Restoration of the Liberty Theater

The facade of the Liberty Theater was absorbed into Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The theater proper is now home to the Liberty Diner.

THE LIBERTY THEATER, built in 1904, was designed by architects Herts & Tallant to reflect a patriotic theme. The theater’s facade boasted a relief carving of the Liberty Bell with an eagle hovering in flight above it. To signify the Liberty’s theatrical mission of presenting light entertainment, the entrance was guarded by the carved figures of Comedy and Song. Additional eagles and bells decorated the gold, amber and ivory interior, which was topped by a Colonial-style ceiling dome.

The Liberty opened on October 14, 1904 with a musical farce, The Rogers Brothers in Paris, and was quickly followed by George M. Cohan’s Little Johnny Jones, which also had a short run. More successful were 1907’s Polly of the Circus, 1912’s Milestones, 1917’s Going Up, George White’s Scandals in 1918 and Cole Porter’s Hitchy-Koo in 1919. During the following decade, the Liberty was kept afloat with hits by Kern, Kaufman, Cohan and Gershwin, most notably Lady Be Good starring Fred and Adele Astaire, and Tiptoes with Jeanette MacDonald and Queenie Smith. Then came the sensation Blackbirds of 1928 starring Bill (Bojangles) Robinson and Adelaide Hall, which preceded the theater’s final hit, Brown Buddies, in 1930. After turning to movies for the next several decades, the Liberty was closed to the public in the late 1980s.

The New 42nd Street signed a 99-year master lease, during May 1992, with the City and State of New York for six theaters known as the Apollo, Liberty, Lyric, Selwyn, Times Square and Victory. (The Empire theater came under The New 42nd Street’s master lease once it was fully restored in April 2000.) A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in July 1995 between The New 42nd Street and Forest City Ratner for the Liberty, Harris and Empire theaters. Construction began in August 1997 on a five-story entertainment complex which includes a 25-screen cineplex operated by AMC (opened in April 2000), the renowned Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and a variety of entertainment-related retail uses.