La MaMa renovation by Beyer Blinder Belle in The Architect's Newspaper

A Resonant Retrofit: Beyer Blinder Belle builds a contemporary theater behind a historic facade for La MaMa Experimental Theatre ClubThe Architect's Newspaper, Apr. 4, 2023.

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club has reopened behind its original landmarked red brick facade, spiffing up its Renaissance Revival and Neo-Grec cast-iron decorative details. Inside, the brick walls are nearly all that remains of the original 1873 structure. Renovated and restored by Beyer Blinder Belle, led by architect Chris Cowan, working with theater and acoustic consultants Charcoalblue and theater consultant Jean Guy Lecat, the project transplants a new interior into the guts of La MaMa, resituating its raked, brick-lined theater club from the ground level to a newly inserted, expanded second level. Above, the club and new programming and amenity spaces in the lobby and third and fourth levels are hoisted on earthquake-safe and sound-isolating steel beams, brackets, and floor plates.

The $24 million renovation maintains a close spiritual connection to the intentions of La MaMa founder Ellen Stewart, the African American Saks Fifth Avenue porter-turned-fashion designer-turned-theater impresario, dearly departed in 2011, who rented a basement theater on East 9th Street in 1961 to create a venue for her brother, playwright Frederick Lights. Stewart stumbled onto the 4th Street building looking for expanded performance space in 1967, guided by her intuitive feeling about people and places—what she called her “beeps.”

“That’s how she programmed shows,” Mary Fulham, managing director of La MaMa, told AN. “If she met you and she felt her beeps, she would give you a show. She was totally intuitive in that way. It was about the artist. Who are you? Do you need the space? What do you want to do? If it resonated with her, she called it her beeps.”

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