The Harlem Stage Gatehouse: Giving Historic Architecture a New Life

Throughout history, an important part of any city’s growth was the development of a clean water source; reliance on polluted wells or fountains often resulted in the spread of disease. New York City’s solution to the water challenge was to build the Croton Aqueduct between 1837 and 1842, allowing the city to transport water from the Croton River in Westchester County to the North into the heart of the city. The Croton Aqueduct was so successful, in fact, that it provided New York City’s main water source until 1958.

Such a major public works project required infrastructure, and there were numerous pumping stations, reservoirs, and other aqueduct-related structures built throughout the city. As the city grew and transformed over time, many of those structures were torn down and replaced with modern buildings. Still, if you know where to look, you can find remnants of the old system. The New York Public Library, which I’ve written about previously here, has as its foundation the Distributing Reservoir walls from the old Croton Aqueduct. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, located in the middle of Central Park, housed part of the city’s water supply beginning in 1862. Recently I discovered yet another remnant of the old Croton Aqueduct system in Harlem: a retired 1890 pumping station remade into the Harlem Stage Gatehouse.

The Romanesque Revival building was designed by architect Frederick S. Cook. From looking at it from the outside, you wouldn’t realize that the building originally extended 75 feet into the ground, allowing the interior to be made into a multi-storied space when it was renovated to house the theater a little over a decade ago. Like many buildings in New York City, the Gatehouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated New York City Landmark. Although the interior is very modern, the theater’s architect was careful to maintain and restore the building’s historic exterior.

This next photo shows the building’s original main entrance, which is now just a side entrance to the theater. Above the door you will glimpse small square panes of stained glass, and each metal door has ornamentation.

This close-up view of one of the smaller doors on the building really shows off the decorative details of both door and railing.

Here’s a small stain glass window on the building’s turret.

Perhaps one of my favorite architectural elements was industrial rather than decorative: the old pipes still extending from the ground in several locations nearby.

Want to see the Harlem Stage Gatehouse for yourself? It is located at 150 Convent Avenue, near the corner of 135th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Perhaps while you’re there you’ll decide to see a play inside the theater. (The theater’s website is available here.) Or maybe you’ll stroll across the street to the City College Campus, where you can hunt gargoyles like I did one day recently. The closest subway station is the 137th Street station, accessible on the 1 train.

Stage Design Exhibition at the Museum of Chinese in America

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I only recently visited the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) for the first time. Located in Manhattan’s Chinatown, the museum was designed by artist and designer Maya Lin. Here is how the museum describes its mission on its website: “MOCA … is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States.” I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and know I will be returning regularly to see new exhibitions. (In fact, I hope to return sometime soon as the museum offers some intriguing walking tours of Chinatown, described here.)

Currently, MOCA is host to an exhibition titled Stage Design by Ming Cho Lee, which continues until September 11, 2016. Ming Cho Lee, who was born in Shanghai, China, is a professor at Yale University’s School of Drama. He is one of the most preeminent living set designers in the United States. In 2013, Ming Cho Lee was presented the Tony Award for lifetime achievement. He was previously awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2002. The exhibition, which included some of Ming Cho Lee’s sketches, scale models of set designs, and photographic images of completed stage sets going back to the 1960s and 1970s, was fascinating. The exhibition’s design and focus allows visitors to gain a little insight into his design process, as well as noticing how his design aesthetic has evolved over the course of his career.

Here are a sampling of some of the scale models in the exhibition. Each one is beautiful – truly works of art in their own right. I’ve identified the performance and date in the caption for each photograph. (Each scale model is in a clear case, which can create challenges for photographs – I apologize for the reflections!)

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Myth of a Voyage, Martha Graham Company, Alvin Theatre, New York, NY (1973)
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Peer Gynt, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Lansburgh Theatre, Washington, DC (1998)
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Richard III, New York Shakespeare Festival, Delacourte Theater, New York, NY (1966)
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A Moon for the Misbegotten, Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, CT (2005)
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Set for Act 2 of The Firebird, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle, WA (1989)

Interested in seeing more of this exhibition, as well as the rest of the museum? If you have the opportunity, I encourage you to do so. Because of MOCA’s location in Manhattan’s Chinatown, it’s easy to get to the museum. Just take the 6, N, Q, R, J, or Z train to the Canal Street station. The museum is located at 215 Centre Street, just a block north of Canal Street, between Howard and Grand Streets. There are also buses with stops close by, including the M9, M15, and M103 bus lines.

Note: MOCA is closed on Mondays. The museum offers free hours the first Thursday of each month (except holidays), but the adult tickets are a very reasonable $10 entry fee otherwise.

Shakespeare in Central Park

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One of the hottest tickets in New York City each summer is not a Broadway show and is absolutely free: the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. Although the performances are free, the tickets are not easy to come by. There are only two ways to get them – (1) showing up early in the morning and waiting in line for hours at either the Public Theater’s box office at Astor Place or the Delacorte Theater box office in Central Park; or (2) entering the ticket lottery on the TodayTix cellphone app. (You can also get tickets by making a large donation to the Public Theater to support its programs – I didn’t count that option since it isn’t free.)

Because I’m not excited about waiting in line for hours at a time, we have relied on the ticket lottery instead. Last summer, we entered the lottery every day, but with no luck. This summer, we once again began entering every day, even though I had basically given up all hope after last year’s failure. Imagine my surprise when I learned that we won two tickets to last night’s performance of The Taming of the Shrew!

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Performances start at 8:00 pm, and we were told we could pick up our tickets from the Delacorte Theater box office between 5:30 and 7:30 pm. We were warned not to be late – after 7:30 pm any remaining tickets are handed out to people waiting in the standby line. We arrived in plenty of time and, after receiving our tickets found a park bench near the theater to wait and watch people. Many people bring picnic dinners, which they eat while sitting on the nearby lawn. There are also plenty of snacks and drinks (including wine and beer) for sale at the theater. The staff will even let you bring your own food and drink into the theater, although glass is prohibited.

While we waiting for the play to begin, I noticed these two bronze sculptures located next to the theater. The first is titled Romeo and Juliet, and the second is The Tempest.

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We also listened to this saxophonist play for a while.

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Soon, it was time to enter the theater! The Delacourte Theater is perfectly sized – I really don’t think that there’s a bad seat in the house. It’s open air, and we watched the sun begin to set as we waited for the play to begin. Our own seats were excellent. We were only six rows back from the stage, right at stage center. We took in the stage set with interest.

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Unfortunately, no photos are permitted during performances, so that’s the last photo I have for this adventure. But The Taming of the Shrew was amazing! While I’ve always found the play entertaining, at the same time the misogynistic plot often makes me cringe, even taking into account the fact that it is from an entirely different era in history. This version put a new twist on the original story line, however – the entire cast was made up of women! Some of the best-performed roles were those of the male characters, including the role of Petruchio, played by Tony and Olivier award winner Janet McTeer. (The comedy’s director, Phyllida Lloyd, has also been nominated for a Tony award.) The entire performance was thoughtfully, artfully done.

The Taming of the Shrew continues through June 26, but that will not be the end of this year’s Shakespeare in the Park series. From July 19 to August 14, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, a rarely performed play, will be offered.

For those traveling to the Delacorte Theater, the website provides directions here.

(Note: TodayTix is a great app – you can get last-minute discounted tickets to Broadway shows without waiting in long lines. You have to be flexible, as not every show is available every day. And you must also be realistic. The musical Hamilton is the hottest ticket in town right now, and you aren’t going to find discounted tickets on TodayTix for it at this point.)