Daniel Meltzer, Protector of the Beacon Theater, Dies at 74

November 17, 2014

By BRUCE WEBER

November 13, 2014

Daniel B. Meltzer, a writer and teacher and perfervid New Yorker who led the successful fight to rescue one of the city’s most grandiose showplaces, the cavernous Beacon Theater, from transformation into a discothèque, died on Nov. 6 in Manhattan. He was 74.

The cause was prostate cancer, said Nina Felshin, his partner.

Mr. Meltzer had a varied career in letters. He published a volume of short stories, “Outsiders.” Several of his plays, including four one-acts collected as “The Square Root of Love,” were produced off Off Broadway. He taught journalism at New York University. He was a writer and editor at CBS News and other news outlets. He wrote columns for Manhattan neighborhood publications like The Villager and The Westsider, and contributed articles to many newspapers around the country.

His most tangibly effective role, however, was as an activist.

A bemoaner of what he called the loss of community in Manhattan’s neighborhoods, Mr. Meltzer was a longtime resident of the Upper West Side, which is where the Beacon Theater opened as a 2,700-seat vaudeville house and movie palace in 1929. Built by Samuel Rothafel, better known as Roxy, whose subsequent project was Radio City Music Hall, and designed by Walter L. Ahlschlager, the theater, on Broadway at 74th Street, was later used as a concert hall. In 1979, its interior was designated a city landmark.

It is a “lavish space with stylistic effects drawn from the traditions of Greek, Roman, Renaissance and Rococo architecture,” the Landmarks Preservation Commission said of the building, which “offers a sense of the fantasy and drama of the theater.”

Over time, however, the Beacon had become run-down, and in the early 1980s a prominent developer of discos, Olivier Coquelin, announced plans to renovate the theater and turn it into a club with a dance floor and nightly live music, spurring Mr. Meltzer to action.

As chairman of the Save the Beacon committee, which formed in 1985, he helped create a coalition of people with different motives that included neighbors disinclined to accept a noisy new music club in their midst and music business figures who did not want to lose a rare midsize concert venue. Philanthropists, including Brooke Astor, supported the cause, as did celebrities like Marvin Hamlisch, Yoko Ono, Judy Collins and Harry Belafonte.

More than 20,000 people signed petitions or attended demonstrations and a benefit concert as part of the campaign. In 1987, Mr. Meltzer’s committee prevailed when a judge ruled that the conversion would violate the theater’s protected status.

“Conversion to a discothèque will not safeguard or enhance the city’s historic aesthetic and cultural heritage,” the judge, Acting Justice Jacqueline W. Silbermann of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, wrote.

Daniel Benjamin Meltzer was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 24, 1940, to Jack Meltzer and the former Kitty Talber. For a time, his father owned and operated a movie theater.

Daniel Meltzer attended Brooklyn public schools, studied literature and documentary film at City College of New York, and earned a master’s degree in theater at Hunter College. He served in the Army Reserve during the Vietnam War.

Mr. Meltzer was married and divorced twice. In addition to Ms. Felshin, his closest survivors are nieces, a nephew and cousins.

The Beacon, which is now leased by MSG Entertainment, part of the Madison Square Garden Company, was lavishly renovated in 2008 and has been home in recent years to the Tony Awards, annual concerts by the Allman Brothers and performances by Steely Dan, the Beach Boys, and Earth, Wind and Fire, among many others. Bob Dylan is to perform there in late November and early December.

“Ultimately, we prevailed over a consortium of cynical developers who would have replaced this magnificent movie palace with an enormous discothèque-restaurant and ultimately a black hole destined to house yet another big-box store,” Mr. Meltzer wrote in a letter to The New York Times in 2008, during the renovation. “This was one of the grandest and, alas, last demonstrations of community heart and power in New York City.

It has taken far too long for this cleanup and renovation to occur, and we are thankful for it, finally. We look forward to the restoration of this unique showplace to its original splendor.”

Originally posted by The New York Times