The Adventure Continues

TT in the Blue Mountains and Sheldy in New York.

Culture Shock.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An east side theatre walk

(tt) Theatrical historian and artist, Cezar Del Valle, led a band of the interested on a tour of sites of old theatres, dime museums, movie and vaudeville houses. We began at a poetry cafe on The Bowery

This was 308 The Bowery and is a lively beat inspired home for readings. They have a Ginsburg night every Tuesday. Cezar told a story of why poetry cafes were exempt from expensive licences. The judge didn't think poetry was entertaining!
Next door at 310 was  The Broadway Concert Hall.
Most of these places were drop ins and did  not rely on advertising. So there are many other ex places of entertainment we will never know about unless old photos, drawings or letters are unearthed.

This was the site of the Palace Music Hall and a nickelodeon theatre. Most were beer halls. They kept forcing the patrons to drink up or risk being chucked out into the street.

Across the road where now stands this glass toilet

were the Germania Hall and The McGurk

This was the McGurk  in 2000 before it was torn down.

 It was notorious as the site of numerous suicides in the early 20th century by prostitutes who would top themselves with a mixture of wine and carbolic acid. Why here? Why that way?

This is where a famous dime museum stood. a precursor to the Barnum and Bailey edifice. They exhibited acts like Chang the Chinese Giant
as well as objets and exotic wares to titillate those fascinated by the macabre.
In Oct 1883 an advertisement posted the appearance of Mrs Jesse James, widow to the slain gunslinger.

Weber and Fields played this venue with a "dutch" ( actually a thick mock German) act which they tried out. They were booed offstage. After begging for a second chance they went home to study one of the German men in their boarding house. Next night with a brand new act they brought the house down and went from 2  to 25 dollars a week. Their act was extremely violent. Fields wore a streel plate under his wig. One night he forgot to wear it and ended up covered in blood. It was wildly received !!

Further down the Bowery was Sammys Bowery Follies.
an alcoholic haven”

That’s how this legendary fleabag, Gay ’90s–style saloon was described in a 1944 Life magazine article (with photo, below, by Alfred Eisenstaedt).
“From 8 in the morning to 4 the next morning Sammy’s is an alcoholic haven for the derelicts whose presence has made the Bowery a universal symbol of poverty and futility,” the article stated.
“It is also a popular stopping point for prosperous people from uptown who like to see how the other half staggers.”
That mix of patrons was key to Sammy’s success. Opened in 1934 at 267 Bowery between Houston and Stanton Streets, the dive attracted old-school bums as well as tourists, politicians, actors, and others slumming it for the night.
Ex-Vaudeville performers sang and danced for the crowds on sawdust-sprinkled floors. The party went on until 1970, a year after owner Sammy Fuchs died.

Sammy cared deply for the bums and faded ladies and had a system where they could lodge their papers or keepsakes in named envelopes and he would give them a pin on number. Should they be found dead in an alley or a flophouse the cops could match the identities at Sammys and carry out any final wishes. A once famous singer, Elma Palmer Patterson, died in penury and her body was to be sent to Potters Field. Sammy paid for her internment in a marked grave,

The National Theatre begun by Jacob Adler and later run by Boris Tomaschevsky is now a glass box which houses one of the Wholefoods we go to.

This is the very site
 The theatre was a stalwart home for classic Yiddish theatre right up til the mid 50's. Burgess Meredith directed Zero Mostel as Ulysses here.
And the film, "Stagestruck". with Susan Strasberg and Henry Fonda was made in the National

 In the same building was  the famous Minskys Burlesque House. It was up on the sixth floor and the box office was on the first. Should a raid be sighted by the keen eyed manageress then she rang a bell and by the time the cops got into the theatre the show was lily white. Legend has it that Mae Dix invented the strip by accidentally taking off her sodden collars and cuffs and walking back on to the roars of "More! More!" from the rabid audience.
Here's the Minskys entrance
And a few more titillations

Further down E Houston was the Houston Hippodrome..a little Yiddish theatre which was closed because of a near fatal fire. It is now the site of the Sunshine Cinema

There was much cross-culturism in some theatres. One enterprising management presented the same play with an Italian and Yiddish cast  in repertoire with the same set and if lucky the same cozzies.

This is the Mars Bar on Second ave
It was once the Majestic Cinema later the Woolworth Theatre
The Second Ave Theatre, now gone, was on this site.

And it was here that one of the most famous and long lasting actresses, Molly Picon, launched her New York career.  She had started her craft by touring  in Europe and Russia. On the morning that her appearance at the Second Ave was announced a line went round the block. The ticket buyers had either seen her in their homelands or had been told by their relatives or friends not to miss the American marvel.
She was discovered in Boston in a performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin by her soon to be husband/manager

After each show the audience would retire for supper to the Moscovitz and Leobovitz restaurant which I bet looked a bit more interesting than the current building.
There is a story that Billie Burke accompanied Flo Ziegfeld to the restaurant and after looking at her plate asked the waiter where the vegatables were.  The whole room was brought to startled silence by his 'WWWWWWHHHHAT?  Dat dill pickle is a vegetable!  Dat sauerkraut  is a vegetable! Dat onion ring is a vegetable!  Vodelsdyawont?"

This funeral parlour was used in "Prince of Tides"

The building with the festoon was the Public Theatre. Only the foyer remains.

This building is the original La Mama on 4th Ave. It was once a concert hall and an abattoir before its current use.

This hall built in the 1870's is also the home to La Mama's second space. The ten year old Weber and Fields made their disastrous debut here when Fields was tossed onto his head rather than his feet by his exuberant  partner.

The wonderful Italian melodrama scene from Godfather Part Two  was filmed here

And it was once owned by Andy Warhol as a gay  porn house and managed by Joe Delassandro who serviced patrons in a back room
The Florence Theater of 1911 was once here

There was where the Jean Cocteau Rep ran in the fifties and sixties

And finally there is the abandoned Amato Opera House opened in 1964 by a husband and wife for 61 seasons. When it finally closed the props and costumes were put out on the street for all to take. The building is for sale for 7 million. So much for skid row.

Added surprise. The handsome man in the baseball cap is Mr Russ, recently retired head honcho of the famous Russ and Daughters Lox  and Cream Cheese Shop on East Houston. He is writing a book about the business his grandfather built up from a handcart in 1911. Many of the theatre audiences would head to the the store after performances.

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