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the Hazlett

Efforts to save the venerable Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s North Shore have highlighted a seemingly unusual partnership: The Andy Warhol Museum and Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Right: The Children’s Museum’s Jane Werner and The Warhol’s Thomas Sokolowski stand in front of their joint project, the Hazlett Theater, which will reopen in the fall of 2006.

Photo: Ric Evans







Since 2003, Thomas Sokolowski, director of The Warhol, and Jane Werner, executive director of
the Children’s Museum, have beenworking with the Northside Leadership Conference and other organizations to ensure that the 116-year-old Hazlett remains a vital part of the city’s performing arts community. The Hazlett was the home of the Pittsburgh Public Theater from 1974 until 1999, when the Public moved Downtown to the O’Reilly Theater.

After the Hazlett went dark in 1999, many in the local arts community wished the theater, owned by the City of Pittsburgh, could be resurrected for other performing arts groups. Few, however, had the resources to make that happen.

Enter Werner and Sokolowski, whose organizations had formed an informal partnership fueled by, among other things, their shared interest in giving the city—and, more specifically, the North Shore—a performing-arts venue for smaller arts groups, and a historic one, at that. Together they helped raise $2 million to renovate the theater. They anticipate the theater will reopen as The New Hazlett Theater in the fall of 2006.

“ There had been the notion in the community that there wasn’t enough performance space for small arts organizations and other theater groups,” Sokolowski recalls. “The Hazlett property was bandied about, but then came the questions: is it worthy of being saved, and who could save it?” The answer to the first was a resounding “yes.” And the more Sokolowski and Werner talked, the more they realized that they could spearhead the process.

“ We thought the Hazlett was really important for the development of the North Shore community,” Werner says. Having just expanded their own home to the tune of $29 million, Children’s Museum officials had a vested interest in the continued revitalization of the North Shore, she notes. And the Hazlett is almost literally in the Children’s Museum’s backyard.

“ It would have been a shame to have the Hazlett mothballed, and we felt it was a worthwhile project,” Werner says.

The 10-member board of directors for The New Hazlett Theater has Werner as president and Sokolowski as secretary/treasurer. Others on the board include Deborah McClain, executive director of the Northside Leadership Conference; Dolly Ellenberg, vice president of development for Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh; and representatives from PrimeStage Theatre, Attack Theatre, the University of Pittsburgh, KDKA-TV, Goulston & Storrs law firm, and the City of Pittsburgh.

Key funders for the project are The Heinz Endowments, The Grable Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, an anonymous foundation, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Like the last soldier standing on a battlefield of death, the Hazlett has a proud and determined history. Built in 1889, it was dedicated by President Benjamin Harrison as part of the Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall. By 1967, it had virtually shut down due to serious deterioration, but was resurrected in 1974 to serve as the Public Theater’s home. Since its closing in 1999, the Hazlett has managed to withstand the razing that has befallen other impressive buildings on the North Shore.

The beautiful performing-arts space was home to the original Carnegie Hall.

The theater features a thrust stage, which projects into the audience and is surrounded on three sides by the audience. Its arrangement, good acoustics, and intimate setting have long been popular with patrons and artists alike.

Getting The New Hazlett to this point has been a laborious process, but both Werner and Sokolowski say they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“ Jane Werner was the pit bull in all of this,” Sokolowski says, praising Werner’s vision and determination.

For her part, Werner said she’s pleased not only with what the partnership will have accomplished for the Hazlett but also the doors it has opened for the future.

The board, foundations, and others who have worked on the Hazlett project are “a really great group of people and concerned citizens,” she notes. “They have a real passion for the arts and for Pittsburgh—and they’re interested in making it a city that’s constantly moving forward. We’ve all gotten to be good friends.”

In fact, Werner adds, she and Sokolowski recently collaborated on another project, resulting in an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s art that opened at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in November. The Warhol also has loaned artworks to the Children’s Museum and collaborated on other projects.

Werner said she and Sokolowski share the belief that a museum should be a place for experimentation, like a laboratory. “The Children’s Museum is more like a laboratory and I think that’s how The Warhol thinks about itself. It’s a good collaboration.”

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