Irwin Chanin was a real estate developer who built six Broadway Theaters in the 1920s. The first of these venues was the 46th Street Theatre, which is named thus because it is situated at 226 West 46th Street. Nowadays, the 46th Street Theatre is called the Richard Rodgers Theatre. It continues to serve as a Broadway Theater, though it is now owned and operated by the Nederlander Organization. There is every reason to believe that this state of things will continue far into the future. Chanin had no real background in the theater industry. He made his fortune by building residential real estate properties at a time when business was booming. Instead, Chanin started building theaters because he had a personal interest in them.
Herbert Krapp was the man chosen to design the 46th Street Theatre. By the mid-1920s, he was very experienced in this regard. After all, Krapp started designing theaters for the Shubert Brothers in the 1910s, meaning he had gained a great deal of experience from their theater-building spree. Despite this, the 46th Street Theatre has certain features that were quite unorthodox from the perspective of those times. One example would be the single entrance. Another example would be one larger balcony rather than two smaller balconies. Krapp insisted on these features because of his sympathy for less well-off theater-goers, which originated from his sense of humiliation from having to enter through a separate entrance back when he was still one of them.
The 46th Street Theatre has been described as Neo-Renaissance. That term encompasses various attempts at evoking the look of the Renaissance while still incorporating influences from related times and places to create something new. Neo-Renaissance isn’t a single thing. Still, the 46th Street Theatre’s facade is called thus because of elements such as the triple-arched loggia, the Corinthian-crowned pilasters, and the Classical-themed carvings on the entablature looming over them. The venue is noted for its ornamentation, which has been attributed to Chanin’s desire for his first theater to make a glowing impression.
Under the Shubert Organization
Even though Chanin built the 46th Street Theatre, he had no interest in running it. As a result, he leased it to the Shubert Organization even before the venue opened its door in 1925. With that said, Chanin owned the 46th Street Theatre for just a few years because financial woes caused him to sell it in 1931. Since the Shubert Organization was the buyer, it continued running the venue until ownership passed out of its possession in 1945.
From 1945 to 1981
Currently, the venue is owned and operated by the Nederlander Organization. However, it didn’t go from the Shubert Organization to the Nederlander Organization right away. Instead, the venue passed through the hands of several parties from 1945 to 1981. First, the City Investing Company bought it in 1945. Second, Lester Osterman bought it in 1960. Third, Stephen Friedman and Irwin Meyer bought it in 1978. The venue continued serving as a Broadway Theater throughout the entire time. Something that wasn’t true for all of its counterparts that went from owner to owner in the mid-20th century.
Under the Nederlander Organization
Friedman and Meyer held on to the venue for a short period. They had put the venue up for sale by 1980. Reportedly, both the Nederlander Organization and the Shubert Organization showed an interest. Still, it was the Nederlander Organization that walked away with the venue in 1981.
Other than this, the 1980s were notable because that was the decade in which the demolition of several Broadway Theaters generated a great deal of demand to protect and preserve the rest of them. The response wasn’t a fast one. For context, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission started thinking about handing out landmark designations in 1982 before proceeding to do so in 1987. The matter took so long because it knew very well that it would be stepping on many metaphorical toes, meaning it put serious effort into mollifying the Broadway Theater owners. Even so, that wasn’t enough, as shown by how the Nederlander Organization and two of its competitors sued over the landmark designations. Their efforts failed when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 1992, which is why the Richard Rodgers Theatre’s exterior and interior are counted among the official landmarks of New York City.
Renamed For One of America’s All-Time Greats
The 1990s saw another major change. Specifically, the Nederlander Organization decided to rename the 46th Street Theatre the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 1990 to honor one of the greatest American composers of the 20th century. Chances are good interested individuals have heard of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who had a transformative effect on musicals in the 1940s and 1950s. Rodgers would be that Rodgers. Moreover, he worked on musicals before and after that famous partnership over a more than five-decade-long career. As such, Rodgers was highly honored for his work during his lifetime. A surprising number of individuals have won an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy, and a Grammy. Rodgers still stands out by being the first person to claim the quadfecta. On top of that, he has won the Pulitzer Prize, thus making him one of two individuals to win five out of five.
Since then, there have been three events worth mentioning here. First, the Richard Rodgers Theatre received an extensive renovation in 2013. Second, it has hosted Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton ever since it transferred from Off-Broadway in August 2015. This is notable because the musical is one of the most talked-about productions of recent times, as shown by how it won 8 Drama Desk Awards and 11 Tony Awards. Third, the Richard Rodgers Theatre closed in March 2020 before reopening in September 2021. Those closures disrupted some productions to the extent of ending their runs sooner than expected. Hamilton wasn’t one of them, which is why it is continuing strong.
On the whole, the Richard Rodgers Theatre hasn’t had the most dramatic of existences. Instead, it has continued serving as a Broadway Theater from the 1920s to the present without interruption. That is a good thing rather than a bad thing. After all, dramatic existences are filled with ups and downs, which are often unpleasant for those who experience them. In this as in other things, steadiness can be its own reward.
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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