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2016 Village Award Winner: Jaffe Art Theater Interior Restoration

Off the Grid is highlighting the 2016 Village Awards winners in the lead up to the June 14th Annual Meeting & Award Ceremony. Click here for more information about the event and to RSVP. Read about other awardees here. Today we look at an amazing interior renovation of a beautiful East Village Theater that is one of the City’s few interior AND exterior landmarks.

Exterior of the Landmarked Jaffe Art Theater

In the first few decades of the Twentieth Century, a stretch of Second Avenue in the East Village (which was then still known as the Lower East Side), was referred to as the Jewish Rialto because of the many thriving Yiddish language theaters. In 1925 the developer Louis N. Jaffe decided to build a theater to be devoted to the work of Maurice Schwartz, a Yiddish speaking actor of such renown that he was often referred to simply as “Mr. Second Avenue”. Jaffe hired the theater architect Harrison Wiseman to create the stunning neo-Moorish Jaffe Art Theater at 189 Second Avenue.

The theater was listed on both the National and New York State Registers of Historic Places in 1985 as the “Yiddish Art Theatre.” The façade is a mix of multicolored brick and fancifully ornamented cream-colored pigmented cast stone. The interior is a confection of ornament executed entirely in plaster. After decades of use as a Yiddish and later Off-Broadway theater, the building was converted into a cinema in 1991. The building is remarkably intact, retaining its landmarked lobby and domed auditorium as well as Mr. Schwartz’s impresario’s apartment.

The interior of the theater, post-restoration

Some years ago it became clear that the ornate plaster ceiling of the interior landmark auditorium was deteriorating and the owners undertook an extensive restoration. A scaffolding system and netting allowed the team to safely and carefully work overhead. Above the ceiling, the plaster panels are suspended by wires or thin cables to structure that needed to be reinforced for both safety reasons, as well as to ensure the integrity and longevity of the ceiling itself. The architects researched possible solutions and specified a liquid polymer product containing shredded fiberglass that was applied to the cables, thickening them so that when dry, their structural capacity was strengthened. Much of the ceiling retained its original paint, facilitating the restoration.

Please join us on June 14th to honor the owners of the property, Reading International, and CTA Architects for undertaking such a meticulous restoration.

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