This extremely rare survival must have come to us through a space-time portal: one of the original stage lights from the fabled (and enormous!) New York Hippodrome! The little chimney on the roof of the housing tells us that it started its life as an arc light and then was converted to electricity in the course of its career. The Kliegl Bros. were THE lighting innovators of their time and this little beauty’s focusing abilities may have been pressed into service to project actual images as well as serving as a spotlight for the legendary spectacles that eventually bankrupted generations of producers. Stenciled in Art Nouveau letters with the name of the theater where it once made magic, this object is now utterly magical in itself.
We have rewired it for household current and added colored glass lenses. The focusing element is fully functional allowing you to move from narrow to wide beam. Light measures 21″ x 17″ x 9″.
In the early days of spotlights, the name “Klieg light” became synonymous with any ellipsoidal reflector spotlight, another carbon-arc source or any bright source. Initially developed for film, the Klieg light was adapted to an incandescent stage fixture in 1911. A Klieg light is an intense carbon arc lamp especially used in filmmaking. It is named after inventor John H. Kliegl and his brother Anton Tiberius Kliegl. The Universal Electric Stage Lighting Company, Kliegl Bros. Props. was founded in 1896 and grew to be the largest stage lighting company in the world. The company closed in the 1990s.
The Hippodrome Theatre, also called the New York Hippodrome, was a theater in New York City from 1905 to 1939, located on Sixth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets in the Theater District of Midtown Manhattan. It was called the world’s largest theatre by its builders and had a seating capacity of 5,300, with a 100x200ft (30x61m) stage. The theatre had state of the art theatrical technology, including a rising glass water tank.
The Hippodrome was built by Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy, creators of the Luna Park amusement park at Coney Island, with the backing of Harry S. Black’s U.S. Realty, a dominant real estate and construction company of the time, and was acquired by The Shubert Organization in 1909. In 1933, it was re-opened as the New York Hippodrome cinema, and became the stage for Billy Rose’s Jumbo in 1935. Acts which appeared at the Hippodrome included numerous circuses, musical revues, Harry Houdini’s disappearing elephant, vaudeville, silent movies such as Neptune’s Daughter and Better Times (1922) and 1930s cinema. The theatre closed in August 1939 for demolition and in 1952 a large modern office building known as “The Hippodrome Center” (1120 Avenue of the Americas), opened on the site.
Construction of the Hippodrome began in June 1904, with Frederick Thompson and Jay H. Morgan as architects, and the Fuller Company as the general contractor. Finishing touches were still being put in place days before the April 12, 1905 opening. With a seating capacity of 5300, almost twice that of the Metropolitan Opera’s 3000 seats, the gargantuan building is still considered as one of the true wonders of theatre architecture. Its stage was 12 times larger than any Broadway “legit” house and was capable of holding as many as 1,000 performers at a time, or a full-sized circus with elephants and horses – who could be housed in built-in stalls under the stage.
The gala opening on April 12, 1905 was completely sold out, with seats being priced at as little as 25 cents in the theatre’s “Family Circle”, while others had been auctioned off for as much as $575. The performance was a four-hour extravaganza, the first act of which was called A Yankee Circus on Mars, which featured space ships, horses, elephants, acrobats, clowns – including the noted English clown Marcelline – a baboon named Coco, an orchestra of 60, hundreds of singers, and 150 dancers performing to Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours. The second act was Andersonville, about the notorious Confederate military prison where many Union soldiers were maltreated. The spectacle depicted the Union raid on the camp, with gunfire, explosions and cavalry troops on horseback swimming across the huge water tank simulating a lake.
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