The Cort Theatre, a 109-year-old New York City landmark on West 48th Street, is getting a major restoration and expansion. On Monday, March 1, the Shubert Organization (the Cort Theatre’s owner, as well as over a dozen other Broadway theaters) announced that plans to renovate the historic facade and build a 35-foot-wide expansion are finally moving ahead.
Designed by Scottish-American architect and theater wunderkind Thomas Lamb, the Cort Theatre, in operation since 1912, is a neoclassical beacon in a section of Manhattan bounded by glassy, International-style towers. Lamb’s facade for the Cort was intended to mimic the neoclassical Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles, a château built in the 1760s for French King Louis XV, while the marble-clad interior was a reference to the architecture during the reign of King Louis XVI.
The building was declared a New York City landmark in 1987, and the Shubert Organization received permission for its proposed alterations from the Landmarks Preservation Commission all the way back on November 28, 2017.
Now, four years later, the project is finally moving ahead. The Shubert Organization has acquired the neighboring property immediately west of the theater (formerly a parking garage that was razed) and has tapped Manhattan’s Kostow Greenwood Architects to design a new 20,000-square-foot annex. There’s no mistaking the new addition for the original theater, however, as the main massing of the annex will be clad in black, and a glassy central stair connecting three tiers of patron lounges will provide views of the theater’s historic facade and the street and vice versa.
According to the Shubert Organization, the modern annex will contain an elevator, new concession areas, more bathrooms, a reorganized flow path for patrons to help decongest the Cort Theatre proper, new dressing and wardrobe rooms, and more rehearsal spaces.
At the historic theater proper, Francesca Russo, Shubert’s go-to preservation architect for the last 25 years, will restore the facade, update the venue’s oft-maligned seating (though only make it more comfortable, not expand or reduce its 1,082-seat capacity), restore the original proscenium arch, improve accessibility, and modernize the stage to allow for more technically-demanding productions.
The Cort Theatre, like all of its Broadway counterparts, has been closed since March 12, 2020, after Governor Andrew Cuomo metaphorically cut the power to Broadway to stymie the spread of COVID-19. This marks the perfect time to begin the renovations, and the Shubert Organization expects the theater, and its new annex, to open sometime in 2022.