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 influential live theater venues from downtown Manhattan to Harlem as well as residences of theater notables. For Broadway venues, see our dedicated Broadway Theater District theme.

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

Featured Historic Sites ( 21 )

A
324 East 14th Street

From 1974 to 1985, prolific playwright, director, performer, poet, and Warhol Superstar, Jackie Curtis, resided in the second floor, front apartment of this building. While here, he continued to write... Learn More

B
1890 Seventh Avenue Manhattan

Edna Thomas, one of the earliest Black actors of the New York stage, came to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance and was pivotal in the development of serious African American... Learn More

C
99 Seventh Avenue South

From its founding in 1969, by four veterans of the Caffe Cino, until it closed in 1994, the Circle Repertory Theater welcomed plays with gay themes and characters. The company... Learn More

D
74 East 4th Street

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club was founded in 1961 by Ellen Stewart and moved to 74 East 4th Street in the East Village in 1969. Today it is widely considered... Learn More

E
87 Christopher Street

From c. 1960 to 2010, absurdist playwright H.M. “Harry” Koutoukas lived in this apartment building. While here, he contributed to the burgeoning Off-Off-Broadway theater movement in the 1960s through his... Learn More

F
432 West 14th Street

This former market building in the Meatpacking District was a popular 1990s nightlife venue for several weekly parties and performances, including Jackie 60, Clit Club, and Martha @ Mother. In... Learn More

G
160 Bleecker Street

Opened in 1897 as Mills House No. 1, which was intended as a wholesome residential hotel for single, working-class men, this building ironically became desirable for gay men because they... Learn More

H
re55 Washington Square South

Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in the 1960s and ’70s was home to avant-garde arts groups, and a site for lesbian and gay political gatherings. With the emergence of... Learn More

I
4 St Marks Place

This 1831 house had a significant and colorful Off-Off-Broadway theatrical history from 1955 to 1967, reflecting its location on St. Mark’s Place during the cultural ascendancy of the East Village.... Learn More

J
320 Manhattan Avenue

From 1935 until sometime between 1940 and 1942, the Black lesbian couple Georgette Harvey and Musa Williams lived at the Lafayette Apartments in Harlem, where they frequently entertained theater notables... Learn More

K
21 Cornelia Street

Tharon Musser was a pioneering and prolific lighting designer who lived in this rowhouse from 1959 to 2007, the latter part of those years with her life partner, lighting designer... Learn More

L
131 West 55th Street

From 1944 to 1966, New York City Center was the first home of New York City Opera, which featured the works and talents of several notable gay composers and conductors.... Learn More

M
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

N
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

O
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

P
337 Bleecker Street

From 1953 to 1960, playwright and activist Lorraine Hansberry resided in the third-floor apartment of this building. While here, Hansberry lived parallel lives: one as the celebrated playwright of A Raisin... Learn More

Q
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... Learn More

R
31 Cornelia Street

The 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... Learn More

S
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

T
Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center, a world-class performing arts center, has had close connections to the LGBT community since planning began in the mid-1950s. The Metropolitan Opera House opened in 1966 with the... Learn More

U
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

Other Curated Themes

7 Sites

Transgender History

25 Sites

Gay-Owned Businesses

17 Sites

Communities of Color

24 Sites

Activism Outside Manhattan

18 Sites

Literary New York

13 Sites

Downtown Arts Scene

21 Sites

City of Immigrants

18 Sites

1970s Lesbian Activism & Community

7 Sites

The Bronx

8 Sites

Brooklyn Heights

7 Sites

Jackson Heights

12 Sites

Staten Island

10 Sites

Why We March

15 Sites

Village Pride Tour

20 Sites

Gay Activists Alliance

13 Sites

The Harlem Renaissance

12 Sites

Jewish New York

19 Sites

Pre-20th Century History

24 Sites

Bars & Nightlife

13 Sites

Activism Before Stonewall

23 Sites

Homophobia & Transphobia

43 Sites

Broadway Theater District

11 Sites

Influential Black New Yorkers

13 Sites

Early Community Centers

13 Sites

Lesbian Life Before Stonewall

11 Sites

The AIDS Crisis

25 Sites

LGBT-Named Public Schools

14 Sites

Art & Architecture

10 Sites

National Register Listings