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Architectural Historian, Columbia University
Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
The Ethel Barrymore was the last great Broadway house commissioned by the Shuberts.
It was also the last theater designed by Herbert J. Krapp and built before the stock market crash. When Ethel Barrymore, of the acting royalty Barrymore family and the “it” girl of her generation, came under Shubert management, Lee Shubert offered to build a theater and name it in her honor if she agreed to star in The Kingdom of God. The theater is Krapp’s most unusual design and also one of his more ornate. It features a unique facade with an enormous terra-cotta grillwork screen, reminiscent of ancient Roman windows. The lower portion of the facade is filled with French-inspired Beaux-Arts ornamentation. Over the years, the Barrymore has housed many important productions including Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, in 1947.
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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