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):

The South side of the street was:

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.

42nd Street at the dawn of Disneyfication
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 South side:

Victory Theatre

209 West 42nd Street
Opened 1900

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.

New Victory Theatre
10/3/2006 05:22 PM
New Victory Theatre
New Victory Theatre
1/22/2002 12:00 AM
New Victory Theatre

Hilton Theatre

213 W 42th Street
Opened 1996

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.

Hilton Theatre
1/28/2002 12:00 AM
Hilton Theatre
Hilton Theatre
10/3/2006 05:22 PM
Hilton Theatre

Times Square Theatre

219 West 42nd Street
Opened 1920

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.

Times Square Theatre
1/28/2002 12:00 AM
Times Square Theatre
Times Square Theatre
10/3/2006 05:21 PM
Times Square Theatre
Times Square Theatre
2/29/2012 01:11 PM
Times Square Theatre

American Airlines Theatre / Duke Theatre

229 West 42nd Street
Opened 2000

Renovation of the Selwyn Theatre, which was built in 1918 and operated as a legitimate theatre until being converted to motion pictures in 1934.

Duke Theatre
7/13/2006 06:53 PM
Duke Theatre
Duke Theatre
7/13/2006 06:54 PM
Duke Theatre
Duke Theatre
7/13/2006 06:54 PM
Duke Theatre
Duke Theatre
1/28/2002 12:00 AM
Duke Theatre

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.

BB King's Blues Club
7/23/2005 07:58 PM
BB King's Blues Club
BB King's Blues Club
7/23/2005 07:58 PM
BB King's Blues Club
The Raspberries
7/23/2005 08:37 PM
The Raspberries
BB King's Blues Club
10/3/2006 02:54 PM
BB King's Blues Club

Liberty Theatre

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.

Liberty Theatre loading door
11/2/2013 12:47 PM
Liberty Theatre loading door
Liberty Theatre loading door
11/2/2013 12:47 PM
Liberty Theatre loading door

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)

42nd Street E-Walk
10/3/2006 02:53 PM
42nd Street E-Walk
42nd Street E-Walk
10/3/2006 05:17 PM
42nd Street E-Walk

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).

New Amsterdam Theatre
10/3/2006 02:50 PM
New Amsterdam Theatre
New Amsterdam Theatre
1/22/2002 12:00 AM
New Amsterdam Theatre

Empire Theatre

Opened 1912
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).

Empire Theatre
1/22/2002 12:00 AM
Empire Theatre
Empire Theatre
8/30/2006 01:09 PM
Empire Theatre
Empire Theatre
10/3/2006 02:52 PM
Empire Theatre
Empire Theatre
10/3/2006 02:53 PM
Empire Theatre
Empire Theatre
10/3/2006 02:54 PM
Empire Theatre
Empire Theatre
10/3/2006 05:18 PM
Empire Theatre