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New York State Theater No. 19 - Ceiling & Chandelier

The Chandelier

The central "globe" chandelier that shines down on the auditorium of the New York State Theater weighs two tons, has 55 faceted "diadems," uses 500 light bulbs and 5,000 watts of electricity. The wired forms holding the diadems are shaped to resemble herald's trumpets. [1]

Hilary Lewis: "The lights and the central fixture almost seem like jewelry decorating the room. 

Philip Johnson: "That's what it's supposed to be. Good for you, you read it in my intentions and those of Dick Kelly, the man who really founded modern lighting. They are supposed to be faceted diamonds. They're faceted all right, but they don't do the same thing as a cut piece of glass. We call them the "headlights." We hoped they would be like crystals - sparkle. But we had to do it in plastic, of course, and it didn't sparkle. Faceting doesn't work well with plastic, because plastic doesn't act like glass.

Hilary: "Why not use glass? Would it have been too heavy, or too expensive?"

Philip: Expensive.” [2]

My most favorite part of the theater is the chandelier that hangs over the orchestra! It was designed by Philip Johnson but in ALL my research I couldn’t find a single thing written about it! I couldn’t find preliminary sketches or written notes or anything.

This summer I messaged Jacqueline Reid and said “if you ever hear that the chandelier is coming down for cleaning, will you please let me know? I’d really like to see it up close.” She said it had been years since it had come down. But lo and behold, a couple weeks later I got the text saying it was coming down to be cleaned ahead of the 75th anniversary!

I went to the theater and watched for hours as the electricians (and stage hands?) removed the jewels and set them on the stage, and replaced bulbs and cleaned. One of the coolest parts was when they rotated the chandelier to access the next area, it spun like an enormous disco ball, scattering light all over the walls and ceiling. It was super magical to me.

(left and right) Photos by Rosalie O'Connor

(center) Photo of the chandelier being built inside the theater


“Petal-scalloped balconies are faced with softly rubbed gold leaf and accented by the subdued sparkle of faceted disks of light. These disks, already dubbed automobile headlights by some, are more like giant French paste brilliant’s, a contemporary version of traditional theatrical glitter. Clustered, they form a great central chandelier.” [3]


The Ceiling

Hilary Lewis: “Tell us a little bit about how you developed the form in the ceiling. It looks rather floral. No, it's like the paving in the plaza. From Michelangelo's Campidoglio?"

Philip Johnson "I have used it a number of times. I had a carpet over 50-feet long with the same pattern in the old office. Was the ceiling design done for acoustical purposes? Oh, Lord, yes. It's all open, and then the acoustic adjustments are above, hidden by the mesh.” [2]

“Audiences will feel at ease there. The auditorium lights are fascinating they look like enormous solitaire diamonds and they don’t shine, but give off a soft golden glow.”[4]

"It was originally an open grid that just looked like a ceiling,' " Dr. Harris said. "We climbed up in there, and what we heard sounded great. But the sound was just passing through. It didn't return. The new two-inch layer of plaster rests against the ceiling's gold mesh, and steel reinforcements have been added to bear the load. The second strategy has been to re shape the side walls from concave to convex. Concave surfaces, Dr. Harris said, focus sound to specific seating areas, creating dead spots in some parts and echos in others. The new convex wood panels installed against both walls at each level of the hall, are intended to scatter the sound more or less equally. In halls built 100 years ago, Dr. Harris added, decorative elements such as ornamental plastering and the protruding faces of boxes created this same scattering effect. Muffling by Acoustical Plenums A third addition is a giant overhead reflector above the stage formed out of curved plaster panels fitted together. The reflector bears sound back down from the stage and orchestra pit, and its irregular surfaces where the panels are joined further diffuse also been dismantled in favor of a convex frame made from plaster, and the orchestra pit has been widened and lengthened. In the process, one row of but back-row players are no longer hidden under the stage's overhang; all the musicians will work under less-crowded conditions.” [5]

[2] Philip Johnson: The Architect in His Own Words by Hilary Lewis and Philip Johnson

[3] Ada Louise Huxtable, New York Times, March 23, 1964

[4] John Chapman, Daily News, March 23, 1964

[5] Bernard Holland, New York Times, September 7, 1982

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