Panel taps theater 'star' National design firm could preside over Hippodrome rebirth

August 18, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

One of the nation's leaders in theater restoration has been recommended to head the design team that will help bring Baltimore's historic Hippodrome Theater back to life.

Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, the New York-based design firm that transformed the New Amsterdam Theatre in Times Square for Walt Disney Co. and is working to restore Radio City Music Hall, is the first choice of a panel that met recently to choose an architect to guide restoration of the old vaudeville house at 12 N. Eutaw St.

The Maryland Stadium Authority is coordinating the $35 million project, which is seen as a key to revitalizing downtown Baltimore's west side. If state officials can agree with the design team on fees, contracts will be presented to the stadium authority for its approval, and work will begin this summer.

Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the stadium authority and member of the six-member selection panel, said the group was "extremely impressed" by architect Hugh Hardy, who has helped design or restore dozens of theaters and other arts centers around the country.

"Everybody felt comfortable that he would do the best job for us," Hoffman said. "His dossier is unbelievable."

Hardy was not available for comment. Stewart Jones, director of the performing arts group at Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, said the Hippodrome is the type of commission his firm likes to take on.

"We cherish coming in and working in redevelopment projects such as this -- planting the seeds that can turn an area around," he said."We've done it in other cities. It's very rewarding for us."

Jones said he and his associates will study previous plans for the theater and the surrounding area, including a recently released master plan for the west side of downtown. But they'll also look at the theater "with a fresh eye," he said.

Hardy's was one of 13 design firms that responded to the stadium authority's request this summer for a list of their qualifications.

With offices in New York and Los Angeles, it's one of the country's few architectural firms with a full-time "Performing Arts Group" that works on theater projects, in the same way that other architecture firms have departments that specialize in shopping center or hotel design.

Born in 1932 in Mallorca, Spain, Hardy studied architecture at Princeton University, where he won the D'Amato Prize. One of his first theater projects was the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Theater, on which he worked from 1958 to 1962 while an associate of designers Eero Saarinen and Jo Mielziner. He founded Hugh Hardy & Associates in 1962 and joined with partners Malcolm Holzman and Norman Pfieffer to form Hardy Holzman Pfieffer in 1967.

Besides its award-winning work on the New Amsterdam, which Disney reopened last year as home for its stage production of "The Lion King," Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer has been responsible for the Ohio Theater and Galbreath Pavilion in Columbus, Ohio; the New Victory Theater in New York; Hult Center for Performing Arts in Eugene, Ore.; and Hawaii Theatre Center in Honolulu.

Its other major restoration projects include Los Angeles Central Library, Cleveland Public Library, the revitalization of Bryant Park and the Rainbow Room in New York, and renovation of the Willard Hotel in Washington.

It is working with architect David Rockwell on restoration plans for Radio City Music Hall.

Planners note many similarities between New York's effort to revive Times Square and Baltimore's efforts to revive its downtown.

For example, the New Amsterdam is an anchor for the revitalization of 42nd Street, just as the Hippodrome is seen as anchor for the revitalization of the area between Charles Center and the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus.

The New Amsterdam cost $34 million to restore, about the same amount tentatively budgeted for the Hippodrome.

The 2,250-seat Hippodrome Theater was designed by Scottish architect Thomas Lamb, who specialized in gilded entertainment palaces. Built in 1914 by Pearce and Scheck, a company that put together vaudeville bills and toured them, it's one of the last grand theaters in downtown Baltimore from the vaudeville era.

The idea for restoring the Hippodrome came from the Greater Baltimore Committee, an organization of business leaders, and the Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit group that works to improve the city's business climate. They have proposed that it be renovated to replace the aging Mechanic Theatre in Charles Center as a lead venue for the performing arts in Baltimore.

Last spring, Maryland's General Assembly allocated $1.7 million in state funds to begin planning the project.

Construction funds would come later from city, state and private sources, including Theatre Management Group of Houston, which wants to run the theater.

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