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.
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.
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.