Over the years, the theatre district has morphed significantly; there is a long list of Broadway theatres that are no more. Typically, buildings have been demolished after theatrical operations ceased, relegating their legacies to pictures and memories. But, some former Broadway theatres are hiding in plain sight—if you know where to look.
These are the Broadway theatres of yesterday that you can still see today.
1. Mark Hellinger Theatre – Now the Times Square Church
237 West 51st St, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
The Mark Hellinger Theatre began life in 1930 as a movie theatre, the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre. The venue was built with a large stage for elaborate live musical shows performed between film screenings. Also known as the 51st Street Theatre and the Hollywood Theatre, it took the name of famed theatre journalist Mark Hellinger in 1949. The theatre became home to such notable tenants as the original productions of My Fair Lady in 1956, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever in 1965, and Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971. The 1985 film adaptation of A Chorus Line was also filmed partially at the Hellinger. The venue was sold to the Times Square Church in 1991, though they had leased it since 1989.
This particular former Broadway house is one of the most famous and most visible—the space inside remains largely as it was when it was an active Broadway theatre. The Times Square Church regularly offer public tours of the venue.
2. Central Theatre – Now the W Hotel
1567 Broadway, between West 46th and 47th Street
Built in 1918 by the Shuberts, the Central Theatre has had quite the life, and several names, including the Columbia, the Gotham, and the Holiday. The theatre began as a Broadway venue, presenting such works as Always You, the work that marked Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway book writing debut. Beginning in 1921, the Central alternated Broadway shows with movies and burlesque, becoming strictly a movie theatre in 1956.
When the theatre was sold in 1988, the lobby became the Roxy Deli—which itself is to become a Swarovski retail location later this Fall. The former auditorium spent time as a disco—Club USA—but is now part of the W Hotel at the corner of West 47th Street and Broadway.
3. Hammerstein’s Theatre – Now the Ed Sullivan Theater
1697 Broadway, between West 53rd and West 54th Streets
Built by Arthur Hammerstein and named after his father, Oscar Hammerstein I—Oscar Hammerstein II’s grandfather—this former theatre was home to the original Broadway production of T.S. Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral in 1936.
The venue is still in use, though it’s now a television studio. It became CBS-TV Studio 50 in 1950 and hosted live telecasts of The Jackie Gleason Show, The Ed Sullivan Show (making it the stage on which The Beatles famously made their U.S. debut in 1964), The Merv Griffin Show, and several game shows, including What’s My Line?, To Tell the Truth, Password, and The $10,000 Pyramid. The Late Show with David Letterman was filmed there for its entire 18-year run, from 1993 to 2015, and it’s the current home of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
4. Republic Theatre – Now the New Victory Theater
209 West 42nd Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Oscar Hammerstein I built this venue in 1900, opening it under the name Theatre Republic. After the venue was re-named “the Republic” in 1910, the theatre found its most notable tenant, Abie’s Irish Rose. The show ran from 1922 to 1927, making it the 30th longest-running Broadway show of all time, and the third longest-running play. From 1931 to 1941, the space became Broadway’s first Burlesque house, Minsky’s Burlesque, where Gypsy Rose Lee famously performed her elegant striptease. Newly named The Victory in 1942, the venue became a movie theatre, notably of pornographic films beginning in the 1970s.
New York City and The New 42nd Street, a non-profit organization created to revitalize and clean up 42nd Street, purchased the space in 1990 and refurbished it. The venue opened as the New Victory in 1995 and remains in operation today as a year-round presenter of theatre for young audiences. It is the oldest currently-operating theatre in New York, and the only former Broadway house on this list still operating as a theatre, though it is now designated as Off-Broadway.
5. Times Square Theatre – Now Vacant
217 West 42nd Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Built in 1920, the Times Square Theatre was home to the original productions of such works as The Front Page in 1928, Strike Up the Band in 1930, and Private Lives in 1931. It became a movie theatre in 1934, and remained a film house until closing in the 1990s. The New 42nd Street also bought this venue in 1990, and there have been several development proposals made for the space—most notably a “4D” film experience about the history of Broadway—but none have come to fruition. For now, the theatre remains vacant.
Luckily, the venue is also one of the more visible former Broadway theatres. If you walk west on the north side of 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, you’ll see its majestic columns just before reaching the American Airlines Theatre.
6. Liberty Theatre – Now a Private Catering Space (formerly Famous Dave’s Restaurant)
234 West 42nd Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
Jumping to the south side of 42nd street, the Liberty operated as a Broadway house from 1904 to 1933, with notable productions like Little Johnny Jones (George M. Cohan’s musical from which we got “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “Give My Regards to Broadway”) in 1904, the first entry in the George White’s Scandals series of revues in 1919, and Lady, Be Good! in 1924. In 1933, the venue became a movie theatre that operated through the late 1980s. Like the other vacant theatres on 42nd street, it was purchased by New York City as part of the 42nd Street clean-up initiative.
In 1996, the venue was briefly home to theatre works once more when it was used for a staged reading of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, but soon thereafter the theatre’s façade became part of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Times Square. The auditorium was converted into a dining hall, used by Famous Dave’s Restaurant. Since Famous Dave’s closing, it has become an event space, available for rental from Liberty Theater Catering & Events.
7. Eltinge 42nd Street Theatre – Now AMC 25 Times Square
236 West 42nd Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
You probably haven’t heard of any of the shows that played the Eltinge 42nd Street Theatre, which operated as a Broadway house from 1912 until 1931, but if you’ve visited New York City since 1998, you’ve probably walked right past it without even noticing. After being lifted from the ground and moved 170 feet west, the former auditorium became the lobby and lounge of AMC Empire 25 movie theatre. The façade is still fully visible, and inside, escalators leading to the movie auditoriums take visitors through the former stage’s proscenium arch.
8. Century Theatre – Now Diamond Horseshoe Club at Paramount Hotel
235 West 46th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
From 1938 to 1951, the basement ballroom of the Paramount Hotel was home to Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe nightclub, the inspiration for the 1945 movie musical Diamond Horseshoe. In 1970, the venue was renamed the Stairway Theatre and was home to the short-lived Broadway play A Place Without Doors. Seven years later, the venue was renamed the Century and presented a string of Broadway plays and musicals, including the original production of On Golden Pond in 1979. Its last Broadway tenant was Waltz of the Stork, a 1982 musical by Melvin Van Peebles.
In 2013, the space re-opened as the Diamond Horseshoe, following a $20-million renovation. The Paramount Hotel describes the venue as “a prime nightlife destination and event and party space…for environmental theatrical experiences, events, and other unique programming.”
9. Edison Theatre – Now the Hotel Edison’s Ballroom
240 West 47th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
The Edison Theatre is another venue that—like the Century—was created as a hotel ballroom for the Hotel Edison in 1931. The space was briefly used as a Broadway house called the Arena Theatre beginning in 1950, showing a production of Julius Caesar and a revival of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s The Medium / The Telephone, among others. The space reverted to a ballroom the next year, but was re-christened the Edison Theatre in 1970, when the space had its longest run as a Broadway house. Notable productions include Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope in 1972, Oh! Calcutta! in 1976 (which is currently the seventh longest-running Broadway production in history), and the original production of Love Letters in 1989.
The space reverted again to the Hotel Edison’s ballroom in 1991, which it remains today. Following a multi-million dollar renovation in 2008, the space is used as a rental event space.
TAKE A LOOK INSIDE BROADWAY'S EUGENE O'NEILL THEATRE: