New photos of the theatre ruins found by workers dismantling the old Times Square Toys “R” Us store at the corner of West 44th Street and Broadway give evidence that they are remains of the first theatre built in Times Square.
Workers uncovered the remnants of an old theatre below ground level, as originally reported on the Curbed New York website. 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.
Educator Howard Sherman shared photos of the ruins with Playbill.com. They accompany 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 footprint seems to conform to the layout of the larger auditorium on the left in the Olympia Theatre seating chart below, supplied to Playbill.com by Will Hammerstein, great-great-grandson of the theatre’s builder:
Here is what the Olympia complex looked like in its heyday, looking northeast from the southern end of Times Square. 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 in late July 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.
Here are more of Sherman's photos of the construction site this week: