History Of The Lyceum Theatre On Broadway

History Of The Lyceum Theatre On Broadway

Feature Photo: Anne Czichos / Shutterstock.com

The original Lyceum was an Athenian temple that hosted the school of Aristotle. That might seem like a strange name for a theater. However, it makes more sense when one learns that the current Lyceum Theatre was named for an earlier venue of the same name, which hosted the school that went on to become the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. With that said, the current Lyceum Theatre is notable because it opened its doors in 1903, thus making it one of the three oldest Broadway Theaters still in existence.

Built For Daniel Frohman

Daniel Frohman was born in 1851. His interest in theater brought him to New York City, which was already the heart of American theater in the late 19th century and early 20th century. By 1886, he was running the first Lyceum Theatre, where he based his operations until the end of the century. Subsequently, he made the fateful decision to build the second Lyceum Theatre in 1902, with the result that the new venue was ready to open its doors in 1903. Frohman was unusual in that he didn’t set out to acquire theater after theater like others from the same period. Instead, he remained focused on the Lyceum Theatre until his interests turned elsewhere.

Designed in the Beaux-Arts Style

Henry Beaumont Herts and Hugh Tallant were the ones who designed the Lyceum Theatre. Both had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, so it should come as no surprise to learn that both were well-versed in the school’s namesake style. Herts and Tallant put that expertise to excellent use in their theater-building.

Generally speaking, interested individuals can recognize the Beaux-Arts style through several telltale characteristics. The style was popular from the late 19th century to the Great Depression because of American architects who had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. It is common for these buildings to have symmetrical stone exteriors bearing Classical elements, with examples ranging from columns and pilasters to carved figures with suitable sources of inspiration. On top of these things, the Beaux-Arts style is intent on looking impressive, which makes sense because these buildings are either public buildings or private buildings erected by people with deep pockets.

The Lyceum Theatre possesses every single one of these characteristics. It has a limestone facade dominated on top by a series of three rounded-arched windows separated by single columns but flanked by double columns. Moreover, there are six stone faces situated over the six columns. These factors contribute to the Lyceum Theatre’s memorable-looking appearance despite the fact it is far from being the biggest Broadway Theater in existence.

From the Start of the Century to the Great Depression

In total, Frohman ran the Lyceum Theatre from 1903 to 1939. At first, he remained involved in the production side of things. Later, he became more focused on other matters, with the result that he started leasing the venue more and more to interested parties. In particular, Frohman had a long-running working relationship with David Belasco, who had once worked for him. That working relationship lasted from 1916 to 1931, which was when Belasco died from an illness.

Sadly, the Lyceum Theatre ran into the same issues as most Broadway Theaters during the Great Depression. The economy didn’t rebound for a decade, so there was a prolonged slump in the number of theatergoers. Frohman was able to hang on to the Lyceum Theatre until 1939. That was made possible by more than one intervention in his favor, which says much about the regard in which he was held. Even when the Bowery Savings Bank foreclosed on the venue in 1939, it agreed to let him stay in his apartment at the venue for the rest of his life. A clause that remained even when the Bowery Savings Bank sold the venue to a group of interested buyers, though Frohman didn’t benefit from it for long because he died in 1940.

Between Daniel Frohman and the Shubert Organization

That group of interested buyers held on to the Lyceum Theatre until 1949. Then, it sold the venue to a man named Harry Gould. In turn, Gould would sell the venue to the Shubert Organization in 1952. Besides these transactions, the Lyceum Theatre continued to host live shows throughout this period. Some of those even managed to find a fair amount of success.

Under the Shubert Organization

The Shubert Organization has been running the Lyceum Theatre ever since the 1950s. With that said, it is interesting to note that it hasn’t always handled the venue in a hands-on manner. Instead, it has been known to lease the venue to interested parties, which is presumably connected to how the venue has sometimes struggled to find interested parties. One example would be the partnership between the Association of Producing Artists and Phoenix Theatre in the 1960s. Another example would be the National Actors Theatre in the 1990s.

Moving on, the Lyceum Theatre is a bit unusual in that it received official landmark status during the 1970s and the 1980s. In short, there was a petition to protect it in the 1970s, which was successful enough that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission gave official landmark status to the venue’s exterior but not its interior. Later, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission also gave official landmark status to the venue’s interior in 1987 while it was giving that status to a wide range of other Broadway Theaters. The Shubert Organization was consistently opposed to its venues being designated landmarks, which makes sense because that made it much more difficult for it to make any changes to the protected parts. Something that would have been extra galling with the Lyceum Theatre because of its already somewhat shaky financial status.

Recent decades seem to have been kinder to the Lyceum Theatre. It still isn’t one of the Broadway Theaters hotly contested by interested parties. Still, it has been consistently hosting productions. Something that wasn’t necessarily true in earlier decades. Like its counterparts, the Lyceum Theatre closed in March 2020 because of COVID-19. Since October 2021, it has returned to hosting productions of various sorts.

For a complete list of all Broadway Theaters that includes addresses, transportation information, and Theater seating statistics as well as ticket info please check out our complete list of Broadway Theaters article by clicking on the link below. 

Complete List Of Broadway Theaters

References:

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

http://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/lp/1352.pdf

https://www.playbill.com/venue/view-more?venue=00000150-aacd-d8be-af71-ffef18a70004

https://www.architecture.org/learn/resources/architecture-dictionary/entry/beaux-arts/

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.

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