2. Park Theater
Park Theater and the surrounding area drawn and engraved by C. Burton for the New York Mirror, 1830. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
The Park Theater, built on Park Row in 1798 by Mark Isambard Brunel, (the engineer and builder of the London Thames tunnel), is regarded as the first piece of Broadway’s puzzle. The stone theater was three stories high, seated 2,000 people, and the interior color scheme was pink and gold. In true 1700s fashion, women were not allowed in the first or second tiers unless they had a man on their arm. The highest ticket price for a box seat was one dollar, which roughly translates to about nineteen dollars today. In 2017, nineteen dollars generally won’t even get someone a mostly obstructed view in a Broadway theater.
Park Theater literally put Shakespeare on a pedestal when the theater erected a statue of the Bard on a pedestal. Fitting into their Shakespearean theme, the theater opened with his play, As You Like It. The destruction of Park Theater was unintentional not once, but twice when it burned down in 1820, was rebuilt, and burned down a final time in 1848. While Park Theater didn’t last very long, its popularity paved the way for Broadway to become the prominent and integral part of New York City that it is today.
While these theaters no longer exist, their legacy is preserved through the advancements in architecture, innovation, and evolved subject matter and their presence remains strong in the Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters that re still standing today.
1. Punch and Judy Theater
The Forty-ninth Street Punch and Judy Theater was built for Charles Hopkins in 1914 and only seated 300 people. The theater’s mural of Punch and Judy fighting and the lobby that was modeled after a 16th Century English pub were good indications of the experimental nature of the venue. As most of its performances were experimental, the Punch and Judy Theater didn’t do very well financially and even the few successes out of its 18,000 performances were modest.
Once Charles Hopkins renamed the theater after himself in 1926, it fared better. However, when the Great Depression hit, the theater could no longer sustain live performances and the last live show took place in the spring of 1932. The following year, Punch and Judy became Westminster Cinema and showed only British films. The name was changed again in 1960 to The World Theater and focused mainly on foreign films.
The theaters around The World Theater were thrust into a major financial decline and many of them decided to show adult movies to keep from going under. The World followed their example with the premier of “Deep Throat.” The theater was renamed one final time when it was taken over by Embassy Theatres. The Embassy forty-ninth Street was still standing in decent shape when it was torn down to build the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in 1987.
Get in touch with the author at LitByLiterature.