First designed and erected in 1890 for the Second German Baptist Church, this building has gone through several changes since the church moved away in the early 1960s. It stood as the site of a nightclub at one point, along with that of an alleged Methadone clinic. It was not until 1976 that the space was converted into a theater. Once called the Chelsea Theatre Center, but today known as the Westside Theatre, it continues to show plays in both of its auditoriums. I had the pleasure of seeing the phenomenal, Satchmo, a one-man performance starring John Douglas Thompson, who magnificently portrays the life of Louis Armstrong.
Learn more about this historic location in W42ST’s history piece, “Religion, Disco, Death and Drama — Westside Theatre’s History Reads Like a Play in 3 Acts."
Ezrath Israel was originally established as a Jewish Community Center in 1917 by the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, a group of Orthodox Jewish shop owners. The area was known for its busy steamship ports, however, the entertainment business eventually became one of the biggest industries in this part of town. As show business grew, so did the number of congregants, and it became the place of worship for many prominent actors and performers, including Sophie Tucker and Shelley Winters. The Actors Temple continued to thrive until shortly after WWII when people in the industry began journeying across the country to Hollywood. The synagogue then found its membership slowly decreasing. By 2005, there were only twelve members left in the congregation. A year later, when Jill Hausman became the rabbi, she found herself resuscitating what had once been a proud shul. Rabbi Hausman was pleased to report to us that in the eight years that she has been there, membership has increased to about 150, a marked improvement. Still, she has hope that the Actor's Temple will continue to grow. "We are a well-kept secret, " she says, "but we don't need to be. " To help maintain the synagogue, the sanctuary is shared with an Off Broadway theater company that performs on their "stage, " just a few feet in front of their sacred arc and collection of eleven torahs. Today, Rabbi Hausman welcomes all denominations of Judaism, even those who are "on the fringes of society. " She is a warm, sweet, bright woman who not only has her door open to everyone, but her heart as well. She emphasizes the importance of love and acceptance in her sermons and is adamant that the Actors Temple is a "no-guilt synagogue. " People should come if they feel compelled to pray – Rabbi Hausman's only goal is to have them leave with a desire to return.
The Manhattan Theatre Club is dedicated to helping artists in theater by offering educational programs and a varied repertoire in which they can get involved. Founded in 1970, it took off two years later under the leadership of Lynne Meadow, the organization's Artistic Director. She worked tirelessly to encourage and support growing playwrights, actors, and directors. The MTC has flourished and become a Theater District institution – garnering multiple Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and dozens of other distinctions. Well into its fifth decade, it remains a vital part of New York's artistic community. The Club moved into the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th street (previously known as the Biltmore Theatre) when it was newly renovated in 2008, and continues to produce shows and inspire the Broadway community at large.
The Maravel Arts Center is the home for Rosie O'Donnell's arts education organization, dedicated to providing as many underprivileged children as possible with a theater experience. Rosie's Theater Kids (RTK) also provides mentoring and academic guidance for its students, in an effort to help them to succeed on the stage and in the classroom. Offering both in-school and on-location programs, RTK serves approximately 1, 900 attendees each year. We felt fortunate to be able to tour the Maravel Arts Center that had been built in 2007 after gutting the decrepit building that stood there before. Today, this updated space is filled with studios and study rooms to accommodate the specially chosen 165 students who come each day. They head here after school to take tap classes, vocal lessons, and do homework with an on-site tutor. The building has a performance studio, two dance studios, a music studio, practice rooms, dressing rooms, a study room, a cafe and, to top it all off, a rooftop garden. Rosie's Theater Kids flourish because of the community that they form at Maravel. Throughout their years at the Center, kids take classes together, foster friendships, as well as develop a passion for the arts. Regardless of what they choose to pursue in the future, RTK prepares its students for life beyond Maravel's doors, providing them with SAT tutoring and help with the entire college process. In addition, each graduate is presented with a new computer. Located a couple of blocks from some of Broadway's most famous theaters, Rosie's Theater Kids do not have to look far to find inspiration for their artistic endeavors.
“If you’re going to the theater, you go to Tony’s, ” said Dreni Kyqykaliu, the restaurant’s general manager. Those en route to a Broadway show are a good portion of their clientele, nearby office workers make up the lunch rush, and tourists pop in during breaks between sightseeing. “The blessing of being in Times Square is having all these groups come in. ”Anyone who has visited Tony’s will be familiar with their signature, massive portions of food that are meant to be shared family-style. This adherence to simple but hearty cooking is a trademark of the people that started Tony’s: the Wetansons. (They founded the now-dissolved 1950s burger chain, Wetson’s, which later merged with iconic hot dog vendor, Nathan’s Famous. ) Four generations of Wetansons have run this network of casual dining establishments that also includes Dallas BBQ. Unlike other large companies, however, Greg Wetanson, his father, Herb, and his son, Stuart, remain closely involved in the day-to-day operations and run things as a family business. Thanks to this amiable atmosphere, “Most of the management and the chefs have been here for twenty plus years, ” said Dreni, who joined Tony’s shortly after it opened in the 1990s.
When the City of New York acquired this lot to house Engine 65 in 1895, clubs and residents around the area feared it would disturb the peace. Having calls since their very first night on the job, and as the first responder to Times Square, it became clear that the service was needed and soon became wildly appreciated. One of the firemen, Chris, told me this was something he had always wanted to do. “I love the camaraderie between the guys, ” he said, a theme that seems to reoccur throughout all Manhattan fire stations.