In 1699 a petition was first made for a license to perform plays in Manhattan and 30 years later the first theater opened. From colonial New York the city spread northward until the Theater District landed in Times Square beginning at the turn of the 20th century. Actually it was still Longacre Square in 1895 when Oscar Hammerstein developed a large entertainment complex on 42nd Street, and had three theaters.
During this time, a lot of new theaters opened on The Great White Way, so named for Broadway’s famous light show. The vaudeville circuit found success along with legitimate theatre. In 1904, the New York Times celebrated a successful effort to rename Longacre Square with their new office building, the second tallest in Manhattan.
Times Square became the premiere theater district in the United States during the First World War. During the 1914-15 season, 113 productions were staged all within the 13-block area. During this time, films were becoming a big part of popular culture and with them came a lot of openings of new film theaters in the square and around the city.
The Great Depression turned many of the live stages into movie palaces and television helped turn many of the movie houses into live nude shows, erotic bookstores, and X-rated movie theaters in the 1960s and 1970s. Beginning in the 1980s, businesses and city officials began to clean up the Square as new legislation and building condemnations began to reverse Times Square’s seedy reputation. By 1993 there were 36 adult businesses, down from 140 in the 1970s.
During the 1990s, Times Square became a new symbol for the vibrancy of Manhattan. It is the only place in New York City where tenants are required to display big neon signs. Boasting an estimated 26 million annual visitors each year, it is the first stop for many a newcomer. So let’s not tarry in joining them. This walkingtour will begin at what is affectionately called “the crossroads of the world”...
Broadway and Seventh Avenue
Times Square is at the crossroads of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, or as New York likes to boast, “the crossroads of the world.” On December 31, 1904 The New York Times celebrated the opening of its new building on the traffic triangle between 42nd and 43rd streets with a public fireworks display and four months later Longacre Square officially became Times Square. The iconic New Years Eve ball first dropped in 1907. With the installation of the “zipper news bulletin board” in 1928, Times Square became America’s gathering place during significant events of the day. Those who gathered were not always the types the Chamber of Commerce readily endorsed and Times Square became synonymous with drugs, pornography and just plain weirdos. But a “cleaning up” in the 1990s has produced a square of Broadway theaters, television studios and retail shops on steroids. The Times Square District is the only place in the city where businesses are required to advertise in bright lights. The Times Square Visitor Center is in the restored Embassy Theater at 1560 Broadway.
New Amsterdam Theatre
214 West 42nd Street
When it was built in 1903 the New Amsterdam was the largest theater in New York and could seat 1800 people. Decorated in mauves, greens and golds, the New York Times was moved to gush that it was “The House Beautiful;” it was the first triumph for architects Henry Beaumont Herts and Hugh Tallent who wnet on to specialize in theater design. The money men were Abraham Lincoln Erlanger and Marcus Alonzo Klaw who got into show business in the 1880sand by 1895 were helming the second largest booking company in the country with a stranglehold on theaters in the South. In 1913, the New Amsterdam became the home of the Ziegfeld Follies. Along with the Follies, Ziegfeld produced many revues and musical comedies. In 1914, the rooftop theatre was renamed Danse de Follies and Ziegfeld added a dance floor on the rooftop. Later, in 1923, its rooftop stage would be referred to as the Frolic Theatre. The Great Depression turned the New Amsterdam into primarily a movie house. The final live production in the New Amsterdam was a staging of Othello starring Walter Huston. In 1993, the WaltDisney Corporation brought the New Amsterdam back from the dead at an estimated restoration cost of$34 million.
WALK NORTH ON BROADWAY.
1505 Broadway between 43rd and 44th streets
A small town of 3,664 could enjoy movies here when this 33-story skyscraper of buff brick was opened in 1926 as the New York headquarters of Paramount Pictures. Chicago architects Cornelius and George Rapp, with over 400 theaters to their credit, drew up the plans for the Paramount, which boasted one of the mightiest organs the Wurlitzer Company ever built. The theater was shuttered in the 1960s and the Paramount Building, which steps back eight times from the curb as it rises to a burly timepiece, was converted to office and retail space.
TURN LEFT ON 44TH STREET.
The Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street
David Belasco opened the Stuyvesant Theatre in October 1907, debuting the musical A Grand Army Man with a 19-year old Antoinette Perry in the lead. Perry would later help found the American Theatre Wing that annually recognizes achievements in the theatre named for her - the Tony Awards. Belasco owned another theater at the time on 42nd Street that carried his name but after selling that property in 1910 he immediately rechristened the Stuyvesant as the Belasco. He provided himself with a duplex apartment above the theatre that had the decor of a Gothic church, and housed much of his theatrical memorabilia. Following his death, the theatre was rumored to be haunted by his ghost, probably upset that the lavish office was now the air conditioning room.
Sam S. Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th Street
This lavishly decorated theater, located in Shubert Alley and named by Lee and Jacob Shubert in memory of their brother Sam who was killed in a 1905 train crash, is the center of the Shubert theater empire. The 1500-seat house was designed by Henry B. Herts and built in 1913. Both the building and the interior are New York City landmarks. Some of the most notable productions at the Shubert Theatre include: Gay Divorce, The Philadelphia Story, Here’s Love, A Chorus Line, The Buddy Holly Story, Crazy for You, Big, and Spamalot among many others.
234 West 44th Street
Vincent Sardi opened his first eatery down the block in 1921 and came to this location five years later. To kickstart some business Sardi hired a Russian immigrant named Alex Gard to do drawings of Broadway celebrities in exchange for one meal per day. Gard would do more than 700 caricatures for the restaurant walls until he died in 1948. A Broadway institution for several generations, Sardi’s is also the birthplace of the Tony Awards and for many years it was the location for the announcement of the Tony Awards nominations.
235 West 44th Street
Mirror images of each other, the Broadhurst and the neighboring Plymouth Theatre, which opened within two weeks of each other in 1917, were the brainchild of architect Herbert J. Krapp, and were his first independent commissions. Typical of Knapp’s work he kept the ornaments to a minimum o his Neoclassical creation. The stage carries the name OD British-American playwright George Broadhurst who also managed theaters in partnership with the Shuberts. In 1935 Humphrey Bogart appeared in Robert E. Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest which launched his Hollywood career when it was made into a movie.
Helen Hayes Theater
240 West 44th Street
It was called the Little Theater when it was built in 1912 as Broadway’s smallest playhouse - only 300 patrons could file through the Neo-Colonial entrance (it has since nearly doubled). From 1942 to 1959, it was a concert and meeting space managed by The New York Times, and was used as a television studio by ABC from 1959 through 1963. It has remained primarily a Broadway house ever since and was renamed for American dramatic actress Helen Hayes in 1983 after the original Helen Hayes Theater on West 46th Street was demolished.
St. James Theater
246 West 44th Street
Buffalo native Abraham Erlanger teamed up with lawyer and part-time theater critic Marcus Claw in 1886 to run a booking agency in New York City. The duo soon controlled all aspects of production and earned the enmity of almost everyone in the theater business from fellow impresarios to actors to set builders as they built the empire. This was The Erlanger when it opened as one of their last projects in 1927; after the owner died in 1930 the Ne0-Georgian house took the name of the popular London, England stage. Few theaters have been home to as many musical hits: Oklahoma (1943), The King & I (1951), Hello Dolly (1964), The Producers (2001) and many more.
245 West 44th Street
This is the second Broadway theater to use this name – the first, located at Columbus Circle and 58th Street, was demolished in 1954. The Majestic Theatre was originally built in 1927 by real-estate magnates, the Chanin Brothers, as part of a three-theatre complex that also included the Royale (a mid-sized house) and the Theatre Masque, now the John Golden (a small house). Herbert Krapp designed the complex in a lively Spanish Revival style. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein enjoyed a nearly decade-long run in the Majestic Theatre, with four musicals premiering in rapid succession: Carousel (1945) with Jan Clayton and John Raitt, Allegro (1947), South Pacific (1949) starring Mary Martin and winning that year’s Tony Award, and Me and Juliet (1953). Since 1988 the Phantom of the Opera, Broadway’s longest running production ever, has played here.
TURN RIGHT ON EIGHTH AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON WEST 45TH STREET.
249 West 45th Street
The Shuberts conceived of the Imperial Theatre, their fiftieth New York performance venue, as a home to musical hits that had previously resided in the outdate Lyric Theatre. Go-to designer Herbert Knapp delivered his trademark Colonial style playhouse whose clean sight lines and good acoustics have made this one of Broadway’s most desirable venues for such musical productions as Annie Get Your Gun (1946), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Dreamgirls (1981) and Les Misérables, which began a 13-year run in 1990.
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street
Toward the close of 1919, the prominent theatrical producer Sam H. Harris made a proposition to his friend Irving Berlin: if the composer would conjure up a musical revue, Harris would find a theater for it. Berlin responded with The Music Box Revue and in 1920 the 860-seat Music Box Theatre was built to house the production. Architect Charles Howard Crane, who designed over 250 theaters, provided a Georgian manor house for the intimate stage.
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
The Shuberts built the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (formerly the Plymouth) along with the contiguous Broadhurst in 1917 as a venue for serious drama. Their architect Herbert J. Knapp slid a harmonious 1,080-seat theater into the block. Although America’s theater-building craze crashed with the stock market in 1929, Knapp stayed with the Shubert organization for over 50 years, maintaining and updating buildings until 1963. It was renamed the Gerald Schoenfeld in 2005 to honor the late chairman of the Shubert Organization.
222 West 45th Street
Lee Shubert built the Booth Theatre in partnership with the producer Winthrop Ames in 1913. Named for the actor Edwin Booth, brother to the infamous John Wilkes Booth, the venue was actually the second New York theatre to bear this name. The first was built by Booth himself in 1869 on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue. The Booth and the Shubert next door were both fitted together behind a Venetian Renaissance facade from architect Henry B. Herts.
200 West 45th Street
The legendary Astor Hotel, one of New York’s grandest, was raised here in 1904. It was demolished in 1967 to make way for what many consider to be an unfortunate 50-story office tower at 1515 Broadway. Under the provisions of the special zoning for the Theater District the bulky skyscraper could only be allowed if it incorporated a legitimate theater - and that would be the 1,620-seat Minskoff.
149 West 45th Street
The Lyceum is Broadway’s oldest continually operating legitimate theater, operating from an ornate Beaux Arts theater from Henry Beaumont Herts and Hugh Tallant since 1903. Ohio-born Daniel Frohman, who helped pioneer the practice of road companies touring America while popular productions ran in New York, bankrolled the project. Above the theatre, Frohman built an apartment for himself which included a small door that offered a bird’s eye view of the stage below. Legend has it that Frohman waved a white handkerchief out the open door to tell his wife, the actress Margaret Illington, when she was overacting.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO BROADWAY AND TURN RIGHT.
Opened in 1990 as One Broadway Place, the Bertelsmann building is home to the world’s largest record store – the Virgin Megastore – and Planet Hollywood’s original Official All Star Café, a 100-car valet-attended parking garage and a four-plex movie theater with seating for 1,650.
George M. Cohan Statue
Duffy Place, between 45th and 47th streets
This bronze statue depicts the American composer, playwright, actor, and producer George M. Cohan as interpreted by Georg John Lober; it was dedicated in 1959. Cohan was born into a show business family in Providence, Rhode Island on July 3, 1878 and was soon on stage with his father, mother, and sister in the family musical-comedy act, “The Four Cohans.” His first New York play, The Governor’s Son, produced when he was 23, flopped. There Would not be many more misses over the next four decades. In 1942, the year of Cohan’s death, James Cagney won the Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal of the consummate showman in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy. Standing on the southern end of the triangle between 45th and 47th street, opposite Times Square, the inscription appropriately quotes Cohan’s most famous song, “Give My Regards to Broadway.”
The Palace Theater
This was America’s premiere vaudeville theatre from 1913 to 1932, the flagship stage for Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee who had been the country’s leading live entertainment presenters since the 1880s. The Palace did duty as a movie house for three decades before returning as a Broadway stage in 1966. Encased in a high rise hotel since 1990, the theater’s original interior is mostly intact.
Winter Garden Theatre
The Shubert Organization has owned the Winter Garden Theatre longer than any of its other venues. It began life as the American Horse Exchange, built by William K. Vanderbilt in 1896, when Longacre (now Times) Square was the center of the horse and carriage trade. The Shuberts leased the Exchange in 1911 to convert it into a stage, reconfigured by architect William Albert Swasey. The house had brief interludes as a movie palace from 1928 to 1933 when Warner Brothers leased it, and again in 1945, when United Artists ran it. Since then, the Winter Garden has been home to many memorable musicals, including Cats, that became the longest running show in Broadway history from 1982 to 2000.
This was one of the last buildings put together by the busy developing brothers, Harold and Percy Uris, said to be the largest private real estate concern in New York. The 670-foot tower includes one of Broadway’s largest houses, the Gershwin Theatre, named in composer George Gershwin and lyricist Ira Gershwin. A smaller theatre operated by the Circle in the Square is also in Paramount Plaza. You can find the American Theatre Hall of Fame in the lobby.
site of Palladium Ballroom
53rd Street and Broadway
The Palladium Ballroom was a second-floor dancehall that became famous for its scintillating Latin music and dance from 1948 until its closing in 1966. It was at the epicenter of the mambo craze that swept America in the early 1950s. Access to the Hall of the Mambo Kings was gained by climbing a steeply pitched stairway. At the foot of these steps there was a ticket booth where one could purchase the right to participate in a unique musical experience.
TURN LEFT ON 52ND STREET.
239 West 52nd Street
The Roseland was founded in 1917 in Philadelphia with Yuengling beer money. In 1919 they established a club for “refined dancing” at 51st and Broadway, becoming renowned for the big bands that played the hall - Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Count Basie who helped end the “whites only” policy at the club. The original New York Roseland was torn down in 1956 and it moved to its new venue here, a converted skating rink.The Roseland attempted to maintain its ballroom dancing style, banning rock and roll but the last bastion of “cheek-to-cheek” dancing succumbed and the venue is now an intimate club for musical performances from all genres.
RETURN TO BROADWAY AND TURN LEFT.
Ed Sullivan Theater
The facility was built by Arthur Hammerstein in 1927 and named after his father. By the 1930s it was a popular nightclub and in 1936 CBS television secured a long-time lease on the property. Scores of familiar productions took place here, including the Honeymooners, the Merv Griffin talk show and the $10,000 Pyramid game show. But it was most associated with Ed Sullivan’s live variety show that was aired from this theater every Sunday night beginning in the early 1950s. The theater was named for Sullivan at the beginning of the 1967-68 television season. Today the Ed Sullivan Theater is best known as the home of David Letterman’s Late Show since his arrival at CBS in 1993. Ironically, the company’s lease had expired on the property in 1981 and the executives at Black Rock paid $4 million to buy it back.
TURN LEFT ON 54TH STREET.
254 West 54th Street
Built in 1927 this theater has operated under a slew of names: Gallo Opera House, New Yorker, Casino de Paris, Palladium, Federal Music Theatre, New Yorker, CBS Studio 52. But its lasting fame comes from a brief stint as New York’s glitziest nightspot in the 1970s at the height of the disco craze. Since 1998 it has been a venue for the Roundabout Theatre Company.
RETURN TO BROADWAY AND TURN LEFT. TURN RIGHT ON WEST 57TH STREET.
The Art Students League of New York
215 West 57th Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue
The Art Students League was founded in 1875 by a group of artists - almost all of whom were students at the National Academy of Design in New York City and many of whom were women. Courses were funded by membership fees alone. The current building, in the heart of Fifty-Seventh Street’s world famous art galleries, is a French Renaissance palace from the pen of Henry Janeway Hardenbergh in 1892. Hardenbergh created several New York City landmarks including the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and the Dakota apartment building.
205 West 57th Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue
The brawny Osborne was constructed in 1883 as one of New York’s first major luxury apartment buildings. Designer James Ware cut his architectural teeth on large buildings designing fireproof warehouses. Here he fashioned brownstone into a Romanesque Revival tour-de-force with with contributions by Augustus St. Gaudens, the great sculptor of the American Renaissance, muralist John La Farge, Tiffany Studios and French designer Jacob Adolphus Holzer. In 1889, Ware raised the roof to add servant quarters and 17 years later a 25-foot-wing was added at its western end.
156 West 57th Street, southeast corner of Seventh Avenue
This is America’s most famous concert hall. Steel baron and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie supplied the money and architect William Burnet Tuthill supplied the design for the 1891 Renaissance Revival structure. A fifteen-story tower houses studios and the main Isaac Stern Auditorium seats 2,804 on five levels - visitors in the top balcony are faced with 105 steps. The acoustics of the hall are unsurpassed. Carnegie Hall is one of the last large buildings in New York built entirely of masonry, without a steel frame; the exterior is rendered in narrow Roman bricks with ornamental work executed in terra-cotta and brownstone.
TURN RIGHT ON SEVENTH AVENUE.
854 Seventh Avenue at West 55th Street
The restaurant has been operated by three generations of the Parker family since it opened in 1937. It has been called the most famous delicatessen in America and is one of New York’s most visited eateries of any type. The walls are nearly completely covered with autographed pictures of celebrities who have noshed here and menu items have been named after famous patrons.
TURN LEFT ON WEST 52ND STREET. TURN RIGHT ON SIXTH AVENUE.
Radio City Music Hall
1260 Sixth Avenue, between West 50th and West 51st streets
When the stock market crashed in 1929, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. held a $91 million, 24-year lease on a piece of midtown Manhattan property known around town as “the speakeasy belt.” Plans to gentrify the neighborhood by building a new Metropolitan Opera House on the site were dashed by the failing economy but Rockefeller soldiered on anyway - creating buildings so superior that they would attract commercial tenants even in a depressed city flooded with vacant rental space. He teamed with the the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and theater impresario S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel to create an entertainment space unlike any in the world, the first completed project within the complex that would become Rockefeller Center. RCA head David Sarnoff dubbed it “Radio City.” Radio City Music Hall, designed by Donald Deskey, a relative unknown, designed an American Modernist master work that is the largest indoor theatre in the world. Its marquee is a full city-block long. More than 300 million people have come to the Music Hall to enjoy stage shows, movies, concerts and special events.
TURN RIGHT ON 47TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON SEVENTH AVENUE TO RETURN TO TIMES SQUARE AND THE STARTING PLACE FOR THE WALKING TOUR.