42nd Street Theatres
In the first two decades of the 20th century, West 42nd Street became the home to a number of theatres and was the center of the new Broadway theatre district. For a look back at these theatres in their prime, see Michael Whitlach's Virtual 42nd Street and Musicals101.com. The North side of the street was (from East to West):
- Hammerstein's Victoria (1899-1915) 42nd at Broadway
- Republic (1902) 207/209 West 42nd
- Lyric Theatre (1903-1996) 213 West 42nd
- Times Square Theatre (1920) 215/219 West 42nd
- Apollo (1920-1996) 223 West 42nd
- Selwyn (1918-1996) 229 West 42nd Street
The South side of the street was:
- New Amsterdam (1903) 214 West 42nd
- Candler / Harris Theatre (1914-1998) 226 West 42nd
- Liberty Theatre (1904-1998) 234 West 42nd
- Empire (1912-1998) 236 West 42nd (Thomas W. Lamb)
- Lew M. Fields (1904-1998) 254 West 42nd
- American Theatre (1893-1932) 260 West 42nd
As Americans headed for the suburbs and live theatre declined in the the 1960s, the majestic theatres of West 42nd Street were not spared the fate that faced large theatres all across the country. These theatres turned to movies (often being subdivided into multiple theatres) and then became porn houses before settling as vacant, fetid caverns of debt and dispair. By the time I got to NYC in the early 1990s, this block became known as "The Deuce" - a fearsome post-apocalyptic adult Disneyland (tm) of shuttered theatres, sex shops and prostitutes. For a look back at this tawdry and fascinating era, see the Forgotten-NY page on the old 42nd Street.
11/1/1998 12:00 AM
42nd Street at the dawn of Disneyfication
As the economy improved in the late 1990s and life returned to America's urban centers, civic leaders and commercial interests began coveting this newly valuable real-estate and implementing a curious, distinctly '90s vision of New York as a family-friendly urban theme park. Theatres that couldn't be shoehorned into tourist-friendly structures were demolished. Three of the ten surviving theatres remained more or less intact as live theatrical venues with elements of four more incorporated into new structures. The two movie megaplexes are particularly problematic as it is difficult to understand why tourists (who make up most of the visitors to Times Square) would want to spend $11 (on top of $200+ a night for a hotel) to see the same Hollywood schlock they could see for 25% less within a comfortable drive of their suburban Iowa McMansion. But Times Square has never been about rationality. While no morally responsible citizen could advocate for a return to the decomposition of the '70s, I suspect that the 2006 incarnation of 42nd Street is unsustainable in its current form.
As of 2006 the North side of the street is:
- The Reuters Building
- New Victory - 207/209 West 42nd: stunning renovation of the Republic Theatre)
- Hilton Theatre (formerly the Ford Center - 1998) 213 West 42nd: Built with elements of the old Lyric and Apollo theatres.
- American Airlines / Duke Theatre - 229 West 42nd: Renovation of the old Selwyn theatre.
- Times Square Theatre: Tied up in bankruptcy, rumors that it will become an Ecko Unlimited that preserves much of the theatrical interior.
- B.B. King's Blues Club - 237 West 42nd
- E-Walk Entertainment Complex
The South side:
- Office / Retail Building
- New Amsterdam - 214 West 42nd
- A massive McDonalds
- Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum / AMC Empire 25: Built on the site of the demolished Candler and Empire theatres.
- Empty lot pending construction
209 West 42nd Street
Built by Oscar Hammerstein as the Republic Theatre, it was leased to David Belasco in 1902 and known as the Belasco Theatre until 1910. In 1931, Minsky converted it into a burlesque house which at one time featured Gypsy Rose Lee. It was renamed the Victory Theatre in 1942 when it became a movie house. After descending into porn and vacancy, it was acquired by the 42nd Street Development Project and lovingly restored and reopened in 1995 as the New Victory, a theatre completely devoted to children's programming.
213 W 42th Street
Completely new theatre that incorporated elements of the Apollo Theatre (1920) and the the facade of the Lyric Theatre (1903). Originally opened as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts until hard times hit the Ford Company and bankruptcy killed Livent, the original operator of the venue.
Times Square Theatre
219 West 42nd Street
Converted to movie theatre in 1933. Notable productions include Strike up the Band (1930), Private Lives (1931). As of this writing, the Times Square is the last of the 42nd Street theatres that still needs redevelopment. The theatre supposedly got tied up in the bankruptcy of the Livent production company and plans for an Ecko Unlimited store that would preserve much of the theatrical interior fell through in 2007. Other curious plans followed.
American Airlines Theatre / Duke Theatre
229 West 42nd Street
Renovation of the Selwyn Theatre, which was built in 1918 and operated as a legitimate theatre until being converted to motion pictures in 1934.
B.B. King's Blues Club
237 West 42th Street
B.B. King's Blues Club is a restaurant and concert venue on the North side of 42nd Street, just East of the E-Walk entertainment complex. Apparently, no legitimate theatres were destroyed in the creation of this building. The club is primarily host to mid-level performers that appeal to baby boomers. The photos below are of the 2005 reunion of The Raspberries, the seminal early '70s power pop group led by Eric Carmen.
234 West 42nd Street
Opened October 10, 1904
The Liberty Theatre was a Beaux-Arts design by Henry Beaumont Herts and Hugh Tallant. It remained a live theatre until switching to film in 1933 and then falling into disuse with the rest of the 42nd street theatres. It was gutted and converted to a restaurant in 2010, and later into a rental event space.. (Cinema Treasures).
One of the few original remnants is a rear wall and loading door on 41st street, although I am not completely certain that this belongs to the old Liberty.
42nd Street E-Walk Theatre
247 West 42nd Street
Opened November 12, 1999
A gaudy 13-screen megamess that opened on the site of the old 24-hour porn house, The Harem. Feel no loss for The Harem - it was simply retail space converted to porn in the 1970s. (reference)
New Amsterdam Theatre
Opened 1903 214 West 42nd Street
Became a movie house in 1937 and experienced a long period of vacancy until being bought by the Disney Company for a renovation and reopening in 1997. Notable productions include Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra (1906), Ziegfeld Follies of 1913 - 1927, Sally (1923), Whoopee (1928), The Bandwagon (1931), The Lion King (1997).
234 W 42nd St
Built as the Eltinge 42nd Street Theatre. Converted to films in 1942 and renamed Laff Movie. Renamed after the demolished Empire Theatre (1430 B'way 1893-1953) in 1954. The theatre was largely demolished and the landmark facade was moved 100 feet (?) west to be incorporated into a completely new 25 screen, 5000 seat movie theatre that was part of the redevelopment of 42nd street in the mid 90's. (Empire reference), (Harris / Anco reference).