, a controversial play about the bible with an all-black cast, opened at the theater and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. During the 1950s, the theater became a television studio and when it reopened in 1960 as a legitimate theater, it was renamed the Brooks Atkinson after the New York Times theater critic, the first theater to be named after a critic. In 1961, Neil Simon premiered his first play, Come Blow Your Horn. Since then, the Brooks has been home to many Tony Award–winning plays including Noises Off and Death of the Maiden.
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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