A remnant of Second Avenue’s theater district

Not much remains of lower Second Avenue’s glorious past as the “Jewish Rialto,” a theater district running from Houston to 14th Streets, with 11 theaters as well as cafes and dairies catering to actors and performers.

But laying low on East Seventh Street off what was once “Yiddish Broadway” is the four-story Hebrew Actors Union, founded in 1888.

It’s got some cracked windows now, and the union itself hasn’t been active in two decades.

Yet it meant something to the Yiddish theater world during its peak (and decline) from the 1920s to the 1960s.

The HAU was the first actor’s union in the U.S., initiating a set pay scale and keeping non-union actors out of union productions.

“it represented New York’s Yiddish theater in all its vigor and energy,” writes David Freeland in his wonderful 2009 book Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville.

The theaters are mostly gone, of course, save for this one on 12th Street.

And the leading men and women who once thrilled audiences are memorialized in cement across the street.

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3 Responses to “A remnant of Second Avenue’s theater district”

  1. Goy boy Says:

    “cafes and dairies”?

    There were cows on Second Avenue? lol

    I think you mean “dairy restaurants”, like Ratner’s: eating establishments that didn’t serve meat, in observance of Kosher restrictions that forbid serving diary and meat in the same place.

  2. The Day | How Was Your SantaCon? - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    […] Ephemeral New York recalls a time when Second Avenue was known as “Yiddish Broadway,” and a building on East Seventh Street housed the Hebrew Actors Union, founded in 1888. […]

  3. Josie Says:

    I never noticed the Hebrew Actors Union plaque on East 7th Street when I lived in the area. Thanks. I remember a couple of Yiddish theaters in operation on lower Second Avenue in the mid-1950s and seeing Leo Fuchs in huge letters on a marquee.

    It’s unfortunate that New York Architecture set forth, erroneously, that the Yiddish Art Theatre (located on the corner of 12th Street and Second Avenue) was renamed Fillmore East (which was between 6th and 7th Streets on the west side of Second Avenue). Also unfortunate that they just let stand a commenter’s correction without acknowledging it and without editing the original entry. Allowing the original mistake stand is sure to misinform a great many readers.

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