When Peter Shapiro, owner of Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Bowl, took over The Capitol Theatre in December 2011—first leasing the theatre and then buying it in December 2012—the venue was a mere shadow of its former glory.
In the late ’60s and ’70s, the historic theatre—it was designed in the 1920s by renowned architect Thomas Lamb, also responsible for the Boston Opera House and the United Palace Theatre—hosted the likes of Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and other top acts of the era. In the early ‘90s, popular bands Phish and Blues Traveler played the hall. Yet, since 1997, it had served as a catering facility, providing the backdrop for weddings and bar mitzvahs rather than rock ‘n’ roll.
As an avid music lover and experienced concert promoter, Shapiro made it his personal project to restore The Capitol Theatre to a grand music hall. He started by trying to take over the lease from Marvin Ravikoff, the local developer who had owned the venue since 1983. “Marvin was very protective about the theatre and he considered it like a family member,” said Shapiro. “And you wouldn’t give up a family member without being very careful.”
Once Shapiro succeeded, “I worked really hard, and it took a few years,” he says. “But I wouldn’t give up because I really felt it was a very special opportunity.” He began renovating the theatre, transforming it into what he believes is the the ideal place for great acts to perform. “She’s a queen, not a princess—so she needs to be treated like a queen,” says Shapiro. “She really needs the best of everything, so we gave her the best sound in the world, the best light in the world, the best video projection in the world.”
Shapiro also had to attract a crowd to the venue. Some older patrons remembered the theatre from its days as a music hall and were excited to return. “A lot of people had memories of being at a show. ‘I saw Grateful Dead there,’ they’d say. ‘I was there for the Stones.’” Still, the younger generation had to be convinced to come—which is why Shapiro made sure the first act, presented in September 2012, was a big name: Bob Dylan. “In the social media world, buzz travels fast,” says Shapiro. “So opening with Bob Dylan was a good way to get going.”
Since re-opening, the theatre has sold 113,866 tickets for more than 100 shows, including Al Green, Counting Crows, and Blondie. This summer, Chicago, the Alabama Shakes, and David Byrne & St. Vincent graced the stage, and while the fall schedule hasn’t been released in full as of press time, Bonnie Raitt, Jonny Lang, and Neil Young & Crazy Horse with Patti Smith have been confirmed, among others. Shapiro also recently opened Garcia’s, a bar in the lobby that is open even when there are no performances.
Shapiro certainly is relishing the return of The Capitol Theatre to its former grandeur. “It is a dream in a lot of ways, a dream come true,” he says. “It was a hard dream. I don’t know if I’d want to do it again, but I’m really really happy.”
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