The Union Square Theater
Virtual Vaudeville is set in New York's Union Square Theater in 1895.
The theatre was operated by B.F. Keith and E.F. Albee, the most powerful
and successful vaudeville producers of their time. Many of the practices
established by Keith and Albee in this theater, and also in the Boston
theater they opened in 1894, set the pattern for vaudeville theaters throughout
Unfortunately, the Union Square Theater no longer exits, and our historians
have not found any photographs of the theater's interior during the period
of our simulation. We based our reconstruction of the theater on the evidence
Frank Mohler developed the basic design for the Virtual Vaudeville reconstruction
of the Union Square Theatre after conducting extensive archival research
into the theatre's history. He discovered that the 19th century Union
Square Theatre, at 58 E. 14th Street, existed in three versions: 1871-1888;
1889-1893; and after 1893.
The Union Square Theatre was built in the center of the Union Place Hotel
(later Morton House Hotel) replacing the large dining room. The site was
long and narrow. It soon achieved some fame under management of A.M. Palmer.
The evidence for a reconstruction consists of:
- A. newspaper
articles giving a number of dimensions and other information.
- B. an
1883 seating drawing and a second drawing with the same number of
seats, but different decor on the boxes.
- C. View east on 14th Street
showing exterior of the Union Square Theatre flanked by the Morton
House Hotel. n.d.
- D. a drawing of the exterior facade of the theatre.
- E. Two drawings
showing the exterior of the building during the fire of 1888 that
destroyed the front of house areas and the auditorium,
but apparently not the stage.
The Union Square Theatre, "the Drawing Room Theatre
of America," was rebuilt. The evidence for a reconstruction consists
- A. a NY Clipper article describing the new theatre with a description
of the interior and some dimensions. This article describes the 1889
UST orchestra as "under the stage, separated from the back of
the stage by a brick wall." The renovations by Keith in 1893 would
probably not have changed this significantly.
- B. a 1889-90 exit plan from a program
showing the shape of the parts of the auditorium and the location
of the exits. It also shows a part
of the lobby. The relative dimensions of part of the building are
a drawing of the interior of the auditorium showing the proscenium,
the boxes, the fronts of the balcony and gallery and part of the
In 1893 Albee telegraphed B.F. Keith that the Union Square
was up for sale and he had 20 minutes to make up his mind. Keith wired
back "yes" immediately. Keith fully renovated the theatre that
year. He converted it to a film theatre in 1908. The evidence for a reconstruction
- A. a newspaper article describing the opening of the new
- B. a program mentioning some of the features the theatre.
- C. two pictures
of the exterior.
- d. a number of dimensions relating to the stage
from the 1909-10 edition of Julius Cahn's Official
- a. photos and detailed descriptions of Keith's 1894 New Theatre
(Gaiety Theatre) in Boston that opened less than a year after the renovated
Union Square Theatre. This "model playhouse of the country," however,
was much larger than the Union Square Theatre and was a new theatre
not a renovation.
- b. William Birkmire's 1896 The Planning and Construction
of American Theatres includes plans, sections and descriptions
of several NYC theatres
built in the middle of the 1890s.
- c. New York Building Law Relating
to Theatres. This is included in Birkmir's 1896 book. Birmire indicates
that one of the first theatres
the new fire laws was Abbey's Theatre in January 1894.
from the Period
David Saltz designed the ornamental details in our reconstruction of
the Union Square Theatre, including moldings, carvings, paint and upholstery.
Every ornamental detail is derived from high-resolution photographs recently
restored theatre buildings from the period, in particular the Southern
Theatre in Columbus Ohio (1896), the New
Victory Theatre in New York City (1900) and Grand
Prospect Hall in Brooklyn (which holds a vaudeville theatre that opened
We based the carved panels over the proscenium on the spandrel panels
created by Louis Sullivan for the Wainwright
Building in St. Louis (1890-91). The carpeting is adapted from nineteenth
century textile patterns in the Michigan State Capital building.