HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION OF THE BOSTON OPERA HOUSE
The Keith Memorial Theatre was built in 1928 by Edward Albee as a tribute to his partner, Benjamin F. Keith, “the father of vaudeville.” Over the years this theatre played host to films, vaudeville shows and other performances. In 1978, The Opera House Company of Boston moved in. By the 1990s the structure was deteriorating, neglected and suffered a flood that destroyed nearly everything contained in the venue. In 1991, the mayor, along with local politicians and the Clear Channel corporation, decided on a 30 million dollar renovation project. Today the revamped Opera House regularly hosts big-name artists and stage shows in front of sold out audiences.
THE RESTORATION PROCESS
Sepia images and original drawings yielded clues for the design team to formulate its plans for the interiors. Layers of finishes and fabrics from past renovations were peeled back to discover the original fabrics, wall coverings and floor tiles for color and finish treatment.
The carpet, an integral design component for the 105,000 sq. ft. space, was a challenge when deciphering color from black and white photos until a piece of the original was salvaged from under a stairway. The architects turned over this one precious scrap to the carpet mill’s design team to help them recreate the pattern. It was thoroughly cleaned to reveal an ornate but appropriately dramatic decoration: a thick rope-like trellis pattern punctuated by medallions with a stylized floral motif. And, the color palette was now clearly visible: black and golden tan, the ultimate in simplicity and elegance. The carpet mill was set to work to produce a replica.
The architects chose the woven carpet because of its extraordinary durability. “Woven carpet was essential,” explained Gary Martinez, principal of the firm. “We considered other types, but woven gives us the definition, clarity and precision in the design and construction and accuracy in the repeat pattern. Also, with long-running, sold-out shows like The Lion King being featured, the foot traffic was projected to be inordinately heavy. Woven holds up and performs well. The beauty of the carpet is apparent to all.”
Installed in 2004 for the Opera House reopening, the carpet is stellar and contributes to the surprising warmth of the cavernous and palatial space. As Martinez noted, “The original pattern was well thought out. Given the elaborate detailing in the finishes—all the millwork, gilding, paint and plastering— the carpet is understated enough so as not to detract from the other elements.”
American Institute of Architects / NE Chapter
National Trust for Historic Preservation Award
2004 Interiors Award presented by CONTRACT magazine. In naming The Boston Opera House, one of the jurists said, “The designers were very rigorous in their research and have succeeded in their attempt to bring back the glamour and exuberance of the original design.”