Last month, when the former Embassy I Theater reopened, its landmarked interior was visible again for the first time in five years. Now home to soccer goods store, the space still boasts many of its original features:
Look up, for instance, and you’ll find some of its best. According the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the eight, half-spherical light fixtures on the ceiling are “irreplaceable.” Installed in 1925, the lamps were forged from rock crystal and brass. They were initially lined with some sort of fringe but, sadly, that decoration has gone missing.
What hasn’t long vanished, however, is the house that once made them. The Rambusch Lighting Company is still in business.
Founded in 1898, when the city itself was born, Rambusch was the brainchild of Frode C. V. Rambusch, a Danish immigrant who moved to New York after studying art in Copenhagen, Munich, and Berlin. From his office at 160 5th Avenue, he first focused on decorating religious institutions. Later, as his commissions grew, he brought metal, stained glass, lighting, and custom paint services into his company’s oeuvre. Today, the firm counts sculpture, LED lighting, bas-relief, mosaic, and marble work as components of its enterprise too.
By virtue of being around for over 100 years, Rambusch has had its fair share of sorrows: Many of the the buildings it glamorized are no longer with us. Places like the Roxy Theater, Stork Club, the New York Theater, and Horn & Hardat’s string of automats have all met the wrecking ball. But, thankfully, in addition to the old Embassy auditorium, thousands of company’s crafts can still be found gleaming inside spaces like the Mark Hellinger Theater (1655 Broadway), United Palace (4240 Broadway), the Lever House (309 Park Avenue), Rainbow Room (30 Rockefeller Plaza), and the Beacon Theatre (2124 Broadway). The list goes on, but still belies the company’s reach.
In fact, Rambusch not only produces original art, it also provides restoration work too. Just glancing at a rundown of sites the company refurbished over the past few years reads like a “who’s who” of New York real estate. It’s worked on the Equitable Building, the Marble Collegiate Church, the Empire State Building, the Frick Collection’s Portico Gallery, the Chrysler Building, Bergdorf Goodman, the Fred F. French Building, and 550 Madison Avenue (formerly Sony Plaza).
Two of its projects have had national significance. Rambusch renewed the Statue of Liberty’s original 3,600-pound copper torch, and it’s now showcased in the Statue of Liberty Museum that opened in May on Liberty Island. The company also created the FDNY Memorial Wall — an 8,000-pound, 56-foot long by 6-foot high, marble, bas-relief — that hangs on the Greenwich Street side of the new firehouse for Engine 10, Ladder 10. (The previous structure was destroyed on September 11, 2001.) Honoring the 343 firefighters who died during the attack on the World Trade Center across the street, the Wall was unveiled in 2006.
And although the Rambusch Company left for Jersey City in 1991, it’s impossible to pry it away from New York. If you see one, you’ll see the other. Besides, both the company and city are now 121 years old.
Photos by Rick Stachura. Ceiling of the old Embassy I Theater. November 21, 2019.