Jack Goldstein, a savior of Broadway theaters, dies at 74

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Jack Goldstein, a savior of Broadway theaters, dies at 74
Workers cut away steel from the roof of the Helen Hayes Theater as part of the demolition of the building, in New York, June 8, 1982. Jack Goldstein, a preservationist who in the 1980s reacted to the razing of several venerable Broadway theaters under a Times Square redevelopment plan by helping to organize a successful campaign to give landmark status to more than two dozen other theaters, died on June 16, 2023, in Cold Spring, N.Y. He was 74. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

by Richard Sandomir

NEW YORK, NY.- Jack Goldstein, a preservationist who in the 1980s reacted to the razing of several venerable Broadway theaters under a Times Square redevelopment plan by helping to organize a successful campaign to give landmark status to more than two dozen other theaters, died June 16 in Cold Spring, New York, in Putnam County. He was 74.

The cause was a heart attack, said Tom Miller, his executor.

Over 30 years, Goldstein established himself as an effective behind-the-scenes player on Broadway. He was the executive director of the nonprofit Save the Theaters, which was formed to prevent the future destruction of playhouses.

He was an executive at Actors’ Equity Association, the labor union, and with the Theater Development Fund, where he initiated the design competition that led to the creation of a new TKTS discount ticket booth in Duffy Square, topped with a dramatic cascade of 27 ruby-red structural glass steps that rises above West 47th Street.

“Jack had a great artistic eye and a deep commitment to good government,” Gretchen Dykstra, the former president of the Times Square Business Improvement District, said in a phone interview.

Goldstein arrived in Manhattan in the spring of 1982 during a difficult financial period for Broadway and around the time of the wrenching demolition of the Helen Hayes and Morosco theaters — the most distinctive of the five theaters between West 45th and 46th streets on Broadway that were leveled to make way for the towering New York Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The sites of the Hayes and Morosco theaters had become the center of protests by actors, playwrights and other activists until the wrecking balls began swinging that March.

Goldstein told a conference at the Skyscraper Museum in Manhattan in 2014, “The destruction in the center of Broadway of beloved, important and, from the actors’ point of view, irreplaceable instruments of their art form and communication, was an affront.”

Goldstein, with a background in historic preservation, was initially a volunteer with the Committee to Save the Theaters, which had been formed by Actors’ Equity. He soon shifted to join and then run its spinoff organization, Save the Theaters.

“Since it was clear that the city no longer recognized the value of the Broadway theaters,” he told Metropolis, an architecture and interior design magazine, in 2004, “No. 1 on the agenda was to bring to bear whatever legal disincentives to demolition were available and apply them to the historic theaters.”

Over six years, Goldstein and other preservationists helped forge a solution, which focused on getting protection for as many theaters as possible from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Part of the process was examining theaters’ interiors and exteriors to determine which should be designated landmarks — and persuading the commission of their worthiness. He brought actors to the commission’s hearings to impart their knowledge of the theaters. And he collaborated on a report with an architect, Hugh Hardy, that stressed the full geometry of the theaters — their shape, layout and acoustical properties — rather than just their decorative detail, as standards for landmark designation.

Speaking to the Skyscraper conference, Goldstein cited, for example, the “spatial relationships and building techniques behind the walls” that allowed actors to speak without a microphone or in a whisper, and be heard by 600 to 1,400 theatergoers.

“He was well spoken and enormously energetic,” Kent Barwick, a former chair of the landmarks commission, said in an interview. “He was doing what he needed to be done at the time. Was he always right in his judgment? No. Was he always fair? No. Was he dramatic? Of course — he was coming out of Actors’ Equity.”

In 1987, the commission designated 28 theaters as landmarks, some for their exteriors, some for their interiors, some for both. (The sale of the Mark Hellinger Theater to a church in 1991 brought the group to 27.) The city’s Board of Estimate, a powerful governing body at the time, approved the designations in March 1988.

Theater owners objected to the landmarking “as a confiscation of the value of the building because it limited its use to live theater,” Rocco Landesman, a former president of Jujamcyn Theaters, said by phone. He said of the buildings: “You couldn’t tear them down, and it was difficult to build above them if you didn’t have the rights. Value was taken without compensation.”

The owners sued to overturn the landmarking of 22 of the theaters, but in 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case after the state Supreme Court and the Appellate Division had upheld the designations.

Jack Lewis Goldstein was born March 5, 1949, in Jersey City, New Jersey. His father, Joseph, was an Army officer and physician whose work took him and his family to various postings, including Maryland and Germany. His mother, Thelma (Ginsberg) Goldstein, was a homemaker, potter and political activist. The couple eventually divorced.

His maternal grandmother took Jack to his first Broadway show, Lionel Bart’s musical “Oliver!,” which opened at the Imperial Theater in 1963.

“‘Oliver!’ was the first time I experienced that suspension of disbelief,” he told Crain’s New York Business in 1998. “I wanted to play the character myself.”

Although he tried acting in school, he said he lacked the talent.

After attending the University of California, Berkley, Goldstein graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1972. He worked in Manhattan at the National Design Center, which exhibited home furnishings, before moving to Washington, where he was an assistant to the director of programs at the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a small federal agency that would play a role in persuading him to go to Broadway.

While he was in Washington, the Interior Department, responding to a petition from preservationists, determined that the Morosco was eligible to be included on the National Register of Historic Places, and that if the developer of the Marriott Marquis wanted to tear it down, it would need a waiver from the advisory council. Goldstein contended in an affidavit that Lyn Nofziger, an aide to President Ronald Reagan, had told the council to grant the waiver or lose its government funding — an assertion Nofziger denied.

Frustrated, Goldstein soon left Washington to join the Broadway preservationists, whose efforts by then to save the Morosco were doomed to fail.

After leaving Save the Theaters in 1988, he was a special assistant for government affairs to Ron Silver, an actor and president of Actors’ Equity, and the project director of the Broadway Initiatives Working Group, which was formed to evaluate Broadway’s future. He was the executive director of the nonprofit Theater Development Fund, which makes theater more affordable and accessible, from 1998 to 2001.

When he announced the competition to design a new TKTS booth in 1999, Goldstein recognized how beloved and important the slapdash, pipe-and-canvas structure had become to theatergoers over 26 years. But, as he told The New York Times, “time and weather have taken their toll.”

The new TKTS booth was not completed until 2008, a year before Goldstein returned to Actors’ Equity as its national director of governance policy and support.

In 2012, he became an antiques dealer in Cold Spring. He previously owned a seasonal antiques store in Rehoboth, Delaware.

Goldstein — who is survived by his brother, Leonard — acknowledged that he had made an impact on Broadway.

“I think I’ve made a contribution when I walk through Times Square and see theaters filled — many would have been swept away,” he told The Highlands Current of Cold Spring in 2014. “I feel, ‘job done.’”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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