The Theater District’s 1982 Broadway Massacre

In the 1910s and 1920s, New York’s Theater District in the newly christened Times Square area was at peak popularity.


“Close to eighty theaters were in operation, with as many as seven shows debuting on the same night,” wrote Kevin C. Fitzpatrick in A Journey Into Dorothy Parker’s New York.

BroadwaymasscrebijoumoroscoBut as movies and TV replaced live theater as an entertainment option, many of Broadway’s venerable theater houses were slated for the wrecking ball.

No year had as many demolitions as 1982, when five theaters were to be reduced to a pile of bricks, then replaced by a new luxury hotel.

The plan for the hotel, with a new theater housed inside it, was first announced in 1973.

It gained support from city officials, who felt that Times Square’s seediness was driving away theatergoers. A theater safely ensconced away from the street, however, could draw back crowds.


But that meant the Helen Hayes (built in 1911), the Bijou (1917), the Morosco (1917), the Astor (1906, above photo), and the Gaiety (1909), all on or between 45th and 46th Streets, had to be torn down.

Rallies were staged. One outside the Morosco on 45th Street and Broadway on March 4, 1982 was organized by Joseph Papp. Jason Robards, Christopher Reeve, Lauren Bacall, and James Earl Jones read from Pulitzer-winning plays, all making pleas for the Morosco and Helen Hayes to be saved.

BroadwaymassacreprotestThe “Save the Theaters” campaign ultimately failed. By late spring, what was deemed the “Broadway Massacre” or the “Great Theater Massacre of 1982” had transpired.

In 1985, Times Square got its gleaming 45-story hotel, the Marriott Marquis, with a revolving restaurant at the top.

You could say the project was the first of many that redid the face of Times Square and gave the Theater District a different character.

[Third photo:; fourth photo: Skyscraper Museum]

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7 Responses to “The Theater District’s 1982 Broadway Massacre”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    I recall a color photograph (which might have been published in LIFE Magazine) of GLORIA SWANSON, gowned in a magnificent frock, striking a grand pose amongst the wretched chunks and broken ruins of a semi-destroyed New York theater. It was a sort of ‘Norma Desmond tribute’ as well as marking the horrid destruction of a breathingly beautiful auditorium. Thinking back about that picture, I wonder if you could have picked up a bit of debris, held it to your ear – ‘seashell like’ – and heard the echoes of music, laughter, voices and applause before all the ‘magic’ drained out…

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    That’s such a lovely idea, I hope it would be true!

  3. Karel van Aggelen Says:

    I’ve lived nearby since ‘ 79 and have collected many ‘ sea shells ‘
    from the Theatres that became Burlesque houses that became Peep shows that became Fast Food for tourists.
    It will always be a lively neighborhood thanks to the Broadway
    Babies , giggling after curtain – seeking a cosmopolitan or a mojito
    in a dark place that’s always spontanious and filled with hope

  4. Sean Munger Says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Ephemeral New York is a terrific little blog that doesn’t post often, but when an article does go up you can be assured it’s fascinating. With my interest in NYC geography and history, I naturally gravitated toward this article about the Broadway “massacre”–the year (1982) when no less than five historic theaters were torn down despite efforts to save them. Some of these theaters are mentioned in a few of my “Night Out in New York” posts. Sad to see, and this is a powerful argument for beefing up our historic preservation efforts.

  5. My blog awards: The best of everyone else’s blogs in 2015! | Says:

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