Renovation of a historic theatre
And a new home for the Grammy-award winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
As churches outgrow their facilities, often the most viable solution is to purchase undeveloped property and begin a new campus. Yet in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, finding available property is not easilyor affordablydone.
This was the challenge that faced the Brooklyn Tabernacle. The church was turning hundreds of people away each Sunday from their Flatbush Avenue location because there simply wasn’t any more room. For years, they looked for a way to meet the facility needs of their growing congregation. A solution presented itself in 1998 with the availability of the Loew’s Metropolitan Theatre. Not only was the theatre for sale, but there were also two adjacent buildings that could be purchased for office and educational space. The cost was modest (for Brooklyn), only $6.5 million.
With such a price tag, the property didn’t come ready for occupancy. The Metropolitan, completed in 1918 had once been the largest theatre auditorium for live performance in North America with seating for 4,100. However, as with many of the historic vaudeville theatres, it had been neglected over the years and had fallen into disrepair. The renovation required to restore the theatre for productive use was extensive. Not only did the roof leak badlywhich had ruined most of the existing furnishings in the late 1980’s the auditorium had been divided into four small movie theatres before being abandoned completely.
Beginning the Work
There was much talk in the early days about what the renovation should be. Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle said that the first time he saw the theatre, it was a mess. “My feelings were ‘Don’t try to make it look like a churchjust recapture what it looked like in 1943.’ We’ll meet here. We’ll sing. We’ll talk about the Bible and we’ll tell people how they can see a change in their lives with productive things happening.”
Kostow Greenwood provided architectural direction for the renovation. “From an architectural and construction perspective, this type of project is both the most difficult, and the most satisfying. We took on a badly deteriorated set of buildings and gutted the ones that were beyond repair. We carefully restored the historic theater, which now accommodates the Sunday and midweek services. The trickiest part was weaving the spaces to work together. There aren’t many churches willing to do this work, but the Brooklyn Tabernacle did,” said Pam Slighter of Kostow Greenwood, the Project Manager.
In the very beginning, one of the primary issues of the design was the seat count. The highest possible seat count needed to be maintained in order to accommodate the number of worshippers that attended each service.
Michael Archibald, the Audio and Video Administrator for Brooklyn Tabernacle, helped communicate the vision of the church to the design team. With 22 years of experience attending the church and being a part of the worship team, Michael had a clear understanding of the needs of the client.
“One of the things about Brooklyn Tabernacle as a client is that they had a very clear vision,” said Craig Janssen of Acoustic Dimensions. “Everything that had to happen in the space was about relationshipsthe relationship of the pastor to the congregation, of the choir to the congregation, the musicians to the choir, and of the people in the congregation to each other.”
“The biggest concern for us was whether or not we would lose the intimacy of the worship experience by moving into a larger space,” said Archibald.
The acoustic and audio design for the facility focused on creating a feeling of intimacy in the room despite the large seat count. Acoustic Dimensions was brought onto the design team early as a specialty consultant to Kostow Greenwood.
“The finishes we specified for the room allow a high level of energy among the participants in the congregation by allowing each person to hear himself and those around him while giving the choir and praise team on the platform a good sense of the energy in the room created by the congregation,” said Janssen.
The acoustic design achieved its goal. “The new space maintains that feeling of closeness,” remarked Archibald. We haven’t felt a change.”
There were aesthetic concerns as well as acoustic concerns. It wasn’t enough to simply create an aural sense of community. The construction elements used had to work visually in the surroundings. Acoustic Dimensions collaborated with Dianne Rathjen of Brooklyn Tabernacle to develop and integrate acoustic treatments that complemented the historic look and feel of the room.
Brooklyn Tabernacle is unique in that the church is known both by the strong preaching of internationally recognized pastor and best-selling author, Jim Cymbala, and for the musical performance of it’s Grammy-award winning choir directed by Carol Cymbala. As a result, there was a need for two audio systemsone to provide speech clarity for preaching from the platform and another to provide warmth, envelopment, and natural imaging for musical performance.
The loudspeakers are EAW MQ series in a left / center / right configuration. “We designed the speaker systems for maximum coverage with minimal visual impact. Color, simplicity of design, and positioning arrays along existing architectural lines helped us achieve the design goal,” said Mike Stukey of Acoustic Dimensions.
There are four Bag End D18 subwoofers under the steps and Bag End Quartz in the Lincoln boxes. The stairwell serves as a wave guide to carry low frequency energy from the Lincoln boxes into the balcony.
The front of house mix console is a Soundcraft Series 5 and the monitor mix console is a Soundcraft SM20. The Peavey Media Matrix was chosen for DSP control because of its strong user interface. Added electronic reverb is directed through the underbalcony speakers to provide a more “live” atmosphere during worship.
“Acoustic Dimensions did a phenomenal job in providing crystal clear sound for our new sanctuary,” said Pastor Cymbala. “I couldn’t give a higher recommendation or be more thankful for the excellent professionalism they showed.”
The choir is miked with 9 Schoepps microphones, and 10 EAW UB 82’s were used for the choir monitor speakers.
The band went from stage monitors in their previous space to in-ear monitors. “That’s probably the biggest change for the musicians,” commented Archibald, “We’re still getting acclimated.”
Example TextVideo projection is used for announcements and other presentations. A roll down screen was selected so that when not in use, the video screen does not detract from the natural beauty of the theatre. A Leitch Integrator series matrix router allows multiple sources such as Sony DVX Cam-DSR 1500, Microsoft PowerPoint (through an Extron VSC-200 scan converter) and cameras to be routed to independent destinations such as the video projection screen, stage tie-lines, under balcony monitors, the foyer, and meeting rooms.
The balcony camera utilizes an optical image stabilizer lens on a custom Telemetrix pan-tilt robotic head camera. This allows the camera shot to be isolated from activity in the balcony so that movement in worship is not noted by the camera. A full production suite will be added in the next phase to allow production switching, recording, and editing.
Brooklyn Tabernacle produces broadcast specials and major productions, so the theatrical lighting system had to be up to the task.
“This project was extremely satisfying to work on,” said David Stephens of Acoustic Dimensions, the lead lighting designer. “When working on a restoration, you have to design within the parameters of the room. We took what the building gave us and didn’t force the design. The result is that the technology fades into the background of the setting while maintaining a high degree of functionality.”
The lighting console is a Grand MA by MA Lighting. The church required 22 auto yokes which were provided by City Theatrical.
Installing the Systems
Example TextSPL Integrated Solutions was awarded the contract for the installation of the audio and video systems. For Senior Vice President, Bill Gillette, this was especially satisfying because Bill has enjoyed a lasting working relationship with the church since 1989 on various projects (spanning three different companies). “It is always exciting to win a project for a client with whom you already have a relationship. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for both the church and Acoustic Dimensions. We were excited to be part of the team.”
“In any construction project of this magnitude, issues arise that are either unexpected or anticipated. Assembling a team of qualified people that have done this before is key. You need people who are experienced in the process and can give good guidance. Because it isn’t a matter of if these things happen, they will happen. That is the value that was brought to the Brooklyn Tabernacle project from all sides,” commented Gillette.
Installing systems as part of a renovation is never easy, especially when the building is close to 100 years old. “You never know what you will find when you open a wall or if site conditions are exactly what you were expecting,” said Gillette.
Another challenge in the project was coordination of trades in the labor union atmosphere of a big city. “Our philosophy is to create a team atmosphere to work hand in hand with all of the people who make the project come together. The challenge is that sometimes other trades have differing priorities.”
“This was my first time to work on a commissioning where labor unions were involved,” commented Mike Stukey of Acoustic Dimensions. “Working with labor unions adds a whole new aspect to how you get things done. My advice is to make friends and concentrate on the team, because the relationships on the jobsite will make or break the project.”
Fourth Phase of North Bergen, New Jersey handled the lighting installation. “Fourth Phase followed the plans, understood the process, and the system worked on Day One,” said David Stephens. “You can’t ask for more than that!”
Jenn Koermer was the project manager for Fourth Phase throughout the installation. “This was a beautiful project and we loved doing it. Frankly, I think it is a testimony to the companies involved that we were able to work through such a complex renovation and not only have it come out so well, but to end up with a genuine respect for the people involved in the process,” commented Bill Groener, the Regional Vice President for PRG/Fourth Phase.
Proof of Performance
Of course, the proof of performance is in the day to day usage of the facility. The church currently has three services on Sunday with the choir ministering at the 12:00 pm and 4:00 pm services. “We’re so excited,” said Carol Cymbala, the director of the choir, “We’re like a big family moving into a new house.”