overview

LGBT performers, directors, playwrights, and those in associated professions have had an enormous impact on the history of American theater and culture.

However, acceptance even in the theater world did not come without struggle; from 1927 to 1967, the New York Legislature-enacted Wales Padlock Law made it illegal for theaters to show plays that featured gay and lesbian characters (though some productions managed to get around this restriction).

This curated collection spotlights Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway performance venues as well as a sampling of residences of theater notables.

Header Photo caption

Jewel Box Revue performers at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, c. 1960s. Source unknown.

On the Map

Featured Historic Sites (12)

A
580 St. Nicholas Avenue
Legendary black performer Ethel Waters lived in this apartment building from at least 1925 to 1927, when she was well known in Harlem's lesbian circles. During this time, an important... Learn More
B
23 Beekman Place
“First Lady of the Theater” Katharine Cornell and her husband, director-producer Guthrie McClintic, lived here from 1922 to 1951. Architect Paul Rudolph began renting here in 1961 and later converted... Learn More
C
253 West 125th Street
During the Apollo Theater’s heyday as a showcase for black performers from the 1930s into the 1970s, nearly every important African-American entertainer played here, including many LGBT stars. In the 1960s,... Learn More
D
1634 Broadway
The Winter Garden has been home to many musicals created by members of the LGBT community over the years. Premiering here in 1957, West Side Story had a creative team in... Learn More
E
181-189 Second Avenue
The Louis N. Jaffe Art Theater, a former Yiddish theater, was the location of the Mafia-controlled 181 Club (1945-53), known for its lavish shows of female impersonators (a term used... Learn More
F
131 West 55th Street
New York City Center has been a major cultural venue since its acquisition by New York City in 1943. It has been especially significant to the development of dance, hosting... Learn More
G
111 West 44th Street
In 1945, the Belasco Theater's lesbian drama Trio was the last Broadway show impacted by the Wales Padlock Law, which was passed in 1927 and forbade the depiction of “sex perversion”... Learn More
H
31 Cornelia Street
Caffe Cino is widely recognized as the birthplace of Off-Off-Broadway theater and was located on the ground floor of this building from 1958 to 1968. It is also highly significant... Learn More
I
70 Willow Street
Legendary theater designer Oliver Smith purchased this Brooklyn Heights residence in 1953 and lived here until his death. From around 1955 to 1965, he rented the garden apartment to Truman... Learn More
J
112 Waverly Place
Using a portion of the profits from her wildly successful play A Raisin in the Sun (1959), the first African-American woman’s work seen on Broadway, Lorraine Hansberry purchased this residence... Learn More
K
Broadway & 66th Street
Lincoln Center, a world-class performing arts center, has had close connections to the LGBT community since planning began in the mid-1950s. It was also the location of the first AIDS... Learn More
L
59-61 East 4th Street
Formed in 1980, WOW (Women's One World) Café Theatre is considered one of the premiere centers for lesbian, women's, and transgender theater in New York. It has performed in this building... Learn More