Location in New York City
|City||New York City|
10018, 10019, 10036
|Area codes||212, 332, 646, and 917|
New York City's Theater District (sometimes spelled Theatre District, and officially zoned as the "Theater Subdistrict") is an area in Midtown Manhattan where most Broadway theaters are located, as well as many other theaters, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, and other places of entertainment. It is bounded by West 40th Street on the south, West 54th Street on the north, Sixth Avenue on the east and Eighth Avenue on the west, and includes Times Square. The Great White Way is the name given to the section of Broadway which runs through the Theater District.
It also contains recording studios, record label offices, theatrical agencies, television studios, restaurants, Duffy Square, Shubert Alley, the Brill Building, a Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium, and Madame Tussauds New York.
The City of New York defines the subdistrict for zoning purposes to extend from 40th Street to 57th Street and from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, with an additional area west of Eighth Avenue from 42nd Street to 45th Street. The Times Square Alliance, a Business Improvement District organization dedicated to improving the Theater District, defines the district as an irregularly shaped area within the bounding box of 40th Street, 6th Avenue, 53rd Street, and 9th Avenue. As of 2018, the Vivian Beaumont Theater (part of Lincoln Center) is the only Broadway-class theater not located in the Theater District.
In 1836, mayor Cornelius Lawrence opened 42nd Street in an attempt to get the city to expand north, saying "move up town and enjoy the pure, clean air". The Theater District first began attracting theaters and restaurants to the neighborhood after the Metropolitan Opera House moved to West 39th Street and Broadway in 1883.Oscar Hammerstein I opened his Victoria Theatre on 42nd Street in 1899. The Theater District became more accessible from the rest of the city after electrified trolley lines started running in 1899, followed by the opening of the New York City Subway's first line in 1904.
"The Great White Way" is a nickname for a section of Broadway in Midtown Manhattan that encompasses the Theater District. In 1880, a stretch of Broadway between Union Square and Madison Square was illuminated by Brush arc lamps, making it among the first electrically lighted streets in the United States. By the 1890s, the portion from 23rd Street to 34th Street was so brightly illuminated by electrical advertising signs that people began calling it "The Great White Way". When the theater district moved uptown before the turn of the century, the name was transferred to the Theater District.
Over the years since then, the district has been referred to by New Yorkers as "the Rialto," as "The Main Stem," and as "Broadway," and at the turn of the 20th century, was simply called "The Street".
By the 1970s, 42nd Street had become run-down and seedy – with the opening of some X-rated movie houses, peep shows, and so-called grind houses there – and was even considered a somewhat dangerous place to venture into by many New Yorkers. The entire area was later significantly revitalized by the city in the 1990s, with the closing of most of those businesses, and the opening of an array of new theaters, multiplex movie houses, restaurants, and tourist attractions.
In the Spring of 1982, Joseph Papp, the Broadway theatrical producer, and director who had established The Public Theater, led a campaign called "Save the Theatres" in Manhattan. The primary initial goal of the "Save the Theatres" effort, which was sponsored by Papp's not-for-profit group and supported by the Actors Equity union, was to save several theater buildings in the Theatre District neighborhood from their impending demolition by monied Manhattan development interests. Papp provided financial resources, campaign buttons, posters, and newspaper ads for the effort; recruited a publicist and actors to promote the cause; and provided a various stage and street venues for public events in support of the campaign for saving the historic theatres.
At Papp's behest, in July 1982, U.S. Representative Donald J. Mitchell of New York, and 13 co-sponsors,[a] introduced a bill entitled "A bill to designate the Broadway/Times Square Theatre District in the City of New York as a national historic site" (H.R. 6885). The proposed legislation, which was not enacted, would have required the Federal Government to aid financially and otherwise in preserving the district and its historic theatre houses as an official National Historic Site.
The Save the Theatres campaign then turned their efforts toward supporting the establishment of the Theater District as a registered New York City historic district. In December 1983, Save the Theatres prepared "The Broadway Theater District, a Preservation Development and Management Plan," and demanded that each theater in the district receive landmark designation. Mayor Koch ultimately responded by creating a Theater Advisory Council, that included Papp as a member, and which eventually led to the area being officially zoned as the "Theater Subdistrict."
In January 2001, the New York Appellate Division, First Department in Fisher v. Giuliani, partially upheld the 1998 expansion of the Theater Subdistrict zoning regulations, which added receiving sites along Eighth Avenue where development rights from the landmarked Broadway theaters could be sold. Community and civic organizations opposed the expansion of the district as it would impinge the nearby residential neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen/Clinton. The court objection, filed in 1999, did not challenge the pre-existing Theater Subdistrict itself or the original development rights zoning legislation.
Under the 1998 zoning regulation, New York City also created the Theater Subdistrict Council (TSC), a not-for-profit corporation. The TSC administers the Theater Subdistrict Fund and allocates grants.
The New York City Zoning Resolution for special purpose districts, as amended on April 30, 2012, contains special regulations for the Theater Subdistrict, including the transfer of development rights, incentives for the rehabilitation of existing theaters, the creation of a theater council to promote theaters, and zoning and signage for theaters, and contains a list of theaters that qualify for special provisions in the regulations.