Everything has a past. Even the most famous places in the world didn’t just appear fully formed out of the void. For instance, Longacre Theatre’s name is a reminder of how Times Square was once called Longacre Theatre. The area didn’t get its current name until the construction of what is now called One Times Square in 1903 and 1904. Before that, it was called Longacre Theatre because it was the center of New York City’s horse carriage industry in much the same way that an area of the same name served the same purpose in London. The times have changed. However, the Longacre Theatre continues to serve as a Broadway Theater at 220 West 48th Street.
Designed By Henry Beaumont Herts
The Longacre Theatre was designed by Henry Beaumont Herts. Said individual went to Columbia University but never graduated. Still, it seems safe to say that he received an excellent education in architecture anyway, seeing as how he apprenticed under an architect before going on to study at the Beaux-Arts de Paris. There, he met his fellow American Hugh Tallant, thus resulting in a very successful partnership that started in 1987 and continued until 1911. On the whole, Herts had a huge impact on American theaters of the early 20th century. Unsurprisingly, much of that was because of his theater designs. Besides that, Herts also influenced his chosen field in more unexpected ways. For example, his firm employed Herbert Krapp before the latter embarked on an independent career. Likewise, he was an expert in fireproofing, a critical concern then and a critical concern now for theater builders because of how disastrous theater fires can be.
Regardless, the Longacre Theatre is classical-inspired but no mere imitation of bygone predecessors. For proof, consider the pilasters that separate the venue’s upper stories into five symmetrical spaces. Such things existed in ancient Roman architecture. Moreover, these pilasters imitate the look of classical columns, complete with Corinthian capitals on top. A closer look reveals elements that are very much not classical. One example would be the fountains that sprout from the bases of the pilasters. Another example would be the winged genii that occupy the centers of the capitals. Each figure bears a multi-layered beard, which is an unmistakable sign of their Assyrian influence. In this manner, Herts designed a venue that continues to stand out well.
Built For Harry Frazee
Moving on, the Longacre Theatre was designed for Harry Frazee. Generally speaking, he is remembered for being the man who sold Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees in 1920, which earned him a not-so-positive place in baseball legend. However, it should be mentioned that Frazee was as interested in theater as he was in baseball. After all, he had started as an usher back when he was a teenager before working his way up to become a theater owner and producer. His successes enabled him to build the Longacre Theatre in 1912 and 1913. Unfortunately, his experience with the venue doesn’t seem to have been very positive, which presumably contributed to his decision to sell it so that he could focus on baseball in 1917. Even now, there are still people who would be happier if he had chosen to focus on theater instead.
Under Shubert Ownership
The Shubert Brothers didn’t buy the Longacre Theatre until 1924. At that point, they had already become the most powerful names in American theater, which was quite a change of position considering they had once been the up-and-coming challengers to the Theatrical Syndicate. Despite that, the Shubert Brothers were still very active in building their business empire. That came to a stop during the Great Depression. The decade hit the Longacre Theatre in much the same way it hit most Broadway Theaters. Still, its ownership remained firm in a way that wasn’t true for more than one of its Shubert-owned counterparts.
Since then, the Longacre Theatre has gone through various events. For example, the Shubert Organization leased it out for use as a broadcast studio for close to a decade from 1944 to 1953. A fate the venue shared with more than one Broadway Theater in this approximate period because there was a lack of broadcast studio space in New York City at the time. Later, the Longacre Theatre returned to hosting live shows, though it seems to have had a somewhat patchy record when it went unused for prolonged periods at more than one point. Still, it stuck around, with the result that it was one of the Broadway Theaters that received official landmark status in 1987 and 1988. Both its exterior and interior had changed from time to time, but neither had experienced any changes that could be described as being truly transformative. As such, both its exterior and interior received official landmark status rather than one or the other.
Curiously, the Longacre Theatre was also involved in a small bit of controversy in the 1990s. It was unused towards the start of the decade, so there was a proposal for the Shubert Organization to donate it for use as a courtroom for a time. The proposal met with a fair amount of grumbling, which seems to have succeeded because nothing came of the proposal in the end.
Notable Events This Millennium
The Longacre Theatre has continued hosting live shows this millennium. Unfortunately, it still seems to have issues. The venue outright went unused for about a year from 2006 to 2007. On top of that, the Longacre Theatre has been seeing a lot of short-lived shows with few long-running productions to counterbalance them. Other than this, there are a couple of other things worth mentioning. One would be extensive renovations in the late 2000s, which removed the marquee, restored some interior decorations that had been removed during earlier renovations, and made various other changes. Another would be the COVID-19 closure in March 2020, which lasted until November 2021 in its case. It seems safe to say that the Longacre Theatre will continue serving as a Broadway Theater, barring some kind of unforeseeable complication.
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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