1920s actresses get makeovers at Times Square landmark

By Jovana Rizzo | September 29, 2008 11:45AM

Four statues of 1920s Broadway actresses will be restored at the I. Miller building, at 1552 Broadway in Times Square.

Statues of 1920s New York actresses — Academy Award-winning Canadian movie star Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy; vaudeville headliner Rosa Ponselle in “Norma”; stage actress Ethel Barrymore as Ophelia; and Broadway musical star Marilyn Miller in the title role in the musical “Sunny” — stand in niches near the top of the building, at 46th Street. Above them is the phrase: “The show folks shoe shop dedicated to beauty in footwear.” The Building Was A Broadway shoe store in the early 1900s, opened by Polish shoe manufacturer Israel Miller.

The architectural and interior design firm Tobin + Parnes Design Enterprises is restoring the statues, along with the 13,120-square-foot, four-story building’s curved window storefront and limestone façade, constructed during a renovation in 1926.

Andrea Dibner, a principal at Tobin + Parnes, said the firm is working with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to evaluate all of these details and determine whether the statues and other building details need to be cleaned and repaired or completely replaced.

“There are marble surrounds on the first and second story windows, and we have not been able to find the same stone anywhere,” Dibner said. “We have to decide with the Commission if we want to use artistic painting methods to match the marble, or just leave what’s left of the original marble there.”

Dibner said her firm is hoping to start the estimated $1 million restoration in spring 2009 and finish by the winter. An obstacle facing the architects is the construction moratorium in Times Square between November and January. The property falls within a three-block radius of the no-construction zone the city imposes on the area during the holiday season.

The building’s landlord, the Riese Organization, is operating a T.G.I. Friday franchise at 1552 Broadway, which may be partially closed during the restoration.

Dibner said Tobin + Parnes is no stranger to working with strict landmark guidelines and the construction time crunch in Times Square, hired the firm because it specializes in restoring landmark buildings. Previously, Tobin + Parnes completely reconstructed a theater marquee at 1501 Broadway, at 44th Street, which was once the Paramount Theater and currently houses the Hard Rock Cafe.