Midtown West: The Backbone of the Performing Arts
Hollywood may still be the film capital of the US, but NYC’s Theater District is the theater capital. Midtown West is also the home to many institutions and organizations that have supported the performing arts and performing artists and creators, both within and outside the theater world. The neighborhood of the luxury Manhattan rentals at 555TEN is teeming with performing arts history and backstory, and we’ve created a brief guide to just a few of the nearby buildings of interest. With 555TEN as your starting point, it won’t take you long to track them down. In fact, you may pass them every day.
Feeling utterly alone in a big room with a large audience of strangers, actors have been known to pray (silently), and that may be why the Actors’ Temple and the Actors’ Chapel are so close to many performers’ Broadway workplaces. After its establishment as the West Side Hebrew Relief Association more than a hundred years ago, the Actors’ Temple/Congregation Ezrath Israel, located at 337 West 47th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, began to attract famous performers like vaudeville’s “Red Hot Mama” Sophie Tucker.
Ultimately, everyone from Jack Benny, Milton Berle, and Harpo Marx to Shelley Winters (and at least a few of the Three Stooges) worshipped at this synagogue. Proud of its heritage, the Actors’ Temple welcomes members from all walks of life and doubles as an off-Broadway theater.
Meanwhile, Saint Malachy’s Church/the Actors’ Chapel, housed in a Gothic Revival-style building between Broadway and Eighth Avenue on 49th Street, became the place of worship for Catholics in the entertainment industry in the same era that the Actors’ Temple became popular. In recognition of the “unusual hours” worked by performers, the chapel even “sought and received special permission to celebrate Mass at 4 am, a practice that was banned by canon law at the time.”
The church has been the site of celebrity weddings and funerals, including a funeral service for Rudolph Valentino in 1926, and its parishioners have included Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, Rosalind Russell, Florence Henderson, and Chris Farley, to name just a few. It continues its theatrical tradition via weekly workshopping of material by college-age participants and meetings of the Saint Genesius Society, a gathering and “gym for actors, writers, directors, and comics, but sadly not jugglers (as the ceiling is too low).”
Performing a more secular—but no less significant—role in the entertainment community, The Actors Studio, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues on 44th Street, has for more than 70 years been a celebrated (and, yes, sacred) gathering place for actors, playwrights, and directors who seek to hone their craft, including the famous “Method” of acting, alongside their peers. Brando, Monroe, and Dean were just a few of the many illustrious members of the Studio.
When you step out from your Midtown apartment, you’ll find an abundance of buildings—some glittering, some modest—that make up the story of NYC. They’re all about all the people who have passed through their doors. At 555TEN, we’re excited about the history of our neighborhood and eager to help you find your place in it.