The Theater District in the heart of Manhattan is home to some of the world’s most iconic theaters. The city’s strong theatrical tradition, alive today in the Theatre District and Lincoln Center, dates back to over a century ago. The neighborhood first began attracting theaters and restaurants to the area in 1883 when the Metropolitan Opera House moved to West 39th Street and Broadway. The popularity of the district was further spurred by the installation of the city’s first subway line in 1904, and theater became more accessible than ever. In the 1920s, the theater district in and around Times Square reached a new record with 264 shows produced in 76 theaters. Today, the area is characterized by towering electronic billboards, flashing lights, and tourist attractions. However, among the flashy modern additions, you can still find historic Broadway theaters still in operation today.
1. The Republic Theatre, 1900 – Now the New Victory Theater
The New Victory Theater, at 209 West 42nd St, was built in 1900 as the Republic Theatre. It was opened by Oscar Hammerstein I, the grandfather of the famous lyricist. Designed by architect J.B. McElfatrick, the theater had a stunning interior featuring marble stairways, carved balustrades, and a gilded dome. An orchestra pit, a modern stage, and new lighting system were later added in the 1920s and even once featured a roof garden. The theater’s facade is identifiable by its grand staircase and ornate lampposts.
In 1931 the theater became Broadway’s first burlesque house, Minsky’s Burlesque, and operated as such until 1941 when burlesque was banned by Mayor LaGuardia. The Republic became a movie theater in the 1940s and adopted the new name, The Victory, in the spirit of World War II. The theater most notably (and scandalously) showed pornographic films in the 1970s, the first theater to do so in the area. It was the only XXX porn house on 42nd street at a time when Times Square was a gritty hub of vice and crime.
In 1995, The New Victory became the first theater on 42nd street to be renovated as part of the revitalization of the area. The theater is now run by The New 42nd Street as a non-profit which puts on plays year-round for young audiences. The New Victory Theater received a special Drama Desk Award in 2012 for “providing an enchanting, sophisticated theater that appeals to the child in all of us, and for nurturing a love of theater in young people.”
If you are an Untapped Cities Insider, you can get discounted package tickets to next week’s TheatreCon! Over the course of a week, TheatreCon will take guests into the most iconic theaters and movie palaces of New York City, including many of those mentioned in this list. Learn more here, and keep reading for more of the oldest theaters.