New York's Theater District: The Legacy of the Golden Age, A Walk and a Map

Even without a ticket to a Broadway play, a walk around New York's theater district can reveal the story of the American theater. In this relatively small piece of real estate, landmark plays and musicals unfolded on the stage and enriched individual lives.

Here, decade after decade, actors, playwrights, producers, directors, stage managers, and the millions of theater fans who love them have assembled at this brightly-lit location for shows such as A Streetcar Named Desire (Ethel Barrymore Theatre), West Side Story (originally at the Winter Garden), Oklahoma! (St. James Theatre), Waiting for Godot (John Golden Theatre), A Chorus Line (Shubert Theatre), Born Yesterday (Lyceum Theatre), Death of a Salesman (Morosco Theatre, destroyed 1982), and thousands more. Stretching north on Broadway from Times Square and concentrated between 8th Avenue and Broadway, the Theatre District and its historic venues constitute a living museum of drama and the stage.

"Again at eight o'clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were lined five deep with throbbing taxi-cabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes made unintelligible circles inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well."
- from The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

During the decade of the 1920s, people took the theater seriously, and many Americans beyond New York were intimately aware of the plays, actors, and theaters of the New York theater world. The demand for tickets led to a surge in theatre construction. During the 1927-28 season, over 260 productions debuted on Broadway.

View New York's Theater District: The Legacy of the Golden Age, A Walk and a Map in a larger map

The map above (click and enlarge for details) lists many of the existing Broadway theaters that were constructed in the first decades of the 20th century, culminating in the feverish boom during the Golden Age of Broadway in the 1920s. With the arrival of the Great Depression, new construction ceased, and many theatres were converted to movie houses. While many theaters from the era have since been demolished, some of the famed theatres on Broadway have been restored. A few are in need of serious repair. Recent productions continue to add to the individual and collective legacy of these remarkable places, with new plays and musicals speaking to the concerns of our own era and revivals celebrating Broadway's history.

Readers interested in exploring the theatre district may want to wind back and forth through the numbered streets from south to north, beginning on W. 42nd Street. Theatres in the West 50s were once considered the fringes of the district, as theatre constriction most often followed a trend northward. In the 19th century, the fashionable playhouses were centered toward the south near Madison Square. Noted on the map, too, are some spots of leisure that were born in those glory days - Sardi's, Gallagher's Steak House, and the pleasures of conversation at the Algonquin.

Images: top, New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd St., bottom left, the Barrymore Theatre; bottom right (top) Belasco Theatre, (below), theatres on 45th Street. by Walking Off the Big Apple.

See many more photos of the theatres in this set on Flickr WOTBA.
Related posts: Walking Arcades of the Theater District and The Marx Brothers on Broadway, & Notes on New York Theatres in the 1920s


Terry B said...

Great post, Teri. And what a wonderfully evocative quote by Fitzgerald--you can just feel the moment.

Teri Tynes said...

Hi Terry,
I really loved that Fitzgerald quote when I found it. I didn't remember the Manhattan street settings when I last read The Great Gatsby, so I may have to read it again soon.