Take Three pix
It started as a Greenwich Village church before morphing into the Waverly movie theater—now it's the IFC Film Center by Larry Bogdanow
Elzy Kolb -- Interior Design, 9/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
By 1937, the onetime church had become the Waverly movie house. The building on the right is now part of the IFC Center, housing the café, the 66-seat screening room, and one of two postproduction studios. Photography: courtesy of the New York City Municipal Archives.
Along this block in Greenwich Village, you can get tattooed or pierced, duck into a porn shop, shoot some hoops, or nosh on KFC. You used to be able to catch midnight runs of The Rocky Horror Picture Show here, too, at an 1831 church converted into the single-screen Waverly movie house in 1937 and the Waverly Twin in the 1980's. After it went dark in 2001, IFC Entertainment leased the building and one next door—they had exactly the right kind of diverse, gritty vibe for a concern that develops, produces, and distributes independent films and was now embarking on its first bricks-and-mortar project.
The company hired architect Larry Bogdanow to handle the renovation and expansion for the future IFC Film Center. (At the time, his Bogdanow Partners Architects had recently completed the TriBeCa Grand Hotel's Screening Room.) But plans for the film center were delayed after September 11. Last June, the 10,000-square-foot two-story theater finally opened with three screens, two postproduction studios, and the Waverly at IFC Center café, which serves upscale pub fare by husband-and-wife consulting chefs Claudia Fleming and Gerry Hayden.
Outside, Bogdanow unified the two facades with a storefront system of aluminum-framed glass, a fiberglass canopy, and panels of perforated steel backlit by halides, programmed by computer to change color from green to orange to purple. He also restored the marquee from the 1930's.
Just inside the front doors, in the lobby, he reinforced the beams supporting the Waverly's former balcony. Shifting his gaze from up to down, he also had to consider the site's proximity to a major subway stop. The city prohibits digging within 50 feet of a tunnel, so the elevator shaft couldn't extend into the basement, where the two main restrooms are. To compensate, he built one fully accessible restroom in the ground floor's café and two upstairs, near the mezzanine and the screening room.
Inside the three theaters, legroom and sight lines were of utmost importance. "We're committed to providing the country's best independent-film experience," says IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring, executive producer of such indie hits as Boys Don't Cry, Y Tu Mamá También, and Monsoon Wedding. The result is improved viewing conditions yet decreased capacity. The ground-floor main theater has 210 seats, 90 fewer than before. The mezzanine theater, occupying the balcony, seats 114. In the annex building, the second-floor screening room accommodates just 66. "The money went to comfort, lighting, and acoustics," explains Bogdanow.
He took extra care to muffle sound and vibration. To disguise acoustical panels of fiberglass duct liner on the exposed brick walls of the main theater, he hung panels of royal-blue construction mesh, up-lit by pink gels. Walls in the two other theaters are partially covered by the same fiberglass duct liner, secured with studs painted metallic in the screening room, black in the mezzanine. The black mesh that curtains the mezzanine's screen both absorbs sound and diffuses light.
The theaters have custom reclining seats, some of which can be removed to accommodate a wheelchair, but the upholstery bears witness to Bogdanow's desire for variety. Mixed in with the blue seats in the main theater and the magenta ones in the mezzanine are a few in multicolored patterns. The same concept applies to the annex's screening room—nicknamed the Leather Theater after a previous tenant, a leather clothing store. Here, the patterned seats contrast with the majority sporting brown faux leather.
Ease of maintenance governed Bogdanow's choice of materials such as vinyl for wall coverings, nylon for carpet tiles, and tinted concrete for floors. Celebrating history was another project goal. Original brick and stone foundation walls are exposed and up-lit in the hallway to the basement restrooms; in the main theater, Bogdanow opened the ceiling to reveal a 50-foot-high truss as well as gleaming ventilation ducts that he describes as "tech sculpture." And the Waverly sign from the 1930's has moved into the café.
"There's a large overlap between Larry's aesthetic and our programming—an awareness of the past, both the Waverly's and the neighborhood's," says IFC Center vice president and general manager John Vanco. "It feels personal and, on some level, homemade." Just like the movies shown on the center's three screens.