Lee Harris Pomeroy provided counsel to Actors’ Equity Association in its fight to save the historic Morosco and Helen Hayes Theaters, two of Broadway’s oldest and most prominent playhouses, threatened with demolition to make way for a new Portman Hotel. The Morosco alone had produced more Pulitzer Prize-winning plays than any theater in the nation.
Mr. Pomeroy participated in the National Register Historic Designation report and subsequently prepared an alternative design incorporating the historic theaters into the Portman Hotel design. The design retained Portman’s major amenities - an atrium, exhibition halls, restaurants, lobbies and retail shops; but by re-orienting the hotel 180 degrees, allowed incorporation of the historic theaters in the new development.
The proposal received enthusiastic, widespread support from Actor’s Equity, the Municipal Art Society of New York, the American Institute of Architects and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. A heated legal battle to save the theaters ended with a U.S. Supreme Court decision to raze both buildings to make room for the new 50-story Portman Hotel.
Following the demolition of the Helen Hayes and Portman Theatres, an organization called Save the Theatres Inc. was formed to study the future of the remaining Broadway theatres. Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects, along with such prominent New Yorkers as Joseph Papp, Woody Allen, Carole Burnett, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Alan Alda worked with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Actors’ Equity Foundation, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation, to come up with recommendations to protect the unique character of the theatre district while encouraging appropriate real estate development.
The results led the way for the designation of an historic district and landmark status for 46 remaining Broadway theatres and zoning which would include air rights transfers to encourage mixed-use development in the area. In order to promote a safe and secure environment for visitors and invigorate the vibrancy of the theatre district, the use of large brightly lit billboards applied to the facades of buildings was encouraged.
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