The Heckscher Building was built as a shelter for abused and neglected children who had been taken from their families. Today, it’s owned by the City and houses the offices of the Parks Department, El Museo del Barrio and several other nonprofits. The philanthropist August Heckscher and his wife, Anna, wanted the building to be a happy home for the children, and the theatre was one of its much-touted features.
The Heckscher Theatre was built in 1921 and opened in 1922 under the auspices of the Heckscher Foundation for Children. Originally intended to house free productions for and by orphans and sick children, the Heckscher went on to produce W.P.A. Federal Theatre Project's Theatre for Youth program in the 1930s (being used also for Broadway tryouts) a New Deal initiative to provide relief to out-of-work artists. In the late 1950’s and 1960’s, Joseph Papp’s nascent New York Shakespeare Festival had its offices and performed here.
In 1946, the theatre saw the first performance of Giancarlo Menotti's The Medium.
Later, as an off-off-Broadway theatre, the venue premiered Mama, I Want to Sing on March 23, 1983. The gospel musical became one of the longest-running shows in off-off-Broadway history, playing over 2,000 performances.
In 1995, El Museo took over operations and, with a community development block grant, began renovating the space, restoring the murals and replacing the seats and furnishings, as well as carrying out necessary updates. The renovations, with an inversion of 1.2 million dollars, was completed in 2000, after which the theater was used by the museum sporadically for screenings and concerts until 2006, when a three week run of Quiara Alégria Hudes’s Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue was presented.
The Heckscher Theatre is like a small-scale Broadway house, it sits 599, with a proscenium arch, an orchestra pit, a large fly space, and Wall murals depecting fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel”, “Jack and the Beanstalk” y “Sleeping Beautiy”.