Though Broadway’s houses are the crucial architectural element of the theatre district, the midtown Manhattan neighborhood also consists of landmark locales that make up the hub’s history and culture. Here are 7 landmarks every theatre fan should know, plus the stories behind their names:
Broadway – Originally a path that ran in an irregular diagonal up the entire length of Manhattan, the street had already a become a commercial mecca in colonial days. The street was retained when the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 overlaid the island with today’s familiar numbered rectangular street grid, which was constructed in stages over the next six decades. The nickname “The Great White Way” was created by a headline writer for the now-defunct New York Evening Telegram in 1902. The terms described the path of lamps—lit with white bulbs—from Herald Square to Times Square from the Empire Theatre up to Times Square. The name stuck even after the theatre closer to Herald Square discontinued operations.
Times Square – The “Crossroads of the World” was created where Broadway intersected the Commissioners’ Plan grid at Seventh Avenue between 42nd and 47th Streets. The bowtie-shaped plaza known as Times Square actually consists of two older squares (triangles actually), an unnamed square at the downtown end, and Duffy Square (formerly Longacre Square) on the uptown end. The whole plaza was renamed Times Square in 1904 when The New York Times newspaper moved its headquarters there. The Times is now located a block west and several blocks south on Eighth Avenue, but the tradition of dropping a lighted ball from the former Times building on New Year’s Eve (started in 1907) persists.
Herald Square – Like Times Square, Herald Square (located at the intersection of 34th Street and Sixth Avenue) was named for another of the great newspapers at the turn of the 20th century: The New York Herald. Newspapers tended to use the open plazas of Manhattan for their printing plants because they were transportation hubs and there was room to angle the large flatbed trucks of newsprint up to the loading docks of the presses. Herald Square was the center of the theatre district in 1904 when George M. Cohan wrote “Give My Regards to Broadway,” whose second line is “Remember me to Herald Square.”
Duffy Square (formerly Longacre Square) – Longacre Square was named after a similar square in London. The name lives on in Broadway’s Longacre Theatre, currently home to A Bronx Tale The Musical. It was rechristened Duffy Square in 1937 in honor of hero priest Father Francis P. Duffy, the most highly decorated chaplain in the history of the U.S. Army. His bronze statue stands at the north end of what is now Times Square at the foot of the red TKTS stairs. Speaking of which...
TKTS Booth – In addition to the two statues, the dominating feature of Duffy Square is TKTS, the discount theatre ticket booth run by the Theatre Development Fund. TKTS was first opened in 1975 inside a repurposed mobile construction trailer, artfully hidden by steel scaffolding covered with canvas sheets emblazoned with the red-on-white TKTS logo. The existing permanent TKTS structure was built between 2006 and 2008 and has, as its defining feature, a flight of red steps that double as seating for tourists looking for a rest or a vantage place to sit and admire the view of Times Square’s brightly lit signs.
George M. Cohan Statue – At the center of Times Square (at 46th Street) stands a bronze statue of Broadway actor-playwright-composer-manager George M. Cohan with the titles of his famous showtunes engraved on the granite pedestal. It was installed in 1959 by a group of Broadway luminaries, including Oscar Hammerstein II, as a way of forever remembering the showman whose copious writings include dozens of Broadway plays and musicals, and the aforementioned anthem, “Give My Regards to Broadway.”
Shubert Alley – This pedestrian walkway links West 44th and West 45th Streets midblock between Broadway and Eighth Avenue was originally built for firefighting access to the now-vanished Astor Hotel on its east side. The theatre-owning and producing Shubert Organization, whose headquarters are in offices above the Shubert Theatre on the downtown end of the Alley, leased it from the hotel’s namesake, the Astor estate. The Shuberts kept it gated shut for many years, when it was used for their personal parking. Starting in the 1930s, it was opened to theatre district throngs as a pass-through between the two busy side streets, on which many of the Shubert-owned theatres fronted. Taking note of the crowds, the Shuberts began to post “three sheets,” the technical name of full-size posters, to advertise their shows there. The Alley was widened to its current breadth after the demolition of the Astor Hotel and the erection of the One Astor Plaza skyscraper in its place. On the side of the The Shubert Theatre that fronts on the Alley, there is a plaque that reads “Shubert Alley: Dedicated to all those who glorify the theatre and use this short thoroughfare.”
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