Sunday, May 20, 2012
New York City Center, on W. 55th Street between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, was built in 1923 as a meeting hall for the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine – commonly known as the Shriners. An appendant organization of Freemasonry, the Shriners were established in 1870 by two Masons living in Manhattan who set out to found a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth. They chose an exotic Middle Eastern theme, logo and uniform and called their meeting places mosques. There was no other interior in the city that was anything like the Shriner’s temple (a block south of Carnegie Hall), with its colorful filigree, gilding, desert murals and exotic light fixtures of Arabic design. Imagine 2,750 men inside the main hall, each wearing a wine-red fez – a cylindrical flat-topped hat with a tassel. Above their heads was an enormous terra cotta tiled dome on the roof, covered with 28,000 individual tiles (photo at end of post). The main auditorium and three Masonic lodge rooms boasted a total of four pipe organs.
The two-year project corrected some of the glaring faults of the old hall. The lobby and lounges were expanded, 500 seats were removed to provide wider seats and more leg room, and restroom capacity was increased by 50%. Perhaps most significantly, the poor sight lines from many of the former seats were eliminated, and the slope of the rows of seats was increased. The mosaic walls and arabesque ceilings have been resplendently refreshed and restored to their original colors. Have a look: