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Terrance McNally Offers Wonderful Window Into The Rich History #SouthOfUnionSquare

The trailblazing playwright and author Terrance McNally lived for decades with his husband Tom Kirdahy at 29 East 9th Street in the area of Greenwich Village South of Union Square before his death from COVID 19 in 2020. McNally was called “the bard of American theater” by the New York Times and “one of the greatest contemporary playwrights the theater world has yet produced” by Rex Reed.

29 East 9th Street, McNally’s Home, courtesy of the NYTimes. 1953 (left) 2007 (right)

As accomplished as he was, McNally’s legacy is but one shining piece of the brilliant mosaic which is the incredibly rich cultural history of this area South of Union Square — a history we have gone to great pains to document, highlight, and share with the public. One of the main ways we do that is our South of Union Square Map + Tours, which contains information on every one of 200 extant buildings (and several no longer extant buildings) in this area, along with about forty themed tours ranging from African American history to Civil War history, great dancers to renowned photographers. McNally’s significance was so expansive that he has been placed on four tours from the map —the link LGBTQ, Theater, Pop Culture, and Film tours. 

Terrance McNally in his 20s

The LGBTQ Tour highlights many crucial moments of LGBTQ history that happened in the area south of Union Square. McNally appears here both for his incredibly early inclusion of openly gay characters and relationships in his Broadway plays, but also the prominent role he played in providing a window into the lives, loves, and struggles of gay men, from the sexual Revolution. If the 1970s to the AIDS Crisis of the 1980s and 90s to the successful battles for gay marriage and LGBTQ rights in the 21st century. Alongside McNally’s home on the tour, you’ll find the organizations that made strides for LGBTQ equality and justice in the area, like the National Gay Task Force, the first national gay rights organization in the country, which was headquartered at the striking 80 Fifth Avenue. You’ll see some of the writers who lived here while writing controversial and timeless classics that touched on their gay identities like Frank O’Hara, who lived at 90 University Place, and openly-gay artists who created iconic symbols like Robert Indiana (“LOVE”), whose studio was located at 61 Fourth Avenue. Click here to take the LGBTQ Tour to learn about the many more people and organizations that were centered in the area south of Union Square.

80 Fifth Avenue, headquarters of National Gay Task Force

Terrance McNally of course can also be found on the theater tour, due to the more than three dozen plays he wrote and his tremendous impact upon American theater over the last fifty years, winning five Tony Awards and a slew of lifetime achievement and other awards (the lights on various Broadway houses were dimmed in honor of him to mark his first birthday after his passing). In addition to McNally’s home, this tour not only highlights the theaters in the area south of Union Square, but also the many playwrights and directors who called this area home. The tour features what is known as the first art movie house in America at 64-66 Fifth Avenue, the controversial Evergreen Theater ran by the ever-progressive Barney Rosset at 53 East 11th Street, and the home of Tom O’Horgan, the director of Hair, who lived at 840 Broadway. Click here to take our Theater tour to learn about the many plays, artists, writers, and directors that could be found in the area south of Union Square. 

64-66 Fifth Avenue, 1940 (l.) and 2021.

McNally can be found on the Pop Culture tour, which highlights the area’s connection to the popular film, television, music, theater, and literature over the last century. McNally’s many hit Broadway plays alone would qualify him for the tour, but several of his plays also became popular movies (The Ritz, Love!, Valour!, Compassion, and Frankie and Johnnie) while he also helped adapt several popular movies to the stage as musicals, including Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Full Monty. Beyond McNally, the tour features many notable popular cultural figures including Billie Holiday, who recorded with Columbia Records at 55 Fifth Avenue in 1933, 204 East 13th Street, which made several appearances in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, and Sex and the City has multiple connections to this neighborhood including its author Candace Bushnell’s home at 38-58 East 10th St. Click here to take our Pop Culture tour and learn more about the area south of Union Square’s critical role in entertaining the masses.

204 East 13th Street

Terrance McNally’s home is also featured on the film tour due to his many screenplay adaptations of his plays. His stop sits amongst many other sites connected to notable writers, directors, and important moments in film history. For example, the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company was housed in the striking 841 Broady in 1893. Film producers and directors David Berger and Holly Maxson lived at 4 East 12th Street. 22 East 12th Street was built in 1898 as a firehouse, and since 1963 has been the home of Cinema Village, the oldest continuously operating art house cinema in New York City. Click here to take our Film Tour to learn more about the film history in the area south of Union Square. 

22 East 12th Street

The area south of Union Square was home to many people who changed the course of history with their life’s work. People like Terrance McNally used their creative voices to speak to the audience about real issues while engaging them in an entertaining story. It was this kind of work that made him not only a multi-award-winning playwright but also an unforgettable one. Follow along the tours above to read more about Terrance McNally and his many talents.

To help landmark the buildings listed above and the other buildings in this area, click here. To read more history of the buildings and area south of Union Square, and our preservation efforts in the area, click here. To learn more about Civil Rights and Social Justice sites in our neighborhood, click here.

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