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Apollo Theater Competes Against Other City Landmarks for Preservation Cash

By Jeff Mays | April 27, 2012 8:12am
The Apollo is vying to win a $200,000 grant to help preserve and restore the ornate architecture inside its main theater.
The Apollo is vying to win a $200,000 grant to help preserve and restore the ornate architecture inside its main theater.
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Apollo Theater

HARLEM — Mention the Apollo Theater and the first things that come to mind are the legendary entertainers who got their start there, Amateur Night and its notoriously tough audience and the storied position the theater holds in Harlem's history.

Often overlooked  is the beauty of the ornate plaster architectural detailing inside the theater, which was built in 1914 as a neo-classical burlesque hall.

"The ornate work is extremely important because basically it is the frame of the main theater," said Apollo spokesperson Nina Flowers.

"It surrounds the stage and the box seats and is as much a part of the uniqueness of the Apollo as the Tree of Hope or the stage itself," 

Now, the Apollo is asking fans to vote for it to receive a $200,000 grant to preserve the interior of the state and national landmark from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation as part of the 2012 Partners in Preservation grant program.

"The plaster work was created by skilled artisans when the theater was first built in 1914 and it is one of those not so obvious things that is a major part of the historic beauty and character of this place," said Flowers.

Under the month-long campaign which launched April 26, the Apollo Theater will compete with 40 other New York City area locations for $3 million in funding.

The top four will receive grants, while the remaining funds will be divided up based on the recommendations of an advisory panel of civic and historic preservation leaders.

The Apollo Theater will be competing against other well-known city landmarks such as the Guggenheim Museum, which wants to preserve its entrance doors, the High Line, which wants to restore a sunken deck overlooking Tenth Avenue,  and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum which wants to restore sails and missiles.

The program has already distributed $6 million to six other cities including New Orleans, San Francisco and Chicago. It's an important part of helping to “safeguard national treasures like the Apollo Theater,” said Apollo President and CEO Jonelle Procope.

"This type of skilled work and detail cannot be found in modern theaters, so it is something that absolutely needs to be preserved," said Flowers.

Fans will be able to vote once per day through May 21.

In conjunction with the contest, the Apollo is hosting an open house on May 5 and 6 where visitors can take free, self-guided tours of the theater.

The Apollo will also launch "Apollo Memories" during that open house weekend, a digital oral history initiative where people will give their memories of the Apollo.

Those video recordings will be combined on a website with the remembrances of Apollo Legends such as Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Smoky Robinson and others.

“We encourage our fans in the neighborhood and around the world to support the Apollo by casting their votes for the Theater, and also look forward to hearing about their most memorable Apollo experiences," said Procope.