A New Stage for Old Theaters
Alex Trautwig for The New York Times
The Westbury Theater, which started out as a vaudeville house, is to become a performing arts center.
By MARCELLE S. FISCHLER, New York Times. 7/24/11
BEFORE Cyrus Hakakian acquired the Westbury Theater at a bankruptcy auction seven years ago, he never expected to end up in the entertainment business as well as being a landlord. A garment industry entrepreneur, he owns Cyrus Knits, a manufacturer of women’s knit blouses.
Hoffman Grayson Architects LLP
A rendering of The Westbury Theater.
But on the side, Mr. Hakakian and his three brothers dabble in real estate, buying “run-down locations and sprucing them up before putting them back on the market,” as he put it.
When, with only a flashlight on a rainy day, he saw the interior of the 1927 theater on Post Avenue, he jumped at the opportunity, buying it for $1.675 million. “I fell in love with it,” he said, showing a visitor the bare proscenium in the 30,000-square-foot complex. “It’s so glamorous. It’s so beautiful.”
Now he is in the middle of an $8 million theater renovation and expansion on track for a March opening. Built as a vaudeville house, later becoming a single-, then a double-screen movie theater, it is to be reborn as a performing arts center — the last piece and the anchor of the village’s downtown revitalization, which also includes renovated storefronts with quaint signage, a paved piazza with a fountain and waterfall, and antique-style streetlights.
The revamped theater complex will also house an 80-seat restaurant, an ice cream parlor and four work-and-live loft-style apartments designed with artists, dancers and musicians in mind. In place of its old Tudor-style exterior will be a stone and stucco “contemporary twist on Art Deco style” with decorative mosaics, a tower and a seamed metal roof, said Michael Vandrie, project manager for Hoffman Grayson Architects, the designers. About 4,500 square feet added to the side of the building will serve as kitchen spaces for a dinner theater and a restaurant.
Accessible via a separate side entrance, each of the three second-floor apartments will have about 1,000 square feet of space, Mr. Hakakian said. The fourth unit, on the third floor in the building’s front gable, will have 1,200 square feet of space, a large half-circle window, and three dormers.
William Mello, the village’s senior building inspector, described the rental apartments as “a nice component to have.” Part of the original building, they are being incorporated because of the village’s interest in drawing young adults to a livelier, more walkable and workable downtown.
Over the past eight years, 792 units have gone up within three blocks of the Long Island Rail Road station. There are 408 condominiums, 98 co-ops, 146 rentals and 140 assisted-living units, according to Peter I. Cavallaro, the Westbury village mayor. Sixteen additional rentals are to be completed in the next 60 days, said Mr. Mello, adding that the new rental units will be above retail space.
The Westbury Theater is the latest in a series of defunct theaters in village centers across Long Island to be reborn as performing arts centers. In Huntington, the Paramount Theater, a $5 million private venture by four town residents, will transform the Intermedia Art Center, which closed its doors two years ago. Peter Sloggatt, a member of the town’s theater advisory task force, said the 29,000-square-foot Paramount would open by October, as “mainly a concert venue,” but would also have live comedy and other performances. The Pixies, an ’80s indie band, are selling tickets online to a Nov. 5 show there. The first two dozen acts at the refurbished theater will be announced on Aug. 1.
Built circa 1925 as a vaudeville house, the Paramount became a movie theater, then the Intermedia, known as the IMAC, which used only the balcony. Now the floor has been raised, as part of a plan to accommodate more than 1,500 concertgoers, nearly twice as many as in its previous incarnation. There is standing room on the floor, as well as the rear balcony, and two side balconies with tiered seating.
The IMAC “brought a steady stream” of up to 3,000 visitors to the village on weekends, an audience the town didn’t want to lose, Mr. Sloggatt said, describing a “demographic reality” of young adults who grew up close enough to Manhattan to develop a taste for the “urban lifestyle.” In Huntington, zoning codes were changed to allow rental apartments over shops.
“Municipalities are trying to create opportunities in the downtown” to attract and keep these residents, Mr. Sloggatt said.
On the South Shore, the $7 million revival in 1999 of the Patchogue theater, originally a vaudeville house, was meant to give the village a new identity. It led to the opening this year of Artspace, an $18 million affordable work-live development by a national nonprofit real estate developer for the arts. It has 45 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom rental lofts for artists. To connect the theater to living spaces, the village donated two underused municipal parking lots and a blighted house.
In Westbury, Mr. Hakakian plans to “combine the old world of live entertainment and live shows with new technologies,” by channeling in operas, sports events and concerts as they happen elsewhere. On the schedule will be comedy shows, cabaret nights and Broadway-style shows. A separate screen can turn the 300-seat balcony into its own cinema.
Parking, long scarce, will be available nearby, at municipal lots and on the street.
As for the residential tenants, Mr. Hakakian said, there will be an extra perk for living in the theater complex: admission to the shows will be included in the rent. “No rent, no tickets,” he added with a chuckle.