Untold Story of How New York’s Beacon Theater was Saved

New York, N.Y. I think I am a really lucky person. If one wants to do something, no matter how hard, one “surely” can. Things will always move eventually towards a possible direction.

Of course, I have experienced a lot of serious challenges in my long life, but ultimately I have always triumphed. I have many amusing stories about getting through a crisis. One of my favorites involves New York’s famous Beacon Theater.

beacon-theatreThe Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

At some point in the 1970’s, I was asked to produce the New York presentation of the Alwin Nikolais Dance Company. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I could not locate an adequate venue. As I kept searching, I heard someone mention, “The Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side is grand – but filthy.”

I soon went to see it for myself. I had promised to stage the performance in October and it was already June, so I had to decide quickly. I paid a $10,000 deposit and then left to Japan on a business trip from July to August.

Venue (1) The stage of New York’s world renowned Beacon Theater.

When I came back in September and went to the front of the theater, there was a large sign on the door that read, “Closed.” I could not understand what was going on so I walked next door to the Beacon Hotel to find out. I was told the theater owner had disappeared, owing back rent to the hotel.

The people I had believed were the owners were actually not. They were the sub-leasers. The person I had paid the deposit to had taken my money and other funds and run away!

CLOSED SIGN

I discovered the real owner’s named was Henry Moskovitz. I went to see him and noted his building was really tattered. I learned they were planning to begin demolishing the theater the following week. At that time, I had still understood the hotel owned the Beacon Theater. 

At that time, the first floor was to be a supermarket and the second and third floors were to be used for other purposes. I was devastated. This theater was certainly getting older, but that was no reason to crush it!

I could not give it up, I went to see the owner again the next day. So, I sais, “I will sign a contract for ten years, okay? Don;t destroy it!” I signed right then and there a ten year letter of agreement for $15,000 a month. That’s it, just as negotiations for Kabuki came into my office. Ennosuke want to come and perform in New York in September.

At that time, Leonard Bernstein — the composer of ‘West Side Story’ — frequently visited me in my apartment. He would play our piano, eat bagels, and tell stories. One day he came to play and asked, “The Beacon needs to be saved somehow, but how? What shall we do?”

3712889868_fc8437878d_oPrincess Grace of Monaco was a generous patron of the arts.

He replied, “I will call Grace!” (Grace Kelly of Princess Monaco). I thought about all of the friends he had made over the years. “If he has friends like Grace,” I thought, “Lenny can chair a foundation to save the Theater.” He agreed and off we went…

The Princess agreed to attend the Theater’s reopening event. Elizabeth Taylor and other very famous and influential people gave $1,000 each and soon we reached our goal of $2 million dollars.

(Next January 13 issue posted)

The Beacon Theater today seats an audience of 2,900. Built in 1929, is was used in a wide range of applications, from movie screenings to performances such as concerts and theaters. In 1977, when the owner decided to demolish the theater  Dr. Tatsumura intervened and became a leading contributor to the theater. In 1976 she received designation from the Landmarks Preservation Committee of New York City for her efforts. The theater today is managed by Madison Square Garden Company, and in 2009 a second large renovation work occured.

Originally published as Vol. 8 in Weekly Biz, December 16, 2017; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz

(ニューヨークビズ!)

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