History Of The Golden Theatre On Broadway

History Of The Golden Theatre On Broadway

Feature Photo: Anne Czichos / Shutterstock.com

The Golden Theatre isn’t named for either the color or the metal. Instead, it is named after the theatrical producer John Golden, meaning its full name is the John Golden Theatre. Rather than the first, the Golden Theatre is the third building to bear that name in New York City. Funny enough, it is situated next to its predecessor, which is now the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Its address is 252 West 45th Street, whereas its predecessor’s address is 242 West 45th Street. That is because the Golden Theatre was built as the smallest of three theaters in a theater-hotel complex, the other two being the Majestic Theatre and the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. The Shubert Organization operates all three in the present day.

The Building of a Theater-Hotel Complex

It was the Chanin Organization that built the theater-hotel complex in the 1920s. Initially, the Chanin brothers’ interest in theater-building raised some eyebrows because their construction company had no theater-building experience. However, the Chanin Organization had already built a couple of theaters by the time it started building the theater-hotel complex. Specifically, the Chanin brothers bought the site in 1925 and started construction in 1926. By late 1926 and early 1927, the final details had been settled, thus enabling the Golden Theatre to open its doors under its original name as the Theatre Masque in February 1927.

Theaters can see enormous variation. That can make them better suited for some shows than others, thus enabling them to specialize. As such, the Golden Theatre and its counterparts were always meant to be different theaters aiming at different audiences. In its case, it is the smallest of the three, as shown by how it can seat approximately 800 people. Fortunately, the Golden Theatre was meant for more intimate plays, meaning that works for it rather than against it by making it that much easier for every seat to have at least a decent sightline to its stage.

All three of the theaters were designed by Herbert Krapp, whose prolific career meant he had an enormous influence on the look of the Broadway Theater District. Unsurprisingly, the Golden Theatre has more than a few similarities to its counterparts, seeing as how they were always meant to complement one another as parts of the same theater-hotel complex. Examples range from how its facade is clad in bricks on the upper stories but rusticated terracotta blocks on the ground floor to how its facade has a loggia for a centerpiece. The interior is more unusual-looking, not least because of the Chanin brothers’ ideas for “democratizing” the layout.

Under the Chanin Organization

The Golden Theatre didn’t have the smoothest of starts. Its first show Puppets of Passion lasted 12 performances. Subsequently, The Comic lasted 15 performances, while a revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience lasted 16 performances. This state of things remained true throughout 1927 and 1928. Just one show – Relations – managed more than 100 performances. As such, the Chanin brothers sold their ownership stake in the Golden Theatre and its counterparts to the Shubert brothers in 1929.

The First Time Under the Shubert Organization

In the same year, the Golden Theatre had its first hit Rope, which was the basis for the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name. After that, it hosted several shows with decent numbers. Examples included Up Pops the Devil in 1930, Goodbye Again in 1932, and Russet Mantle in 1936. Those weren’t enough to prevent the Golden Theatre and its counterparts from being auctioned off to satisfy a mortgage on them in November 1936. The Shubert brothers retained partial ownership over the Golden Theatre but no more than partial ownership.

Under John Golden

John Golden lost his right to use what is now the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre because of the same incident. He wasn’t deterred in the least, as shown by how he leased what was once the Theatre Masque before making it the new John Golden Theatre. The venue’s results from the rest of the 1930s through the first half of the 1940s were middling. There were failures, but there were also some successes, such as Shadow and Substance in 1938 and Soldier’s Wife in 1944.

The Second Time Under the Shubert Organization

In 1945, the Shubert Organization regained full control of the Golden Theatre and its counterparts. The venue was a cinema from 1946 to 1948. However, the Golden Theatre returned to hosting live shows before the cinema’s lease had even run its course. It hosted a small number of notable shows from the 1950s through the 1980s. One example was the musician-comedian Victor Borge’s one-man show, which ran 849 times starting in 1953. Another example was the British comedy revue Beyond the Fringe, which had more than 600 performances starting in 1962. There was even a Pulitzer Prize-winning tragicomedy called The Gin Game in 1977. Besides these things, the Golden Theatre received landmark designations for its exterior and its interior in 1987, though that was met with a less than enthusiastic response from the Shubert Organization. Indeed, the Shubert Organization and its two biggest competitors unsuccessfully went to court over the landmark designations for their theaters because of the resulting restrictions on their ability to make changes.

In More Recent Decades

Since the 1990s, the Golden Theatre has continued hosting shows meant for smaller audiences at smaller venues. As always, some have been more notable than others. Falsettos ran for 487 performances after starting in 1992, while Masterclass ran for 598 performances after starting in 1995. None of these can compare with Avenue Q, which transferred from Off-Broadway in 2003 and transferred to Off-Broadway in 2009. By that point, it had become the Golden Theatre’s longest-running show with more than 2,500 performances. So far, nothing else has even come close to that.

The Golden Theatre closed in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis like the other Broadway theaters. That disrupted the original schedule for Hangmen, which was supposed to open in mid-2020. Luckily, the people behind it were able to secure a limited run from April to June 2022, thus enabling it to claim a Theatre World Award. More productions have made bookings at the Golden Theatre since then.

References:

 

https://shubert.nyc/theatres/golden/

https://broadwaydirect.com/theatre/golden-theatre/

https://www.nytimes.com/1988/02/26/obituaries/irwin-chanin-builder-of-theaters-and-art-deco-towers-dies-at-96.html

Jackson, Kenneth T. The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

Haskell, David. The Encyclopedia of New York. New York: Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2020.

Bloom, Ken. Broadway: Its History, People, and Places: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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