On the incredibly balmy Sunday last weekend, Kate, Barb, Lydia and I drove down to Longwood Gardens. Lydia wanted to visit the topiary garden (which is where I really, really want to show Edward Scissorhands at the Guerilla Drive-In.) I took a picture using the Pano panorama-maker app for the iPhone. There’s a bigger version on Flickr:
On the way in, they told us that there would be a tour UNDERNEATH THE OPEN-AIR THEATER. If you’ve been to Longwood, that’s the theater where they put on Gilbert and Sullivan productions in the summers, and then during intermission and after the show, they clear the set and have a big illuminated fountain display. Here’s a picture from Longwood’s site:
Like many folks living in the area, I’ve been to Longwood many times since I was a kid; I remember seeing the Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado there, and I knew that the DuPonts had brought every A-list act down to perform at the theater: John Philip Sousa and Martha Graham are two that I remember. I wonder how Martha Graham’s company dealt with the slippery tiles that covered the stage at that time; since the stage is also a fountain display, I’d imagine that it’s like dancing on the bottom of a great big bathtub.
That’s a picture of the stage/fountain floor at left, which can be covered up with pie-shaped metal wedges when the play is going on. There are lots and lots and lots of brass nozzles, and lots of little glass windows with spotlights set behind them. Looking into the little windows, you imagine a two-foot light well back there; something with a hidden hinge that opens to reveal a little metal box.
And I had expected that, under the fountains, under the stage where Sousa Sous-ed and Graham dance, that there would be some pump rooms to power the fountains. And some drains, maybe. Maybe if the DuPonts were really going all out, they’d make the crawlways, like, five feet tall, so you could almost stand up in there.
Boy, was I completely wrong. You know what’s actually under there? PALATIAL UNDERGROUND DRESSING ROOMS. Palatial dressing rooms with SKYLIGHTS. Which, during intermissions, must have looked like SECRET UNDERGROUND DISCO CARWASHES, with the fountain water sluicing down over the windows, and the colored spotlights beaming away up through them. Here’s the men’s dressing room, directly under picture at the left:
The doors in the wings lead to staircases with what appear to be real mahogany bannisters, letting down on an underground theater rabbit-warren. A swanky one; the kind that you imagine Congress repairing to in the fifties, with real wood paneled doors and flags on gilt flagpoles all around.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the DuPonts. How many times in your life have you seen an interesting little cubbyhole door, and imagined what might be behind it, only to find that it’s just where the vacuum cleaner is kept? I feel like I opened the door under the sink, and instead of finding a rusty garbage disposal, found a combination Busby Berkeley musical and Motorcycle Sphere of Death going on under there. All with genuine mahogany trim. Hurrah!
If you’re interested, you can check Longwood’s site to find when the next tour is. There’s also a conservatory tunnels tour coming up. Though I’ve heard that sort of thing can be unsettling.