If you aren’t familiar with 54 Below, this thirty-second introduction will set the stage, and if you know the place, it will make you smile and bring back fun memories and remind you why 54 Below was the winner of the 2022 Tony Honors Award for Excellence in the Theatre
This morning I opened an email from Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel, and Steve Baruch. Their message was big news: 54 Below, our go-to Times Square cabaret—under their management—has gained nonprofit status. Reading the news, I applauded.
Shifting to 501(c)(3) status—after over a decade as a for-profit operation—is a huge move forward for the renowned supper club. While the club will continue celebrating Broadway, supporting new and emerging artists, launching new initiatives, and ensuring sustainability for the brilliantly programmed performance space, it will have new—and powerful—funding options.
Since its opening in 2012, 54 Below—located at 254 West 54th Street—has been known as Broadway’s Living Room. For more than a decade, the club has been a home away from home for Broadway legends and up-and-coming theatre professionals.
The spot is actually a home away from home for me, too.
In the early 70s, I was a kid actor on the CBS soap opera Love of Life and went to work at that address several days a week. Love of Life was the last TV show to be broadcast from CBS Studio 52, which later became the world-famous disco Studio 54. 54 Below is in the legendary VIP area downstairs from what was Studio 54.
The location opened on November 7, 1927, as the Gallo Opera House. It was renamed The New Yorker Theatre in 1939, and when it was acquired by CBS in 1942, it became CBS Radio Playhouse No. 4. The network’s third studio conversion from radio to TV, it became CBS Television Studio 52, and for decades it was one of the busiest CBS studios in the city.
When CBS sold the property it became one of the world’s most famous discos—Studio 54. The name was changed because the entrance is actually on West 54th Street.
This is the layout of the studio as it was in 1961, and it remained the same throughout my tenure there.
A decade before I started taking the IRT from my apartment on the upper west side to CBS 52 in midtown, it was home to I’ve Got a Secret, a panel show hosted by Gary Moore. Here’s a clip of Moore introducing viewers to the studio and some of the technical folks behind the scenes.
I’m always happy when, once in a while, an email conjures up some wonderful memories—memories that take me home again.
Here’s another NYC memory you might enjoy. Theatre People: A 70s Christmas in New York, a Dinner in Philadelphia, and a Petrified Christmas Tree.