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Radio City’s radical redo

Cablevision funds $70 mil overhaul of hall

NEW YORK – Radio City Music Hall went ahead and beat everyone to the millenium.

It took seven months and $70 million, but on Oct. 4, New York’s 67-year-old landmark palace of entertainment showed its refurbished face to the nation with the flourish of a grande dame who knows she’s got what it takes to make it through another century.

The massive reclamation project, funded by parent company Cablevision, was an inside-and-outside job that covered every detail from the sconces in the ladies’ room to the six miles of red-and-blue neon piping lighting up the marquee.

The refurbishments most likely to catch the public eye are the big ones: the restoration of the 3-story Ezra Winter “Fountain of Youth” mural in the Grand Foyer; the recreation of the 3,000-pound gold stage curtain; the refitting of the 4,178 gleaming pipes of the mighty Wurlitzer organ; the restoration of the majestic gold-leafed ceiling of the auditorium; and the re-upholstering of all 5,901 seats in the vast hall.

“John D. Rockefeller was building a monument to the myth of the American capitalistic system in its most trying time, the Great Depression,” says Hugh Hardy, the architect who oversaw the restoration for Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates. So, it seemed only fitting to go for broke on this renewal of “the Showplace of the Nation,” which stunned the economically strapped patrons of the era with the luxury of its Art Deco splendors when it opened on Dec. 27, 1932.

Carpeting, wall coverings, light fixtures, furnishings, decorative details — all has been faithfully refabricated, not merely to restore the original patterns and design, but to recapture the feeling of into-the-future modernism the palatial hall symbolized. In some instances, muses Hardy, “lighting and color intensities must be enhanced to create the excitement once inspired by this majestic place.”

Just the same, anyone toying with the idea of booking the hall might be more interested in the less showy, back-of-the-house renovations that were included in the $70 million overhaul. Although some original stage machinery and technical systems will remain in use, they have been supplemented by new production lighting, sound systems and rigging. This upgrading of the hall’s mechanical infrastructure extends, for example, to a new power room that allows for a cable wiring system and sound-control equipment for TV broadcasts. The elaborate, 3-elevator hydraulic stage system (built to designs used by U.S. Navy aircraft-carrier designers during World War II) has been upgraded. The vacuum-tube dimming system, in use for the past 67 years, has been bumped up to a computer-controlled process, and a new computerized sound console and advanced under-balcony speakers have replaced the old systems.

As for live camera feeds, the hall is now capable (via the Cablevision ION ring) of video broadcasting using higher speed broadband connectivity. Plumbing, cooling, electrical, ventilation, and fire protection systems have also undergone an overhaul — so the only thing left to do for this party is to book the band.

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