I Wanna Know

PW exposes the tricks, scams and truth about the powers that be.

By Sammy Mack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 11, 2004

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Q: Why was the Shubert Theater's name changed to the Merriam? And who is Merriam?

A: The current namesake of the former Shubert Theater is the late John W. Merriam. "The Merriam family--Jack Merriam--bought it for the College of Performing Arts," says Eugene Bolt of the University of the Arts, which now runs the theater. The venue's current handle is the most recent in a long history of rechristenings. A building known as Horticultural Hall first occupied the spot where the Merriam now stands. It was built by architect Frank Miles Day and opened in 1867. Known for its elegant architecture and well-heeled crowd, Horticultural Hall was a high-society mecca. Most of the events held in the hall were lectures and concerts. Eventually the Shubert Theater Company took over the property and hired architect Herbert Krapp to make the space more conducive to musical theater. The hall was all but torn down and reconstructed. Only the sweeping marble staircases were saved from the original structure. The reconstructed theater reopened in 1918, this time under the name Shubert. The company used its Philly stage as a trial venue before taking shows to Broadway. The Shubert Theater brought names like John Barrymore, Tallulah Bankhead and Laurence Olivier to Philadelphia. During the 1940s the theater departed from its Broadway-practice-run strategy when, in the midst of a wartime economy, it became the "Follies" and operated briefly as a burlesque playhouse. Around this time a fire gutted the theater. When it reopened a few years later, the theater returned to staging mainstream productions under the name Shubert. In 1971 local businessman and University of the Arts trustee Jack Merriam bought the Shubert Theater and donated it to the school. The university ran the Shubert Theater and maintained its name for two decades. It was renamed a final time in 1991, after Merriam's death. Today the storied theater stages traveling Broadway shows, and several of its rooms function as University of the Arts classrooms.

What do you wanna know? Send queries and complaints to Sammy Mack at smack@philadelphiaweekly.com

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