February 2, 1994 – Disney Announces Plans to Restore the New Amsterdam Theater in New York City
“The recent corporate influence on Broadway is often attributed to the success of the Walt Disney Company. But before the Broadway musical was resurrected by Disney, Disney was resurrected by the Broadway musical.” – Julie Andrews, Broadway: The American Musical
On February 2, 1994, The Walt Disney Company announced their $29 million plan to restore the historic New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street, New York City. Disney’s plan included restoring the theater to its original splendor and Art Nouveau style architecture, and using it as a permanent home for new theatrical productions. Currently, it is showing Mary Poppins.
The theater was built in 1903, and from 1913 to 1927 was home to the famous Ziegfeld Follies, which showcased such talents as Fanny Brice and Olive Thomas. In 1936, the theater was closed due to the economic downturn of the Great Depression and the effect it had on the theater industry, but the theater opened soon after as a movie theater. In 1982, it was purchased by the Nederlander Organization, but in 1990, the State and City of New York won ownership of the theater.
Disney negotiated with state and city agencies, contributing $8 million to the restoration, with the remaining amount loaned to the company from the 42nd Street Development Project. “New York City wanted to bring Disney’s wholesome image to its sleaziest playground,” Julie Andrews narrates on the documentary Broadway: The American Musical. “But Disney wanted assurance from Mayor Rudolph Guliani that the neighborhood would be safe for families,” as the 42nd Street neighborhood at the time comprised many adult entertainment centers. Disney’s acquisition of the theater helped bring new life to 42nd Street and Broadway, and brought a new venue of interest to major corporations. In the fall of 1997, Disney’s first musical, The Lion King, opened in the newly refurbished theater.