Literal “Rolling Stones” on Broadway

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  • Eli Azizollahoff

Everyone knows Broadway is home to the world's "movers and shakers," but that truism applies to the physical theaters as well. Yes, historically theaters (as well as churches, lighthouses, etc.) have been physically rolled to make room for growing metropolises or the safety of the building or the nearby inhabitants.

Being able to keep a classic theater alive and intact in this manner shows the significance of theatre in this quickly evolving society that often put more value on new tech than on the classic arts.

The Empire Theater on 42nd Street, the most notable of these moves in recent history, now functions as an AMC movie theater a mere 170ft from where it once stood as a Broadway performance theater.

"The building does not know it is being moved," Anthony J. Mazzo, a senior vice president at Urban Foundation/Engineering, the company that did the moving of the theater, said to the New York Times in 1998 at the time of the move.

Relying on the adage that "slow and steady wins the race," it took about five hours for them to move the theater the 56.5 yards down the street, moving about five feet every five minutes and then resetting the jacks the get ready for the next push. This was due to prioritizing the structural safety of the 7.4-million-pound theater, as well the wellbeing of the surrounding individuals, throughout the move.

The way this system works took careful planning to unsure the structural security of the building of the theater during the process. First, they needed to place piles into the street so that the weight of the building would be supported on the bedrock that supports the city's Skyscrapers rather than the vacuous holes where the basements of the residential buildings that once filled the are left behind.

Once the ground was secure, they laid down tracks, and, in essence, built "a temporary steel bridge founded on rock to support the building during its transfer," Mazzo continued. Using hydraulic jacks mounted on to the tracks and after taking care to brace the theater with solid supports to maintain the structure of the building and make sure it would not "twist or become deformed," as the New York Times article specified, the theater was lifted an eighth of an inch onto the steel rollers and gradually moved. You can see it all in this time-lapse clip (please note the balloons of Abbott and Castello pulling the building because the famous duo was known for performing there).

The significance of this physical moving of a building is tied to the very heart of what makes Broadway Theatre special, specifically due to its location. Time Square is continually evolving, trying to stay on top of the newest trends and technology and often feels likes it pandering the base desires of humanity, as I mentioned in my previous article. The significance of moving a theater in order to keep it intact and have the metropolis of New York grow around and through the physical building of this theater is representative of the desire and value that is still given to classic arts and architecture.

Not to say the theatre community resists these evolutions, but rather, a common theme in Broadway is to incorporate the newest and shiniest with class, intellect, and true pathos. By homage to this, even amidst the constant growth and change of New York City is a testament to the power, significance, and pathos of live theatre.

In order to make the pun I would like to conclude with, I need to give a quick grammar lesson; "theater" is the physical building with the stage and curtain, "theatre" is also the building – but only if your British – but is also the concept of the world of "theatre," even if you're in the U.S.

My concluding pun: Shows are fleeting but theaters, and theatre, are eternal.