Workers dismantling the old Times Square Toys “R” Us store at the corner of West 44th Street and Broadway have uncovered the remnants of an old theatre below ground level, according to a report on the Curbed New York website.
Educator and blogger Howard Sherman shared a photo of the ruins with Playbill.com. It accompanies this story. Sherman is director of the new Arts Integrity Initiative at the New School in New York. His photo shows the outline of what seems to be an orchestra pit and the edge of a stage.
The website reported, “Demolition crews working on the store’s ground floor have uncovered the century-old foundations of a theatre and orchestra pit that once occupied the Broadway site between West 44th and 45th streets.”
Several theatres have stood on the site, including the very first theatre built in Times Square, the Olympia, which was erected by Oscar Hammerstein I (grandfather of the lyricist) in 1895 (the same year Oscar II was born). The building housed two stages, the Lyric and the Music Hall, plus several other performing spaces including a roof garden.
Here is what the Olympia looked like in its heyday. It occupied the entire end of the block fronting Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets:
The building was later renamed the Criterion and spent most of the 20th century as a cinema. It was demolished in 1935, though the ruins found this week may be a remnant.
A new cinema, also called the Criterion, was subsequently built on the downtown end of the site. In 1988 it was remodeled as two legitimate theatres, known as Criterion Stage Left and Criterion Stage Right. The building was gutted in 1999 and renovated as the Toys “R” Us toy store that featured a multi-story indoor Ferris wheel. The store closed early this year.
The uptown end of the site housed the International Casino, which was later converted into the Bond's clothing store, and which stood as a Times Square landmark for many years. The store was subsequently remodeled as the Bond's International Casino, a concert hall in the 1980s and 1990s.
The building has once again been gutted and is being remodeled as a Gap/Old Navy clothing store, scheduled to open in 2017.