The West End's Fortune Theatre, home to long-running thriller The Woman in Black for the past 12 years, is being acquired today by the Ambassador Theatre Group.

The purchase, estimated to be in the region of £2 million, expands ATG's West End empire to ten venues. Also in its portfolio are the Duke of York's, Comedy, New Ambassadors, Phoenix and Piccadilly, all of which it owns outright. The company also possesses the leaseholds for the Donmar Warehouse, Whitehall, Albery and Wyndham's theatres, although the last two will be ceded to impresario Cameron Mackintosh in 2005.

The acquisition puts ATG on equal footing with Andrew Lloyd Webber, London's single biggest theatre owner. Last year, under the guise of his company Really Useful Theatres, Lloyd Webber acquired the former Stoll Moss empire of ten West End houses, including the Palladium, Garrick and Drury Lane theatres and most of Shaftesbury Avenue.

With just 432 seats, the Fortune is one of the smallest West End venues, but it has a long history. The first Fortune (sketch right) in Cripplegate was one of London's first-ever theatres, built around 1574, in Shakespeare's time, as a model of the Globe. It burned down in 1621, was rebuilt, then closed in 1642, was dismantled in 1649 and pulled down in 1661. The current theatre, with its distinctive art deco style, opened on Russell Street in Covent Garden on 8 November 1924.

While the Fortune falls into new ownership, another London theatre, the Westminster, has fallen on hard times. Despite the efforts of Save London Theatres Campaign, Westminster Council has granted permission for developers to demolish the fringe Westminster Theatre, located near Buckingham Palace.

Originally the St James's Picture House, the building was opened in 1923 on the site of an old chapel. In 1931, it was transformed into a theatre, with a capacity for more than 1,500. The owners have committed to rebuilding a smaller venue on the newly developed site.

Other London theatres still under threat include the historic Mermaid Theatre in the City of London. Blackfriars Development Limited, the current owners, have lodged an appeal with the Corporation of London to raze the existing theatre and build a modern office block, with conference venue, in its place.

- by Terri Paddock