Gary Martinez of Martinez + Johnson Architecture on Historic Theatre Restoration
From the Preservation Nation Blog: In the upcoming Summer 2015 issue of Preservation, we take a peek behind the curtain at the newly renovated Kings Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Seized during the 1970s in lieu of back taxes, the historic venue idled vacant until the New York City Economic Development Corporation issued a Request for Proposals to restore it in 2008.
A consortium of groups participated in the project, spearheaded by ACE Theatrical Group and Martinez+Johnson Architecture. Here are some excerpts from the national Trusts' wide-ranging conversation with Gary Martinez, president and principal at Martinez+Johnson and a link to the full article.
What interests you about theaters specifically?
Well, we did the Warner, and once you do one you kind of have the bug. And I really enjoyed working with David; we’ve known each other for like 30 years now and we’ve looked at literally hundreds of these buildings across the country. I’ll tell you the nature of all theaters is that communal experience that we have when we go to them, particularly theaters for live entertainment. They just gather so much meaning for the people in the communities that are around the buildings.
We do office buildings, we do residential buildings, we do a number of different things here in the city — but there’s not the permanent attachment, not the memories that are made, the people that you’ve seen. Now the historic venues, there are obviously the people that are going to become patrons, but there are also people who were patrons that are still alive, that had their first date in these theaters or met someone’s parents at the theater. So the human story about what went on behind these buildings is so incredibly powerful.
Is there a project where the human story was particularly powerful?
In 2013 we opened the Saenger Theatre down in New Orleans, and it was the first major cultural performance venue to be totally redone and reopen since Hurricane Katrina. Katrina had closed it down and it was almost lost. They found a way to put a program together with ACE, who owned the building and donated it to the city. The city helped bring money to get the project done.
On opening night the lobby was packed with people who had just been in it for the first time. There were literally people just crying in the lobby. It was so emotional for the city. It was more than just the reopening of the building, it was a statement. This building was going to drive so much traffic to this part of Canal Street that was just emerging from the effects of the storm.
Why was restoring Kings Theatre so important?
Well, it’s the City of New York, but it’s really the Borough of Brooklyn. Marty Markowitz, who was the Borough President — it had kind of been his focus and goal and political promise to get this venue reopened for the Flatbush community, for Brooklyn. It is the third largest venue in New York City, not counting stadiums and arenas and things like that. It had this amazing potential to just bring a whole new level of regeneration and renewal.
The Kings is southeast of Prospect Park, kind of right in the middle Flatbush Avenue. So this is really a new area to developers, but it’s changing regardless. There are some incredible residential neighborhoods around Flatbush; there’s a very large Haitian community, African-Americans, the original Jewish community is still there, too. So this venue is going to offer entertainment that’s not only the kind of national acts that tour — whether its music or live theater — but also local community groups that have an opportunity to participate and use it.
Read the interview with Gary Martinez on the PreservationNation Blog. http://blog.preservationnation.org/2015/06/04/qa-historic-theaters-gary-martinez-of-martinez-johnson-architecture/#.VZQdfFJGzIn
Visit Martinez + Johnson Architecture website to see their portfolio of historical theatre work. http://www.mjarchitecture.com/work/historic-preservation/
About Theatre Historical Society of America: Founded by Ben Hall in 1969, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) celebrates, documents and promotes the architectural, cultural and social relevance of America’s historic theatres. Through its preservation of the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, its signature publication Marquee™ and Conclave Theatre Tour, THS increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.
To learn more about historic theatres visit our website at www.historictheatres.org
Images courtesy of cinema treasures