Minskoff Theater Sign Makeover: Everyone Must See the Lion King
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Minskoff Theater Sign Makeover: Everyone Must See the Lion King

The Minskoff Theatre (1,597 seats), one of the many major live performing venues along Broadway has recently undergone a signage transformation of its old blade / marquee and window display into a very modern and elegant sign package that was fit for a king: The Lion King that was.

By Louis M Brill

The Lion King being one of Broadway's top performing shows (winner of six Tony' awards) which originally opened in New Amsterdam in 1997, and after nine successful years of running, it was moved in 2006 into the Minskoff, as an ongoing 'must see' show.

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  • As The Lion King was coming to the Minskoff, it was noted that the Minskoff's previous signage was very "last century." What were found were an old fashioned, back-lit theater ID sign, a marquee that had been hodge-podged together, and a window display banner that hung along the Broadway side of the building as an afterthought. With the Lion King set to launch at the Minskoff, the theater required a new sign package of equal stature that would dramatically transmit the excitement of the show with bold signage and graphics. The goal was to create viewable signage for both day and night letting Lion King audiences easily find the Minskoff along Broadway.

    Minskoff's previous signage was an old fashioned, back lit theater ID sign with a marquee that had been hodge-podged together. It's original window display banner hung along the Broadway side of the building as an afterthought
    photo credit: Spectrum Signs

    The Lion King is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions and the Minskoff is owned by the Nederlander, a theater management company that also operates eight other additional theaters throughout the Broadway district. In serving two masters, Spectrum Signs Inc. (Farmingdale, NY) had proposed a spectacular sign package which presented a complete make-over of all the existing Minskoff signage, which included the blade sign, the marquee, and its Broadway side window display. The Minskoff sign package was coordinated and design-assisted by Tom Morra, Spectrums Director of New York City projects who described the theater transitions. "Disney's Lion King got involved in a shell game of being moved from its opening theater (The New Amsterdam) to its new venue, the Minskoff. As the new home of one of Broadway's greatest hits, Spectrum and Disney Theatrical designed an equally imposing sign system. The new sign package not only gave the Minskoff a state-of-the-art sign system, but we increased the theater's advertising surface area by at least 85%." Minskoff's new signage now gave the theater a complete sign system and the ability that as the theater changed shows, so does the signage change along with the show.

    Blade Sign
    On a day-to-day basis, David O'Connell, Spectrum's Project Manager, along with Tom Fitzsimons, Spectrum’s Shop Manager, coordinated all construction elements and on-site work at the theater. In approaching the Minskoff sign construction, O'Connell observed that each of the theater's sign components were very outdated and in the fast-paced action of today's Broadway entertainment, the theater needed signage with a lot more 'pizzazz.' In approaching the Minskoff sign construction, Fitzsimons noted that Minskoff's original blade sign was a back-lit, stencil-cut face light cabinet that identified the theater, but failed to equally promote whatever show was currently on stage.

    The new sign package gave the Minskoff Theatre the ability that as the theater changed shows, so does the signage change along with the show. The Spectrum installed sign system also increased the theater's advertising surface area by at least 85%.
    photo credit: Spectrum Signs

    The new blade sign was an internally lit, double-faced sign cabinet (25-feet tall by 8 feet wide) that projected ten feet from the building. With its new design, the blade was capable of now displaying both the theater ID and a very large, back-lit translucent vinyl graphic, which could be changed out from show-to-show.
    photo credit: Spectrum Signs

    Spectrum's solution was to create an entirely new blade sign that was also an internally lit, double-faced sign cabinet. More than just having a theater ID, the blade also gave over the majority of its sign face to promote the on-site show, this being The Lion King. The new sign cabinet, (25-feet tall by 8 feet wide) projected ten feet from the building and was fabricated from 1/8th inch thick, custom created, anodized "Dark Bronze" cladding covered with 'decorative elements'. With a more effective lighting design, the blade could now display both the theater ID and also had room for a very large, back-lit translucent vinyl graphic, which could be changed out from show-to-show.

    In bringing this new sign box onto the building, its structural support connections were enhanced as well. The original sign box was connected to the building's interior structural steel with a pair of stub outs. To support the additional cabinet's weight, another stub out was added to the building frame.

    To get to the steel column, Spectrum began by cutting out a square tile segment from the building's original limestone cladding. Once that was removed, an interior path was cleared to the structural steel and the additional horizontal stub out was welded in place. Once the stub out was attached, the limestone tile was modified (a hole cut in its center) to accommodate the stub out and then inserted back onto the building facade. With all the stub outs in place, the new sign cabinet was installed and hung on the side of the building.

    The original Minskoff marquee was antiquated and had outgrown its use as a sign display. Like its previous blade sign, most of the territory of the marquee was a theater ID, but had left very little space to promote its resident show (this being Fiddler on the Roof). The theater had attached three light boxes on top of the marquee as a 'show promotion,' inevitably the marquee needed to be updated to a more suitable display.

    In rebuilding the Minskoff marquee, Morra noted how Spectrum redesigned its shape where its longest side was at least 2/3rds the length of the entire marquee. This meant giving the Broadway marquee side a longer length to give more viewing exposure to the Bow Tie (where 7th crosses Broadway) area that passed the marquee.

    In designing the marquee, it was also fabricated with 1/8th inch, anodized aluminum 'Dark Bronze,' cladding with its own decorative edge elements. To complete the design, the marquee also had in place a series of incandescent chaser bulbs lining its bottom perimeter. The marquee sign face was translucent flex material, also from a specially adopted printing process provided by Pointer Crosse (Danbury, CT).

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    Broadway window display
    Within the Minskoff lobby area on its Broadway facing side, previous to its now predominant light box displays, theater shows were presented by printing promotions on vinyl banners that were hung from the lobby ceiling with aviation wire. The use of these banners was problematic as during the day they restricted daylight into the lobby area and at night, were not illuminated. This in turn was a contradiction of use, as the evening Lion King audiences making their way to the Minskoff had to work a little harder in finding the theater, which was around the corner of Broadway, on 45th Street. The solution that Spectrum proposed was to create a series of large light box cabinets that would replace the banners in the Broadway lobby windows.

    To accomplish lifting up the light cabinets. Spectrum relied on the already in place painting scaffold system (provided by Eagle Scaffolding Company) that was in use for redoing the lobby decor. In the background the overhead light cabinet out rigger system was used to position each light cabinet in place along its specific window bay position.
    photo credit: Spectrum Signs

    For the new Broadway window displays Spectrum was charged with building a series of double-faced, interior lit sign cabinets (22 total) with front and rear graphics to be accessible for mounting from the lobby interior side of the light box. Additionally, Fitzsimons added that he designed the cabinets so that each box would also provide full lobby side access for all lamp and ballast change outs, cabinet and window cleaning at regular service intervals. Each cabinet was dimensioned at almost 15-feet high by nine feet wide, with each cabinet weighing about 700 pounds.

    The light cabinets were to be installed within the second floor lobby area, with one unit to each window bay. That in itself presented two big challenges; getting the light cabinets from the street level to the second floor lobby, and two, lifting and installing each cabinet into its own window bay. At that point, the light cabinet installation became a show in itself. To allow for easy maneuvering of getting the light cabinets into the second floor lobby area, the boxes were fabricated as two-part modules. Once delivered on-site, each 350-pound component was physically carried up the 75-step stairs using tried and true 'man power.'

    Once the cabinet components were all in place within the lobby area, they were all reassembled. The next challenge was how to lift them up to be installed within each window bay. The first part of the installation was very demanding as it involved attaching each light box to a corresponding vertical building column that was positioned between each bay window. To get at the columns, Spectrum workers cut into the aluminum cladding to expose the vertical column steel. There were only two connections per cabinet at their sides in the centers which presented the potential for a great amount of torque there. After careful calculations by engineer Scott Lewis, this mounting system was given the blessing to proceed.

    Forty-four double plate steel stub outs were manufactured and installed to provide a bolt connected mounting surface from the “I” beams’ web out past the thin column sheet-metal cladding surface. The “as built” random large tolerances between existing columns required precise layout and a need for each of the 44 steel stub outs to be custom manufactured in length in order to provide only 1/8” space between each light box and it’s the existing window bay cladding.

    As for lifting each light box in place, O'Connell, who is also a NYC licensed Master Sign Hanger and Master Rigger, recommended a unique rigging system that hoisted each light box into its own window bay where it was securely attached. Because of the tight quarters within each window bay, it prevented any normal lifting process of grabbing the box from its outside surface and hoisting it in place. To get around that challenge O'Connell noted, "we created a custom lifting system where we inserted a cross beam which was bolted inside of each sign cabinet. Using the cross beam as a lifting bar we were able to grab each cabinet and properly position it."

    The lifting process was also a sight to behold because the interior lobby area didn't actually allow for any kind of a crane to be positioned inside for lifting up the light boxes. Furthermore there was the additional challenge of dealing with two rows of light boxes, with the upper row 44-feet in the air, at ceiling height. To accomplish the box lift, Spectrum relied on the already in place painting scaffold system (provided by Eagle Scaffolding Company) that was in use for redoing the lobby decor.

    Close up detail of Spectrum's aluminum Out Rigger beam which was clamped on top of the scaffold at the 44-foot height that ran perpendicular to each window bay. The lifting system allowed each sign cabinet to be properly positioned for hoisting into its window bay position.
    photo credit: Spectrum Signs

    Spectrum's solution utilized an aluminum Out Rigger beam clamped on top of the scaffold at the 44-foot height that ran perpendicular to each window bay. Mounted on the ends of the beam were a set of pulleys, one on the window side, the other on the lobby area side. This in turn allowed Spectrum to mount an electric winch down at ground level with the cable going up to the lobby pulley, along the beam to the street pulley and back down to the ground, where each sign cabinet was placed for hoisting into its window bay position. One by one the light cabinets were lifted up, bolted in place and once tested, had both the Broadway side and then lobby area side graphics installed from the lobby side of the cabinets. It should also be noted that while Spectrum designed and fabricated all parts of the Minskoff Theater sign system, Service Sign Erectors (NY, NY) assisted Spectrum during the Minskoff installation.

    Once the Minskoff Broadway light cabinets were completely installed, O'Connell stood across the street to take it all in and appreciate it, both as Project Manager and as another pedestrian walking along Broadway. "The inclusion of the Minskoff Broadway window display not only puts the Minskoff Theater and The Lion King on the Times Square map, but it's become a significant part of the signature look of Times Square."

    Beyond the design and installation, service and maintenance of any sign is always considered by Spectrum as the job is first planned. To implement maintenance, Spectrum had included a pair of 'service lifts' to allow workers to get at sign cabinets for cleaning and graphic change outs. The big challenge of course was getting the lifts up the stairs from street level. O’Connell devised the cable hoist rigging to pull two 1,000-pound aerial work platforms up the 75-step grand staircase. “Those units are fixtures there and were sold to the theater for the sole purpose to access these signs for this and to do placements for all future advertisements.”

    Speaking of being on the map, Morra noted The Lion King again reigned supreme in part because of Spectrum's Minskoff signage had met its goal of giving The Lion King a great street-side presence, proving once and for all, that indeed, the Minskoff was fit for "The King."

    Readers who wish to follow the entire story of Times Square can follow with these other pieces related to its history:

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    In this third and final part of One Times Square, we examine even more of the fascinating, ever-evolving changes to this iconic landmark and how technology plays a very interesting and important role.

    One Times Square: A Global Icon Marks Time - 2003-2010, Part II
    Slowly, but surely between 2003 to 2010, one spectacular display after another on One Times Square has been upgraded with a more modern version of itself or outright replaced with a new client and a new spectacular.

    One Times Square Revisions: Signage in the crossroads of the world through the years
    If any building was to be dedicated as homage to sign displays, honors could easily point to One Times Square. It stands tall not only in height, but also throughout its 100 plus year history with its influence on iconic advertising, on sign displays, with its vinyl and electronic billboards and its timeless metaphors, all wedded to the building from top (the annual New Year's Eve ball drop) to the bottom (the news zipper wrapped around the building's base).

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    The electronic message reader board is the town crier of the modern age. It is a simplistic, horizontal column of light bulbs or LEDs whose intermediate flashes of world watching headlines, slide effortlessly across reader board signs attached to banks and financial institutions and to the front walls of major corporate headquarters.

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    In the middle of all its surrounding Times Square spectaculars, billboards and sign edifices, stands the flagship Hershey Times Square, a retail gift store which is a chocolate confectionary paradise that is the center of the chocolate universe.

    Minskof Theater
    The Minskoff Theatre (1,597 seats), one of the many major live performing venues along Broadway has recently undergone a signage transformation of its old blade / marquee and window display into a very modern and elegant sign package that was fit for a king: The Lion King that was.

    ABC Times Square
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    This is a story of unrequited love converged with New York City's first electronic billboard, where a marriage proposal was displayed in all its glory directly above the Crossroads of the World.

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