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Where Was Laura Keene’s Theatre?

1856 NYPL
“Interior of Laura Keene’s New Theatre, Broadway, New York,” December 13, 1856. Source: NYPL.
Laura Keene NYPL
Laura Keene, c. 1860. Source: NYPL.

In remembering the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, the Merchant’s House Museum displayed a dress in the house that was worn by a member of the Tredwell family to an entertainment venue known as Laura Keene’s Theatre. In one of the pockets was a ticket from a performance there. This is how I first became aware of this lost theater, which had burned down in 1881.

But first, who was Laura Keene? While her name may not be familiar to many people today, Keene was a noted actress and theater manager who happened to be onstage at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 150 years ago last April. She played the lead role in the play, Our American Cousin.

Interestingly, that play debuted at Keene’s theater in New York in 1858. The popular Laura Keene’s Theatre was located at 622-624 Broadway, between Bleecker and Houston Streets, in present-day NoHo. The thru-block building extended to Crosby Street.

1862 Perris & Browne Map
Laura Keene’s Theatre is the thru-block building at right, which faces Broadway and Crosby Streets. 1862 Perris & Browne fire insurance map. Plate 49. Source: NYPL.

Replacing the theater was a six-story cast-iron building constructed in 1880-82, which is now part of the NoHo Historic District. The designation report for the historic district mentions that the theater originally opened in 1856. It is reported that Keene managed this theater until 1863, by which time her popularity had been waning.

Keene hailed from England, but had been performing at various theaters up and down the East Coast of the United States. In New York, she became a theater manager at a time when only men held this position. Before and after opening a theater named after her, she appeared in a number of theaters along Broadway – stretching from present-day TriBeCa to 14th Street.

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