40°43′29″N 73°59′49″W / 40.724641°N 73.996936°W / 40.724641; -73.996936

The exterior of Niblo's Garden c. 1887
View from the stage, 1853

Niblo's Garden was a theater on Broadway and Crosby Street, near Prince Street, in SoHo, Manhattan, New York City.[1] It was established in 1823 as "Columbia Garden"[2] which in 1828 gained the name of the Sans Souci and was later the property of the coffeehouse proprietor and caterer William Niblo. The large theater that evolved in several stages, occupying more and more of the pleasure ground, was twice burned and rebuilt. On September 12, 1866, Niblo's saw the premiere of The Black Crook, considered to be the first piece of musical theater that conforms to the modern notion of a "book musical".

Evolution of the building site


William Niblo built Niblo's Theater in 1834[3] after having opened a "resort" which at first only served coffee, ice cream, lemonade and other refreshments. At the time New York was undergoing a construction boom that was extending clusters of buildings much past the locale of City Hall. The garden, surrounded by a plain board fence, covered the block bounded by Prince, Houston, Broadway and Crosby Streets; in the center was the open-air saloon, used also for musical entertainments. In the evenings, Niblo's Garden was illuminated with hundreds of colored-glass lanterns. A separate garden entrance was on Broadway. The refreshment hall was in a pair of rowhouses near the southeast corner of the gardens.[4] The site was once a part of the Bayard farm. It was sold in lots and purchased by Jeremiah Van Rensselaer. Prior to Niblo's acquisition of the land, a circus called the Stadium occupied the ground. There was a high fence around it. New Yorkers considered it a beautiful drive up to Niblo's through neighboring suburban market gardens.

Niblo decided to supplement the refreshments with more extensive entertainment. He erected the Grand Saloon, a small theater or concert hall. The program consisted solely of musical selections until vaudeville was introduced some time later. The admission to the garden in August 1829 was fifty cents, sufficient to keep out the riff-raff. During the afternoon and evening stagecoaches ran there from the City Hotel, later the location of the Boreel Building at 115 Broadway.

In 1835, Niblo's Garden hosted P. T. Barnum's first ever exhibition, marking his entry into show business.[5] In 1845, the Hutchinson Family Singers included in their sold-out performance here their abolitionist song "Get Off the Track".[6]

During the summer of 1837, a vaudeville company was formed at Niblo's by Joseph Judson and Joseph Sefton. Farces like Promotion of the General's Hat and Meg Young Wife and Old Umbrella, played there. By the mid-19th century, the theatre was considered New York's most fashionable theatre.[7]

Second Niblo's Garden


The first theater at Niblo's Garden was destroyed by a fire on September 18, 1846. It was not reopened until the summer of 1849. The theatre seated approximately 3,200 people and had the best-equipped stage in the city. Italian opera began to be produced there around 1850. Seats were sold at $2 each. Niblo's began to draw the most popular actors and plays. Some of the many players who performed there were E. L. Davenport, William Wheatley, Bennett Barrow, and Maggie Mitchell. In 1855, Niblo convinced the tightrope walker Charles Blondin to come to America and appear at the Garden.

In the late 1860s, as post-Civil War business boomed, there was a sharp increase in the number of working and middle-class people in New York, and these more affluent people sought entertainment. Theaters became more popular, and Niblo's began to offer light comedy. It mounted The Black Crook (1866), considered by many scholars to be the first musical comedy. This was followed by The White Fawn (1868), Le Barbe Blue (1868) and Evangeline (1874).[8] In April 1850 the theatre presented the United States premiere of Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth with Angiolina Bosio as Lady Macbeth.[citation needed]

Third Niblo's Garden and final days


The theater was again destroyed by fire in 1872. It was rebuilt by the department-store magnate A. T. Stewart.

The final performance at Niblo's Garden was given on March 23, 1895. A few weeks later the building was demolished to make way for a large office structure erected by sugar-refining titan Henry O. Havemeyer. Only a bit earlier he had purchased the Metropolitan Hotel and the theater.

Niblo's location later became occupied by early-20th century commercial buildings that span the block between Broadway and Crosby Street; one is the former site of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art.

Plays presented at Niblo's

Year Name Writer
1855 Rip Van Winkle Howard Wainwright
1858 The Phantom Dion Boucicault
1862 The Duke's Motto John Brougham
1863 Leah, the Forsaken Agustin Daly
1866 The Black Crook Charles M. Barras
1868 Le Barbe Bleue Jacques Offenbach
1868 The White Fawn James Mortimer
1868 Arrah-na-Pogue T.H. Glenn
1869 The Forty Thieves Henry Brougham Farnie
1869 The Firefly Edmund Falconer
1869 Formosa: The Most Beautiful or the Railroad to Ruin Dion Boucicault
1869 The Little Detective Unknown
1869 Little Nell and the Marchioness John Brougman
1869 The School for Scandal Richard Brinsley Sheridan
1870 Heartsease Edmund Falconer
1870 Innisfallen; or, The Men in the Gap Edmund Falconer
1870 Not Guilty Watts Phillips
1870 The Rapparee, or, The Treaty of Limerick Dion Boucicault
1870 True as Steel James Schonberg and Paul Meurice
1870 Under the Palm Alfred Tennyson Tennyson
1871 Carl, the Fiddler Charles Gayler
1871 Kit, the Arkansas Traveler Thomas B. De Walden
1871 Richard III William Shakespeare
1872 Black Friday Unknown
1873 The Beasts of New York J. J. Wallace
1873 Koomer Unknown
1873 The Scouts of the Prairie Edward Zane Carrol Judson
1874 The Cryptogram James DeMille
1874 Evangeline Edward Everett Rice
1874 Leatherstocking, or, The Last of the Mohicans George Fawcett Rowe
1874 The Two Sisters, or, the Deformed Unknown
1874 Wild Cat Ned Barrett Sylvester
1877 Cross and Crescent Unknown
1877 The Law of the Land Unknown
1878 The Craiga Dhoul N. Hart Jackson
1878 The Gascon Théodore Barrière and Louis Davyl
1878 Love and Labor Unknown
1878 M'liss Clay Greene
1878 New York and London George Fawcett Rowe
1878 The Serpent and the Dove Unknown
1878 Hearts of Steel Edmund Falconer
1882 Mardo, or, The Nihilists of St. Petersburg Unknown
1882 Viva Leonard Grover
1883 The Pavements of Paris Adolphe Belot
1884 The Blue and the Gray Elliot Barnes
1885 The Bandit King Unknown
1885 Clio Bartley Thomas Campbell
1886 Bound to Succeed Henry Pettitt and George Conquest
1886 Enemies Charles Coghlan
1886 The Ivy Leaf Con Murphy
1886 Theodora Victorien Sardou
1887 Rienzi Mary Russel Mitford and Steele MacKaye
1887 A Run of Luck Augustus Harris and Henry Pettitt
1887 She Henry Rider Haggard
1887 Travers House Unknown
1888 The Stowaway Tom Craven





  1. ^ The name Niblo's Garden was used for more than a decade at the turn of the 20th century in association with a Bronx entertainment hall at Third Avenue and 170th Street that was later called the Bronx Lyceum.
  2. ^ Arthur Hornblow, A History of the Theatre in America from its beginnings to the present time 1919:96.
  3. ^ Hornblow.
  4. ^ Abram Child Dayton, Last Days of Knickerbocker Life in New York, :303ff.
  5. ^ Goodman 120.
  6. ^ John Wallace Hutchinson, Story of the Hutchinsons (Tribe of Jesse), 2 vols. (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1896), p. 138; Roberts, Brian, "'Slavery Would Have Died of That Music': The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Rise of Popular-Culture Abolitionism in Early Antebellum-Era America, 1842-1850." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society. 306-07(2006).
  7. ^ Kenrick, John. "Demolished Broadway Theatres - M to O: Niblo's Garden". Musicals101.com. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
  8. ^ Kenrick, John (2003) [1996]. "History of the Musical Stage 1860s: The Black Crook". Musicals101.com. Retrieved 2009-01-08.
  9. ^ "North American Theatre Online".