“Keep Broadway Alive!’ the sign in the first photograph says. It’s a picket sign during the demolition of the Morosco Theater in 1982, which, along with the first Helen Hayes, the Bijou, and remnants of the Astor and the Gaiety theaters, were razed to make room for the Marriot Marquis Hotel.
But of course the sign takes on new meaning when all 41 current Broadway theaters have been closed to the public for many months because of the pandemic, and are likely to remain closed for many months more.
Maybe these photographs of Broadway’s past, from various archives, take on a new meaning too.
According to “Lost Broadway Theatres: Updated and Expanded 1997 Edition” by Nicholas van Hoogstraten, some 90 theaters were built in Times Square from 1888 on, but “over half have been lost through demolition or conversion to other uses.” Although no “new” Broadway theaters have been built in the 23 years since that book was published, there have been several renovations and rebirths. In 1998 a “new” theater, now called the Lyric, was restored and reworked from two old theaters on 42nd Street; in 2011, the Stephen Sondheim, built as Henry Miller’s Theater in 1918, was renovated and renamed; in 2017, the Hudson Theater, built in 1903 but in use for decades as a nightclub then a conference center, reopened as a Broadway theater.
To hunt down old buildings in general, check out this Street View of 1940s New York, a map with dots that show you the photographs of every building in the five boroughs of New York City in 1939-1940. These were collected by the federal Works Progress Administration in collaboration with the New York City Tax Department and put online by the New York City Municipal Archives in 2018.