Named after the man who changed American show business forever, The Ziegfeld Theater is expected to change a second time from a movie guru’s oasis to a ballroom for businesses and parties. In Ziegfeld and His Follies, authors Cynthia and Sara Brideson take you into the legacy of one of the most visionary and innovative producers, Florenz Ziegfeld. While he left behind the jaw-dropping Ziegfeld’s Follies shows to leave a mark on Broadway history, he also left The Ziegfeld Theater. It is important to remember values and origins in an ever changing world. Let us remember inside the pearly gates of Manhattan’s largest movie theater and inside the vision Ziegfeld had of an entertainer’s wonderland.
Ziegfeld teamed up with his saving grace, William Randolph Hearst, who granted him a lease on what was once the Cosmopolitan theatre. Hearst also turned over complete control of what the inside would look like to Mr. Ziegfeld, whose creative mind laid eyes on a blank canvas. The Bridesons describe the majesty of Ziegfeld’s theater:
“He personally supervised its design and construction, employing Joseph Urban for most of the work. Historian Gerald Bordman called the end product “a masterpiece of art deco.” Hundreds of hidden bulbs lit up the curved front of the theater, giving it a celestial glow that complemented the moonlight over Broadway. Its oval-shaped interior resembled an ornately decorated Easter egg. A writer for The New York Times provided a thorough description of the $2.5 million theater: Upon entering a “hall of gold,” one was overwhelmed by the interior’s shimmering curtains, proscenium, carpets, chairs, and lights—a “setting of ineffable luxury.” Murals set in gold ornamented the walls and were “delicately blended with the pastel shades of blue and green.” At first glance, they looked “like a cubist version of anything at all,” but eventually they came into focus as “quaint, lovely figures” from myth and fairy tale.” – Ziegfeld and His Follies
The eye-opening décor weaved its way up to the second story of the building. Upstairs, audiences walked through the entrance of a terrace where they could mingle and enjoy the summer breeze. Everywhere viewers turned, from the lobby to the bathrooms, they were greeted with spacious dimensions that even wowed New York itself. According to Ziegfeld and His Follies, Ziegfeld stared at his work of art in pure contentment, “He then took a seat in the second row and swung his legs over the back of the seat in front of him with a beatific smile on his face,” said Gretel Urban, daughter of the theater’s architect, Joseph Urban.
The Ziegfeld Theater was truly a marvel to see when it first came to life. However, nestled deep in “the city that never sleeps,” entertainment changes constantly, and so did the theater. The glowing space only lasted a few years before the stock-market crash. The building was then turned over into a movie theater. As American’s film viewing preferences migrate to their homes, the infamous theater’s current leaseholder’s announced Wednesday it would be closing in order to be used instead as a ballroom. The space will now be used to host product launches and parties according to Vulture. Although the physical look of Ziegfeld’s masterpiece seems to fall into the mists of transformation, the name should always serve as a reminder of what once was. Passersby and guests should never forget the lights, the shows, the talent, and the legacy of The Ziegfeld Theater.