University of Rochester

$8 Million State Grant Jump-Starts Next Phase of Renovations for Historic Eastman Theatre

March 16, 2007

Eastman Theatre
Eastman Theatre (CREDIT: University of Rochester)
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artist rendering of theater interior
Artist rendering of theater interior (CREDIT: University of Rochester)
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An $8 million commitment from New York State will make it possible for the University of Rochester and its Eastman School of Music to move forward on the second phase of renovations at the historic Eastman Theatre. The project is expected to cost $20 million.

Eastman Theatre, which is the home of the Eastman School of Music, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and many community events, will retain its 1920s elegance while adding state-of-the-art improvements in acoustics and more comfortable public gathering spaces.

The renovations were unanimously approved by the Eastman School of Music Board of Managers and by the University of Rochester Board of Trustees acting through its financial planning and facilities committees. The University owns the 85-year-old landmark built by Eastman Kodak founder George Eastman.

"The University, the Eastman School, and the community are deeply grateful for this financial commitment on the part of New York State toward the Eastman Theatre renovation," said Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester. "This funding would not have been possible without the support and commitment from Assemblyman Joseph Morelle and Assemblyman David Gantt. Thanks to their efforts, along with those of Assemblywoman Susan John, Assemblyman David Koon and the leadership of Speaker Sheldon Silver, we are strengthening one of Rochester's greatest cultural jewels for the 21st century."

Construction is expected to begin in summer 2008.

These renovations will enhance the theater and provide more performance and teaching space for faculty and students within the Eastman School itself, said Seligman. He pointed out that the project reflects the close working relationship with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, which "will be a major beneficiary of the reconfigured seating and improved acoustics."

"The combination of Phase I and II will dramatically improve the sound quality and renew the grandeur of Rochester's preeminent theater," said Seligman.

"I am gratified to be able to play a role in the renovation of this historic theater, where so many have been entertained and enlightened by the arts," said Morelle. "Like the man for whom it is named, the Eastman Theatre is a centerpiece of local history and a cornerstone institution of this community. This funding will make it possible to preserve that great legacy for many generations to come, and I want to especially thank President Seligman and the University of Rochester for their fine stewardship of this invaluable resource."

The Eastman School is one of the world's leading music institutions, ranked as No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report. The school is dedicated to the highest levels of artistry, scholarship, and leadership to the broad education of young musicians within the context of a university, and to the musical enrichment and education of the greater community.

Renovations to the Eastman Theater began this decade with a $5-million investment to replace the stage and improve acoustics for concerts, opera, and other performances in fall 2004. Beyond the plans announced today, a third phase is anticipated and with it will come a new recital hall for Eastman School students and faculty.

"The Eastman Theatre has long been one of the most beautiful and significant cultural landmarks in upstate New York," said Jamal Rossi, interim dean of the Eastman School of Music. "While the Eastman School is world renowned, one of the principal tenets of our mission is a commitment to community engagement. We believe that the improved amenities and acoustics to the Eastman Theatre will help ensure a vibrant future for classical music and jazz in Rochester for generations to come. All of us at Eastman are grateful for the generous state support being announced today."

James Boucher, chair of the RPO's Board of Trustees, also praised the work of Rochester's delegation in Albany. "The RPO would like to thank Assemblyman Morelle and our New York State Assembly delegation for working to secure this grant for the renovation. We're delighted that the Eastman Theatre—which has been the longtime home of the RPO and has served the community so well—will now be even better."

The early project designs were done by Chaintreuil, Jensen, Stark Architects of Rochester. Some of the highlights include:

  • Revamped seating inside Eastman Theatre with box seats, and other configurations for a total of 2,250 seats (844 fewer than at present);
  • Easier access throughout the theater for people with disabilities as well as more convenient amenities, such as restrooms, an expanded lobby, gift shop, and café;
  • Additional rehearsal rooms, practice rooms, and recording studios for Eastman School faculty and students.

Designed originally as a "movie house" for silent films with live musical and organ accompaniment and other music and dance programs, the Eastman Theatre has served the Eastman School and the people of Rochester at East Main and Gibbs streets. Its rich history includes performances by the greatest musicians of our time, including Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Beverly Sills, Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin, and Renée Fleming, a Rochester native and Eastman School graduate. Today, Eastman Theatre and the Eastman School's smaller performance venues host more than 750 concerts a year.