Similar to many of its neighbors, the newly minted Lyric, nee Foxwoods, sits atop quite a bit of New York theatrical history. The theater was constructed in 1903 and began life by hosting Shakespeare plays, and in 1920 the Apollo Theatre was constructed adjacent to the original Lyric. Early Gershwin musicals at the Apollo dazzled, but both theaters were turned into cinemas in the 1930s, before the decades caught up to them and led to both being condemned in the 1990s and repossessed by the city. Demolition, renovation, and preservation of certain architectural aspects of the original theaters led to a reopening in the theater's current configuration, with E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime the first production showing in years in 1998. 2013 saw a name change to Lyric, honoring the space's rich history. The people behind the theater are looking forward to On the Town opening in the fall of 2014.
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 Actors' 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.
Built in 1900 by famous impresario Oscar Hammerstein I, New Victory Theater was a relative newcomer to theater row on west 42nd Street. The venue was originally named Theatre Republic, but a series of ownership changes saw the name and theme changed every few years. It had a stint in the '30s as Minsky's Burlesque, New York's first Broadway burlesque theater, and a subsequent time as Victory movie theater (so named for the United States' success in WWII), later the first theater on the street to show pornographic films. This more sinful time coincided with the neighborhood falling on hard times. In 1990, New York City took over the theater together with a handful of others in an effort to refurbish the area, returning the theater to a more mainstream focus. In 1995, the Victory reopened as the New Victory and became New York's first theater aimed entirely at children and their families, making the return from vice to virtue complete. It now holds the distinction of being New York's oldest continually operating theater.
“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.