Ed Sullivan Theater
Ed Sullivan Theater
The Ed Sullivan Theater is home to
the Late Show with David Letterman
Manhattan, New York
|Architect||Herbert J. Krapp|
|Governing body||CBS Corporation|
|NRHP Reference #||97001303|
|Added to NRHP||November 17, 1997|
The Ed Sullivan Theater, located at 1697–1699 Broadway between West 53rd and West 54th, in the Theater District in Manhattan, is a venerable radio and television studio in New York City. The 1200-seat theater — of which 461 seats are used for TV audiences — has been used as a venue for live and taped CBS broadcasts since 1936.
It is best known as the longtime home of The Ed Sullivan Show and the site of the first U.S. Beatles performance. Since 1993, it has been the home of the Late Show with David Letterman and is on the list of National Register of Historic Places. The interior has been designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
First 66 years
The 13-story, brown brick and terra cotta office building with a ground-floor theater was designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp. It was built by Arthur Hammerstein between 1925 and 1927, and was named Hammerstein's Theater after his father, Oscar Hammerstein I. The original neo-Gothic interior contained pointed-arch stained-glass windows with scenes from the elder Hammerstein's operas; during a 1993 renovation, these windows were removed and stored by CBS in an arrangement with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Its first production was the three-hour musical Golden Dawn, the second male lead of which was Cary Grant, then still using his birth name, Archie Leach. Arthur Hammerstein went bankrupt in 1931, and lost ownership of the building.
It later went by the name Manhattan Theater, Billy Rose's Music Hall, and the Manhattan once again. In the 1930s, it became a nightclub. After CBS obtained a long-term lease on the property, the radio network began broadcasting from there in 1936, moving in broadcast facilities it had leased at NBC Studios in Radio City. Architect William Lescaze renovated the interior, keeping nearly all of the Krapp design but covering many walls with smooth white panels, his work earning praise from the magazine Architectural Forum. The debut broadcast was the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. The theater had various names during the network's tenancy, including Radio Theater #3 and the CBS Radio Playhouse. It was converted for television in 1950, when it became CBS-TV Studio 50. In the early and mid-Fifties, the theater played host to many of the live telecasts of The Jackie Gleason Show.
Newspaper columnist and impresario Ed Sullivan, who had started hosting his variety show Toast of the Town, soon renamed The Ed Sullivan Show, from the Maxine Elliott Theatre (CBS Studio 51) on West 39th Street in 1948, moved to Studio 50 a few years later. The theater was renamed for Sullivan at the beginning of the 1967–68 season, though it is still TV Studio 50 in CBS' numerical list of New York television facilities.
In the 1960s, Studio 50 was one of CBS' busiest stages not only for Sullivan's program but also for The Merv Griffin Show, as well as several game shows. In 1965, Studio 50 was converted to color, and the first color episode of The Ed Sullivan Show originated from the theater on October 31, 1965. (The program originated from CBS Television City in color for the previous six weeks while the color equipment was installed. One earlier color episode of the program originated from Studio 72 at Broadway and 81st on August 22, 1954.) What's My Line?, To Tell the Truth and Password also called the studio home after CBS began broadcasting regularly in color; previously, they had been taped around the corner at CBS-TV Studio 52, which later became the disco Studio 54. The first episode of regular color telecasts of What's My Line? was broadcast live on September 11, 1966. Line and Truth remained at Studio 50 even after they moved from CBS to first-run syndication in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The programs eventually moved to NBC's Radio City Studios at Rockefeller Center.
The Ed Sullivan Theater was also the first home for The $10,000 Pyramid, with its huge end-game board set at the rear of the stage, in 1973. Other short-lived game shows produced at the Ed included Musical Chairs with singer Adam Wade (1975), Shoot For The Stars with Geoff Edwards (1977) (which was an NBC show), and Pass the Buck with Bill Cullen (1978).
The CBS lease on the building expired in 1981 and, now a Reeves Entertainment teletape facility, it hosted the sitcom Kate & Allie, which ran from 1984 to 1989 (as it happened, on CBS). In 1990 David Niles/1125 Productions signed onto the lease, with the theater to house his HDTV studio and new Broadway show Dreamtime. On October 17, 1992 an NBC special celebrating Phil Donahue's 25 years on television taped in the theater. In February 1993, during Dreamtime's successful run, CBS bought the building from Winthrop Financial Associates of Boston. Niles was given four weeks to vacate. Due to the economics of moving the show and the lack of a comparable available Broadway theater, Dreamtime closed. The quick sale and vacancy of the building earned the realtor the Henry Hart Rice Achievement Award for the Most Ingenious Deal of the Year for 1993.
When David Letterman switched networks from NBC to CBS, CBS bought the theater in February 1993 for $4.5 million from Winthrop Financial Associates of Boston. The theater was reconfigured into a 461-seat studio, with lighting and sound adjustments. The architectural firm that did the work, Polshek Partnership, notes on its web site that "to preserve the architectural integrity of the landmark, all interventions are reversible."
Near the beginning of the first Letterman show in the fall of 1993, a quick reference was made to Sullivan's legacy, by splicing together several short clips of Sullivan introducing various acts, including, presumably, the singing group The Lettermen. This resulted in a fake clip of Sullivan saying, "And now, here on our stage... David... Letterman!" Letterman also joked that his crew opened an old closet in the theater which contained a 45-year old woman screaming, "Ringo!"
The Ed Sullivan Theater also serves as the home of the Survivor reunion at the conclusion of each even numbered season beginning with season six (The Amazon). The theater also hosted marquee-top concerts by a few artists, including Phish in 2004, and Sir Paul McCartney in 2009. On July 15, 2002, Dave Matthews Band performed on the roof of the building, the day before the release of their latest album Busted Stuff. On June 22, 2010, the theater's roof was used once again, serving as the site of a concert featuring Eminem and Jay-Z. The theater also served as an emergency back-up stage for The Rosie O'Donnell Show for a week of shows in October 1996 when a handful of Studios at NBC's 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters experienced complications from an electrical fire.
- White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot; AIA Guide to New York City, 4th Edition; New York Chapter, American Institute of Architects; Crown Publishers/Random House. 2000. ISBN 0-8129-3106-8; ISBN 0-8129-3107-6. p.266.
- The History of the Ed Sullivan Theater at EdSullivan.com
- Gray, Christopher. "Streetscapes | Ed Sullivan Theater: If the Soundproofed Walls Could Talk", The New York Times, December 23, 2009
- Ross Reports
- McFadden, Robert D. "A Building With a History, From Bootleggers to Beatles" The New York Times, February 22, 1993]
- TV.com listing for September 19, 1965 episode of the Ed Sullivan Show.
- Carter, Bill. "CBS Buys a Theater To Keep Letterman On New York's Stage", The New York Times, February 22, 1993]
- "Ed Sullivan Theater Is Deal of the Year", Real Estate Weekly, April 20, 1994
- Gerard, Eric R. "Deal-of-the-year: how it got done", Real Estate Weekly, May 11, 1994. Opening of article, via encyclopedia.com
- Polshek Partnership (WebCitation archive; original page dead)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ed Sullivan Theater.|
- Ed Sullivan Theater at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ed Sullivan Theater at edsullivan.com
- Ed Sullivan Theater at nyc.com
- Ed Sullivan Theater at newyorkcitytheatre.com