12. It Was Once New York City’s Theater District

Top 15 Secrets of NYC's Union Square_Theater_district_1870s_Untapped Cities_Stephanie GeierThe Union Square Theater was an important part of “The Rialto.” Image via Wikimedia Commons

From the 1860s to 1880s, Union Square was called “The Rialto” after a commercial district in Venice, as it served as the city’s main theater district, drawing large crowds of audiences and actors. There was the Union Square Theatre (which was built in 1870 where the Metronome is today). It functioned as initially a variety theater, but was purchased in 1893 and subsequently became a vaudeville theater. In 1908, it became a movie theater.

There was also the Academy of Music on 14th street in Union Square, which is known as the first successful American opera house. It closed in 1887 due to competition from the Metropolitan Opera.

Besides eager, wealthier audiences, struggling actors also gathered in this thriving theatrical area, where agents and managers would seek show casts for the season. A 1921 New York Times article even called this area the “Slave Mart” because of this practice. The district eventually moved uptown.