List of Broadway theaters
There are 41 active Broadway theaters listed by The Broadway League in New York City, as well as 9 existing structures that previously hosted Broadway theatre. Beginning with the first large long-term theater in the city, the Park Theatre built in 1798 on Park Row just off Broadway, the definition of what constitutes a Broadway theater has changed multiple times. The current legal definition is based on a 1949 Actors' Equity agreement with smaller theaters in New York to allow union members to perform, dividing theater spaces in the city into the system of Broadway and Off-Broadway seen today. Current union contracts clearly spell out if a production is "Broadway" or not, but the general rule is that any venue that mostly hosts legitimate theater productions, is generally within Manhattan's Theater District, and has a capacity over 500 seats is considered a Broadway theater. Previous to this legal demarcation a Broadway production simply referred to a professional theatrical production performed in a theater in Manhattan, and the theaters that housed them were called Broadway theaters.
While Broadway theaters are colloquially considered to be "on Broadway", only three active Broadway theaters are physically on Broadway (the Broadway Theatre, Palace Theatre, and Winter Garden Theatre). The Vivian Beaumont Theater, located in Lincoln Center, is the furthest north and west of the active theaters, while the Nederlander Theatre is the southernmost and the Belasco Theatre is the easternmost space. The oldest Broadway theaters still in use are the Hudson Theatre, Lyceum Theatre, and New Amsterdam Theatre, all opened in 1903, while the most recently constructed theater is the Lyric Theatre, built in 1998. The largest of the Broadway theaters is the 1933-seat Gershwin Theatre, while the smallest is the 597-seat Hayes Theater.
The beginning of Broadway theater can be traced to the 19th-century influx of immigrants to New York City, particularly Yiddish, German and Italian, who brought with them indigenous and new forms of theater. The development of indoor gas lighting around this same time period allowed for the construction of permanent spaces for these novel theatrical forms. Early variety, burlesque, and minstrelsy halls were built along Broadway below Houston Street. As the city expanded north new theaters were constructed along the thoroughfare with family friendly vaudeville, developed by Tony Pastor, clustering around Union Square in the 1860s and 1870s, and larger opera houses, hippodromes, and theaters populating Broadway between Union Square and Times Square later in the century. Times Square became the epicenter for large scale theater productions between 1900 and the Great Depression.