It also contains recording studios, record label offices, theatrical agencies, television studios, restaurants, Duffy Square, Shubert Alley, the Brill Building, a Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium, and Madame Tussauds New York.
The City of New York defines the subdistrict for zoning purposes to extend from 40th Street to 57th Street and from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue, with an additional area west of Eighth Avenue from 42nd Street to 45th Street. The Times Square Alliance, a Business Improvement District organization dedicated to improving the Theater District, defines the district as an irregularly shaped area within the bounding box of 40th Street, 6th Avenue, 53rd Street, and 9th Avenue. As of 2018, the Vivian Beaumont Theater (part of Lincoln Center) is the only Broadway-class theatre not located in the Theater District.
In 1836, mayor Cornelius Lawrence opened 42nd Street in an attempt to get the city to expand north, saying "move up town and enjoy the pure, clean air". The Theater District first began attracting theaters and restaurants to the neighborhood after the Metropolitan Opera House moved to West 39th Street and Broadway in 1883. Oscar Hammerstein I opened his Victoria Theatre on 42nd Street in 1899. The Theater District became more accessible from the rest of the city after electrified trolley lines started running in 1899, followed by the opening of the New York City Subway's first line in 1904.
"The Great White Way" is a nickname for a section of Broadway in Midtown Manhattan that encompasses the Theater District. In 1880, a stretch of Broadway between Union Square and Madison Square was illuminated by Brush arc lamps, making it among the first electrically lighted streets in the United States. By the 1890s, the portion from 23rd Street to 34th Street was so brightly illuminated by electrical advertising signs that people began calling it "The Great White Way". When the theater district moved uptown before the turn of the century, the name was transferred to the Theater District.
Over the years since then, the district has been referred to by New Yorkers as "the Rialto," as "The Main Stem," and as "Broadway," and at the turn of the 20th century, was simply called "The Street".