Originally opened as Little Theatre on March 12, 1912, the venue was used as a lecture hall and as a radio and television broadcasting center during the 1940s-1960s. It was purchased in the 1970s by Marty Markinson and Donald Tick and reopened as a theater. It was named the Helen Hayes Theatre in 1983, in honor of the First Lady of the American Theatre. The Helen Hayes is the only independently owned Broadway theater, and the smallest Broadway theater at only 599 seats.
History of the Little Theatre / Helen Hayes TheatreOriginally opened as Little Theatre on March 12, 1912, the
Helen Hayes Theatre was designed by archtiects Ingalls and Hoffman for Winthrop
Ames. When it opened, the theater seated 299 (one more seat would have required
a ten-foot walkway on either side of the auditorium, per fire regulations).
Ames had studied architecture at Harvard, and worked with Paris-educated Harry
Creighton Ingalls and F. Burrall Hoffman (neither of whom had prior theater
experience) on the design. His vision was an intimate venue, with a colonial
New England look for the exterior and a neo-Colonial/Federal interior--an
understated, informal look for a Broadway venue.
The Little Theatre expanded its seating in the 1920s, with
Herbert J. Krapp as the architect. The new design improved acoustics and added
a balcony to increase seating to 500. In 1931, Ames retired and sold the
theater to the New York Times Company. It was renamed for producer, director,
and writer Anne Nichols in 1936. Nichols wrote Jewish-Irish plays and had been
married to Henry Duffy from 1915-1924. In 1941, the theater was renamed New
York Times Hall, and functioned as a lecture/conference hall until 1959.
Reverting to its original name in 1959, it was leased to CBS Radio and ABC TV
(1959-1963) and sold to Westinghouse Corporation (1965-1974). For the year of
1964, the venue was named the Winthrop Ames in honor of its original manager.
The Westinghouse Broadcasting Corporation sold the venue to Marty Markinson and
Donald Tick in 1978, and had its first hit play in Henry Feirstein's Torch Song Trilogy. Though the original
building was renovated in 1979, it was demolished for the construction of the
New York Marriott Marquis. In its place, Markinson and Tick constructed the
Helen Hayes Theatre in 1983, named for the First Lady of the American
Theatre--the only independently owned Broadway theater, and the smallest
Broadway theater at only 599 seats.