Apr. 16--NEW YORK -- The most frequently asked question since nonstop jet service linking Charleston and New York City began last week is, "What can you do in one day?"
Yeager Airport and American Eagle, the regional affiliate of American Airlines, sponsored a media trip last week that proved it is realistic for day-trippers to plan one in-depth activity and one very nice meal.
Barring unforeseen delays, you can expect to land at LaGuardia Airport about 8:30 a.m. and arrive in Midtown Manhattan by 9:30 a.m. You should plan on leaving Midtown at 4 p.m. so you can get back to the airport and get through security in plenty of time for your 6:55 p.m. departure.
That gives you seven and a half hours to explore, shop and savor.
Our trip offered three itineraries. One group visited Ground Zero. Another was scheduled to tour the Frick Museum. The group I was with toured the American Airlines Theatre, then strolled to Restaurant Zereoue's for lunch.
The theater was a revelation. Steve Schaeffer, director of special events with the Roundabout Theatre Co., explained how the nonprofit organization started in 1965 in the basement of a Chelsea grocery store and grew. It is now headquartered in the American Airlines Theatre at 227 42nd St.
The theater, originally known as the Selwyn Theatre, was built in 1918. It became a movie theater in 1934 and by the late 1970s it was showing pornographic films. In the early 1990s the entire block was boarded up.
The New 42nd Street, a nonprofit created by the city and state of New York to redevelop the block, offered the theater to Roundabout in 1997. The theater company had the structure declared an historic landmark and began restoring it. The work was completed in 2000.
Before-and-after pictures displayed in the building attest to the difficulties encountered. The biggest problem: Even before construction began, the lobby collapsed into a pile of rubble and had to be rebuilt in an historically correct manner.
Inside the auditorium, the box seats had been boarded up and everything had been painted a dull yellow. "The decay was rather shocking," Schaeffer said.
A team of architects, designers, historic preservationists and skilled artisans redesigned and restored the theater. They brought back to life all of the theater's original ornamental plasterwork and Italianate architectural details. The removal of layers of paint revealed gorgeous murals, which also were restored.
Schaeffer said everything was done with an eye toward keeping the look and feel of the original theatre while adding modern comforts. The seating capacity was reduced from 1,100 to 740 so patrons have plenty of hip and legroom, an increasingly rare treat on Broadway. Lots of bathrooms were added.
One new feature is a metal-and-glass penthouse lobby. Because the theater is an historic landmark, the penthouse lobby couldn't rest directly on the roof. Instead it floats on the roof, resting on steel supports.
When the dust settled, the planned $20 million restoration project cost $34 million.
Schaeffer said that before joining the staff of Roundabout, he attended a play at the theater and sat in the balcony. He worried when he realized his seat was in a corner but was pleasantly surprised. "The intimacy of the house and stage are quite remarkable," he said.
"Our partnership with American Airlines has been extraordinarily beneficial for us," Schaeffer said. "It has helped support this theater and has enabled us to offer children's programs as well as other programs."
Schaeffer said it was especially important that American Airlines sponsor a theater, giving it a status equal to sports stadiums.
Ned Raynolds, American Airlines' manager of corporate communications, said the airline supports many important American venues and institutions. "To us, Broadway is New York," he said.
American Airlines is paying an undisclosed amount for 10-year naming rights to the theater. Raynolds said the airline often hosts corporate events at the theatre.
JetBlue is forcing ticket prices down even though the low-fare airline won't begin flights at Raleigh-Durham International Airport for nearly three months.
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