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1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 179 (157)

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition
1945 Theatre Catalog
1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 179
Page 179

1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 179

Hints on Remodeling Obsolete Auditoriums

Progressive Managements, Free Architects Will Create a New Era in Theatre Design

The majority of theatres in operation, and in particular motion-picture theatres, are obsolete. This cannot be blamed as a failure on the part of the architects who planned them; it is, rather, a natural phenomenon, with all other commodities as well, whether their requirements have changed or not. They change their appearance with time, either in a steady evolution or in abrupt revolutionary steps, whenever basically new requirements arise.

The obsolescence of theatres is a special case in many ways. Coinciding circumstances have brought things to an almost anachronistic condition. A comparison with other developments in means of transportation '(railroad, automobile, ships), in engineering structures (bridges, fortifications) proves that a new type will invariably evolve out of new requirements, new materials, new technologies. For some time the old type may yet overlap into the new era, in a so-called "horseless carriage" stage, until the new type can freely develop according to its new function. Naturally, accommodations which are prejudiced by an old tradition will be slower in achieving their new type than those unprecedented and free of traditional associations (for example, the airplane).


Despite the changes in operation, theatres have retained the old type of structure, decoration, and altogether atmosphere-and for various reasons.

First, theatres, like all building structures, are not easily replaced, because of the high investment and the time im volved in construction, together with the financial loss by disruption of operation. Therefore, improvements have to be made by minor remodelings and adaptation, rather than by more radical means of reconstruction.

Second, the old tradition of theatrical festivity has not been abolished. Although the social implications have changed, the foyers and auditoriums keep up the illusion of a place for society and an atmosphere of dressedup formality. There is some point in retaining such luxurious atmosphere, because of its fiattering effect, even in present time, on the primitive mind of many customers.

Third: the gradual change from stage performance to mixed performances on stage and on screen has combined two very different functions of operation. Consequently, one of them-in this case the screen operation-has not received full recognition as to its requirements. Vaudeville acts, still included in the program of many theatres, make still more complex the final conversion into motion picture auditoriums.



Assistant Prolessor 0/ Applied Arts, University of Pittsburgh, and Assistant Professor of Architecture, Carnegie Instilute 0/ Technology

Fourth: A specific phenomenon in American architecture during the first decades of this century was lack of progressiveness. Classical academism, following the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was so strong that the "modern movement" had little influence on the general trend. In comparison, other countries show many progressive developments in theatre design. America has little or nothing to put up against them. Its theatres adhered persistently to the hollow academism, sometimes in a rather odd mixture of period styles. All efforts Were concentrated on the lavish use of architectural motifs, which, in many cases, had to be distorted in an unorthodox way for the concealment of advanced steel construction. Sometimes one wonders how it could happen that, some 20 years ago, or even leSS than that, architects were still in this [fVictorianly state of mind and had not learned the lessons of function and its expression from contemporary industrial design. This backwardness can be explained only by the persistence of theatrical tradition in displaying palace-like splendor, for which there was only one traditional expression: columnar architecture. Mod ern functionalism seemed to be too dry and utilitarian for such purposes.

Fifth: Wartime restrictions have, for several years, all but stopped the natural forward development; the more conspicuous is the anachronism of false marble columns, gilded cartouches, heavy stucco garlands, and red velvet hangings, in a time when unprecedented achievements of science make us feel that a new age is knocking at the door. Such inconsistency in cultural concerns cannot stay forever. Yet they have a tendency to drag on. The nostalgic preference for the good old times plays many tricks on public opinion. The wish to safeguard some of the charm of old times may be the reaction against too speedy a progress and the sacrifices necessarily involved.

All these factors have to be considered. In addition to them, the operation of motion-picture theatres has commercialized the ambitions of managements. The theatre operator is no more a iiproducer," but merely a "distributor"-and, in the manner of a distributor, he does his thinking and arguing when the question of modernizing the theatre comes up, "No reason for such expenses, as long as the volume of business is not endangered."

The following example may illustrate such a policy: When a new theatre is planned, the architect will conscientiously try to provide a satisfactory angle of vision for all seats; to do this he may have to sacrifice certain spaces,

A BALCONY FOYER is seen here, revealing the well hole opening into the rear of the orchestra. In a modernizing of this theatre, the closing of this well hole would be one of the first things that the architect would indicate. Many of the theatres built shortly after World War 1 utilized this type of construction, which seems now to be entirely without any iustification, and no one is too sure what the original reason was, onywayl

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1945 Theatre Catalog, 4th Edition, Page 179