Once upon a time, movie theaters were truly palaces, and few were equal in design and texture to Loew’s five lavishly designed “Wonder Theatres” built in and near New York City between 1929 and 1930.
While there are efforts underway to restore several of these opulent octogenarians that have been in and out of commission over the years, Loew’s 175th Street Theatre—today known as United Palace—has remained in almost constant use since day one and now has a new L-Acoustics-based sound system that will carry the venue into its next century.
Located at West 175th Street and Broadway in upper Manhattan, the facility continues to stay busier than ever hosting church services, theatrical productions and music concerts. United Palace is also home to two non-profit cultural centers: United Palace House of Inspiration (UPHI), an all-inclusive spiritual center, and United Palace of Cultural Arts (UPCA), an independent, nonprofit arts and cultural center.
In September, Boston’s Audio Spectrum installed a new system in the theater comprising 20 L-Acoustics K2 array elements and six K1-SB subs divided into two flown arrays, eight SB28 ground subs, four X8 coaxials used as front-row fills, and an even dozen LA8 amplified controllers to power them all.
Jed DeFilippis has been the technical director and production manager at United Palace for a little over 18 months, but in that time has soaked up its history as well as its technical needs.
“It was repurposed as a church in 1969, after reverend Ike [Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II] bought it,” he recalls. “But after he stopped preaching they began to bring in promoters and events to help support the building. It had a tiny PA system—only good for a single person speaking—so most of the promoters were bringing their own sound systems and rigging with them.
“After I got here, I suggested they buy their own rider-friendly PA and rigging, which they could rent to those same promoters, getting return on that investment and making it easier on the event producers, who wouldn’t have to rent outside systems, and on the building, which wouldn’t have the wear and tear that bringing in rental systems can cause. Robert Way, our COO, was immediately eager to put together the ROI research, so we started considering potential upgrade options.”
As the former technical director for Caesar’s Entertainment in Las Vegas, DeFilippis had first encountered L-Acoustics when he heard the V-DOSC system used in the Paris Theatre for Barry Manilow, ultimately transitioning it over to the RIO Theatre for Penn & Teller. “That system was powerful, durable, and sounded great,” he says.
As it turned out, Audio Spectrum, one of the companies that would bring rental systems into United Palace to support productions there, is an L-Acoustics vendor.
“Rafael Jaimes at Audio Spectrum knows the Palace well and said that K2 would be the perfect system for this room, and it is,” notes DeFilippis. “The perception of the Palace is changing, being increasingly regarded as a great concert venue, and by bringing a rider-friendly PA like K2 in, we’re helping promote that perception.” Indeed, the neighborhood, once regarded as rough-and-tumble, has been gentrifying, paving the way for a renaissance with the Palace as a gem in its crown.
But the K2 system solved another issue for the venerable venue. Its massive balcony, divided into an upper and lower loge and a main balcony, hovers over a huge swatch of the orchestra-level seating in the 3,400-seat theater. The rear sections of both levels were difficult to reach for sound.
K2 and L-Acoustics’ PANFLEX system, a unique horizontal-steering technology that combines mechanically adjustable fins with DSP algorithms effective from 300 Hz, quickly resolved that issue. Narrowing or widening the horizontal directivity of the adjustable fins can serve many purposes, including, in this case, adapting the throw to fit long and short distance coverage/SPL requirements, while also avoiding reflective surfaces.
“Now, we get the sound all the way to the back wall of both levels, clearly and evenly,” says DeFilippis. “And L-Acoustics’ engineer came in and did the tuning in a matter of hours after it was installed. Amazing.”
Rafael Jaimes, principal at Audio Spectrum, says the K2 arrays are well suited to United Palace’s specific needs: “We used L-Acoustics’ Soundvision modeling program and its predictions were very accurate—we knew we’d be able to completely cover the rear seats of the orchestra and balcony areas completely and consistently.”
Jaimes says having done shows there as the SR vendor in the past and knowing the venue helped, but he was still pleasantly surprised that the system installation took well under a week and was ready for the first system’s first show, Nick Cannon Presents: Wild ‘N Out Live! on September 8.
“The K2 has a ton of horsepower and can reach way back, but it’s also a very straightforward system to install,” he says. “But at the end of the day, it’s about the sound, and the K2 always sounds great.”