At 104 years old, Midtown’s Cort Theatre is both an architectural gem evocative of another time and a facility that sorely underperforms for its patrons. On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a proposal by the Shubert Organization, who owns and operates the theater, for a 25-foot annex alongside the landmarked property that will aid audience circulation, provide desperately needed ADA-compliant restrooms, and give those employed in the building more and better-functioning space behind the scenes.
The Cort Theatre was built in 1913 and designed by prolific theater architect Thomas Lamb. Today it remains the only surviving and still active theater on Broadway designed by the architect. The theater was designated as a landmark in 1987. Now, 30 years later, a 25-foot annex on its western side will finally help modernize it.
The annex will rise on the site of a parking garage that was demolished earlier this year. In addition to the construction of the annex, the commission approved work to the theater’s exterior, particularly the removal of an incongruous marquis in favor of one that more closely mirrors the building’s original marquis, as well as some work to the theater’s interior.
Some of the interior fixes will be slight, like the addition of a wall to hide the theater’s mechanicals, while others will be major, like bringing ADA-compliant restrooms to the theater for the first time. As it is now, theater patrons in need of ADA-compliant restrooms are sent to a restaurant across the street.
“These Grande Dame buildings we’re so proud of are part of our legacy,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, in her testimony endorsing the annex and renovation. “One of our missions now is to make Broadway more accessible to everyone. To make our patrons with disabilities go across the street to the restroom is not of the 21st century caliber.”
Steve DiPaola of the Actors’ Equity Association said the Cort is “beautiful, but has significant deficiencies impacting its commercial viability as a venue for the 21st century.”
The commissioners commended the Shubert Organization’s proposed restoration as sensitive, and necessary. “Thomas Lamb would be very pleased,” said Commissioner Wellington Chen.