Lost “Ziegfeld” Mural Discovered


For Ziegfeld Theater fans…

Other than a few architectural fragments, nothing of the Art-Deco landmark “Ziegfeld Theater” was believed to have been saved from it’s tragic demolition in 1966. That was until recently, when an immense mural called “The Joy of Life”, designed by the architect Joseph Urban for the theater, was discovered by New York City antiques dealer John Bermingham.

In 1927, the Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld opened the Ziegfeld Theater on 6th Avenue and 54th Street and changed the face of theater for decades after. Home of the famed “Ziegfeld Follies”, the theater was an Art-Deco masterpiece created by Joseph Urban, an architect known for his fanciful and imaginative design and décor. Situated well out of the theater district and featuring a unique “egg-shaped” auditorium, the Ziegfeld Theater was a landmark unto itself.

Despite public outcry at the time, the Ziegfeld Theater was demolished in 1966 to make way for an office tower that now occupies the spot. It was believed that other than a few architectural fragments, nothing remained of this lost landmark. That is, until now.

A rare piece of this lost American treasure has recently re-surfaced in the form of an immense section of the original painted mural “The Joy of Life” which somehow escaped the wrecking ball all those years back. The mural was painted in 1926 by Lillian Gaertner under the direction of Joseph Urban, who provided the original sketches and personally oversaw the work. Madame Gaertner had studied under the renowned Bauhaus designer Joseph Hoffman and worked with Urban on many of his theatrical projects. The recently re-discovered canvas, which originally graced the walls and ceiling of the main auditorium, measures 24 feet wide by 14 feet high and features fanciful and brightly colored depictions of characters from literature, history and mythology.

The mural is currently owned by Manhattan antiques dealer John Bermingham who located it in November 2006. Bermingham states that his interest in the work stemmed from his love for New York City history and the theater in particular. “It is a tragedy that a landmark such as the Ziegfeld Theater was allowed to be destroyed back then, before the awareness of the value of historical architecture and design. Today, thankfully, such a thing would never happen”. Bermingham added, “It is remarkable, however, that such a unique and important artifact as this mural has managed to survive and we should at least be grateful for that”. The outcry over the demolition of the Ziegfeld Theater and the original Penn Station are credited with prompting the landmark preservation movement championed by Jacqueline Onassis.

See also  “Doctor Horrible” Premieres Today

The mural will be on display at the New York Design Fair at the Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street from February 8th through the 10th. “The biggest challenge we will face will be finding it an appropriate home, considering its size,” says Bermingham. “It would be great if it could remain intact, perhaps as part of a museum collection, or featured on the wall of some fantastic New York restaurant like the Picasso mural on display at the Four Seasons.” Bermingham adds, “It’s a part of New York City history, theater history and design history, and it deserves to be seen and appreciated.”