The Victory Theater was the first to be renovated in 1995. Now operated by The New 42nd Street as The New Victory Theater, it is a nonprofit theater dedicated to kids and families.
THE VICTORY THEATER was built in 1900 by Oscar Hammerstein, who originally called his small theater the Republic. Designed by architect J.B. McElfatrick, the theater’s interior was painted green, ivory and gold, and had marble stairways, carved balustrades, a gilded dome, and decorative features with classical designs and allegorical figures including life-size representations of Harmony and Melody. Opening night was September 27, 1900, and the main attraction was Lionel Barrymore starring in James A. Herne’s Sag Harbor, which was followed by a six-month run of In the Palace of the King.
In 1902, Hammerstein sold the theater to its manager, David Belasco, who renamed it after himself. Belasco made extensive interior and exterior renovations, adding a glass canopy to the front entrance, redecorating in subdued greens and browns, and creating the most technically advanced backstage of the time, with traps, elevator lifts and turntables. For the next eight years, the theater housed a series of hits, with stars David Warfield, Jane Cowl, George Arliss, Mrs. Leslie Carter, Tyrone Power, Cecil B. de Mille, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. Among the Belasco’s successful plays were Common Clay, Lilic Time, Parlor, Bedroom and Bath and The Sign on the Door. But by far the theater’s biggest sensation was the Irish-Jewish comedy, Abie’s Irish Rose, which played 2,327 times over six seasons starting in 1922, and still remains one of Broadway’s longest running shows.
Between the hardships of the Depression and competition from a new form of popular entertainment—the movies—Belasco’s theater needed a more profitable tenant to keep it afloat. It found one in Billy Minsky, who ran the “Billy Minsky Republic Burlesque” between 1931 and 1942. The theater’s next incarnation saw it renamed the Victory in the patriotic spirit of World War II, after which a movie screen was erected for second-run films. By the early 1970s, the Victory became the first and only pornographic movie theater on 42nd Street. However, by 1990, the stage of the Victory was once again graced by legitimate theater with the opening of Crowbar, followed in 1991 by Theater for a New Audience’s production of Romeo and Juliet, as well as other theatrical fare.
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.) Following extensive renovation and restoration of the Victory, and the development of a fully-programmed season and marketing strategy, The New 42nd Street opened The New Victory on December 11, 1995, the first tangible sign of change on 42nd Street.