Backward Glances: The Name Game

Special Features   Backward Glances: The Name Game
Playbill's resident historian Louis Botto sorts out the current and original names of some of Broadway's most storied theatres.
The Jacobs Theatre marquee.
The Jacobs Theatre marquee. Photo by Aubrey Reuben


Some Broadway theatres have always had the same name since they were built, while others have had numerous name changes. The New Amsterdam Theatre, which opened in 1903, has always had that name, even when it became a movie theatre in 1937. That year it was sold to Max Cohen with the proviso that it would never house burlesque or porno movies. It never did. In 1997 the historic theatre was splendidly renovated and restored to legitimacy by the Walt Disney Company and the 42nd Street Development Project. It has housed successful Disney musicals ever since.

Other theatres that have always had the same name include the Cort (which opened in 1912), the Palace, the Longacre, the Shubert, the Booth, the Broadhurst, the Ambassador, the Music Box, the Imperial, the Biltmore, the Ethel Barrymore and the Minskoff.

The current Lunt-Fontanne Theatre was originally, and remained for many years, the Globe, both as a legitimate house and as a movie theatre. In 1958 it was named the Lunt-Fontanne in honor of the theatre's most illustrious acting couple. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne appeared there in their last play, The Visit. Fortunately, it was one of their most memorable productions.

For many years, it was the Winter Garden. Then it became the Cadillac Winter Garden. And now it's simply the Winter Garden again. The Martin Beck is now the Al Hirschfeld; the 46th Street Theatre, the Richard Rodgers; the Ritz, the Walter Kerr; the Alvin, the Neil Simon; the Little Theatre, the Helen Hayes; the National, the Nederlander; the Colony, the Broadway; the Mansfield, the Brooks Atkinson; the Virginia, the August Wilson; the Uris, the George Gershwin; and the Stuyvesant, the Belasco. Erlanger became the St. James, and the Forrest became the Coronet and is now the Eugene O'Neill. One venue that has had a confusing history is the Golden Theatre. First there was a John Golden Theatre on West 58th Street, named for the producer who owned it. But he lost it in 1933. Then, in 1937, Theatre Masque on West 45th Street became the John Golden. To complicate matters, Mr. Golden also took over the Royale Theatre on West 45th Street and for a brief time called that the Golden as well. The only John Golden Theatre still in existence is the one at 252 West 45th Street.

The Schoenfeld marquee.
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Two prominent Shubert theatres were renamed in 2005. The famous Plymouth Theatre, built in 1917, was rechristened the Gerald Schoenfeld in honor of the chairman of the Shubert Organization, and the Royale officially became the Bernard B. Jacobs in honor of the organization's late, fondly remembered former president. On May 9, 2005, invited guests and onlookers witnessed the renaming of the theatres as a tribute to the two men who are credited with saving the almost-moribund Shubert theatre business in the 1970s via the brilliant musical A Chorus Line. This theatregoer eagerly awaits the day that a theatre will be named the Ethel Merman or the Fred Astaire.

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