Mark Hellinger: The History of a Broadway Theatre

The Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway started off as the Warner Brothers’ Hollywood Theatre. It is now owned by the Times Square Church.

Located on Broadway and 51st Street, near New York City’s bustling Times Square, the Mark Hellinger Theatre is one of Broadway’s most beautiful and coveted buildings.

Becoming the Mark Hellinger Theatre

Designed by Thomas W. Lamb in 1930, the Hollywood Theatre, as the Mark Hellinger was first named, was the Warner Brothers’ flagship, and the first theatre specifically designed for talking movies.

Warner Brothers leased out the building during the Great Depression, and it was temporarily renamed the 51st Street Theatre. During this time it was used for concerts and live shows. From then on through the World War II years, the name of the theatre alternated between Hollywood and 51st Street, and the entertainment went back and forth between movies and shows.

The theatre originally had an entrance, a narrow lobby, on Broadway. But in the mid 1930s it was abandoned for the building’s Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Art Deco entrance on 51st Street.

In 1947 the theatre changed its name to the Warner Brothers Theatre. Less than a year later, in May of 1948, it closed down and was sold to Anthony B. Farrell for $1.5 million. Farrell renamed it Mark Hellinger, in honor of a popular Broadway columnist who had died the previous year.

Sold to the Times Square Church

The Nederlander Organization bought the Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1970. In 1989, after a series of flops, the theatre was leased to the Times Square Church, under the leadership of Pastor David Wilkerson, for an anticipated $1 million a year. Only three years later, however, and in spite of competing offers from within the theatre world, Nederlander sold the Mark Hellinger to the Times Square Church.

The building is protected by New York City landmark laws, and the church has kept it in superior condition. With an interior design influenced by French Baroque and Rococo styles, the theatre’s plush seats hold 1,603 people.

Services are open to all, and visitors are still able to walk through the building, up the grandiose staircase, taking a closer look at the ornate columns, impressive pastoral paintings on the ceiling, and carved cherubs gracefully poised near the magnificent chandelier.

The Shows

Though some of the movies shown at the Hollywood pulled their weight in revenue, few of the live shows did very well. Such disappointments included Laurence Olivier’s 1940 production of Romeo and Juliet, which everyone expected to be a hit. Even Banjo Eyes, which started out well in 1941, had to close early when its star became ill. The first production after the theatre was renamed Mark Hellinger, All for Love, racked up big losses for the new owner.

But in 1949 Farrell’s second show, Texas Li’l’ Darlin’, turned out to be a success, as were Two on the Aisle in 1951, Hazel Flagg in 1953, The Girl in Pink Tights in 1954, and Plain and Fancy in 1955. The theatre’s biggest hit was My Fair Lady, starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, opening in March of 1956 and capturing the record for longest-running show on Broadway.

Coco, starring Katharine Hepburn, did well in 1969, and the next major hit was in 1971 with Jesus Christ, Superstar.

Several flops later came the successful Sugar Babies in 1979, but nothing after that lived up to expectations. The last show at the Mark Hellinger was Legs Diamond in 1988.

The Mark Hellinger Theatre

Though passed from owner to owner, renamed frequently, and burdened with a few too many unsuccessful productions, the Mark Hellinger Theatre in all its opulence remains one of Broadyway’s greatest gems.

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