Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘theaters’

The Greenwich Village Theatre only existed for thirteen years, but within that time frame the institution established a lasting legacy within the theater world and in Greenwich Village. Originally designed and built by New York architect Herman Lee Meader, the 500-seat theatre was a landmark of Greenwich Village from 1917 to 1930.

Herman Lee Meader's Sketch of the Greenwich Village Theatre

Herman Lee Meader’s Sketch of the Greenwich Village Theatre, 1917

 

Located on the west side of Seventh Avenue South between Christopher and West 4th Streets overlooking Sheridan Square, the Greenwich Village Theatre was originally built for the Greenwich Village Players, an acting troupe founded by Frank Conroy and featuring a young Clare Eames. The Greenwich Village Players reflected the prevalence of “little theatres” during the teens, in which theatre enthusiasts transformed into amateur actors and playwrights and eventually theater professionals.

 

Despite being known as a locale of bohemia and radicalism, Greenwich Village was also a popular tourist destination during the 1910s and 1920s. The area of Sheridan Square was particularly popular among tourists, due to the development of the west side subway line in 1918. Originally published in the Saturday Evening Post, Sinclair Lewis satirized the influx of tourists in “Hobohemia,” a short story that he adapted into a play that ran at the Greenwich Village Theatre in 1919. The play features the characters of Mr. Brown and Mrs. Saffron. Mr. Brown “decides the only problem with bohemia is that the bohemians don’t know how to make a profit from it,” and encounters Mrs. Saffron, a parody of Mabel Dodge, in Greenwich Village. Lewis’s play satirized prominent Greenwich Village figures, who he clearly thought were taking themselves too seriously. This transition from the serious bohemian theatre troupe of the Greenwich Village Players to an increased willingness to parody themselves set the stage for the Greenwich Village Follies.

 

New York Time's Review of Sinclair Lewis's Hobohemia

New York Time’s Review of Sinclair Lewis’s Hobohemia

The Greenwich Village Follies premiered on July 15, 1919 at the Greenwich Village Theatre. Though initially titled “Greenwich Village Nights,” this was quickly changed to the Follies; facing off against the popular Ziegfeld’s Follies. Created by John Murray Anderson alongside lyricist Philip Bartholomae and composer A. Baldwin Sloane, the musical revue more than held its own against Ziegfeld’s Follies. Praised by the New York Times, particularly for its “melody and beauty,” the 1919 Follies emerged as a hit.

 

New York Times review of the Greenwich Village Follies, 1919

New York Times review of the Greenwich Village Follies, 1919

Much of the scenes and songs of the Follies parodied Greenwich Village life and current events. Bessie McCoy, the Broadway veteran, sang, “I’m a Hostess of a Bum Cabaret,” satirizing Prohibition, while other songs like “I’ll Sell You a Girl,” poked fun at bohemian concepts such as free love.

 

Following the success of the 1919 Follies, Anderson produced another series of shows in 1920 that played at the Greenwich Village Theatre. However, the 1920 Follies greatly resembled a Broadway musical revue, and the show moved to the Schubert Theatre on Broadway a month after it opened. The Greenwich Village Follies played for six seasons on Broadway and became less associated with the Village after its second season.

 

Despite only running for less than two seasons in Greenwich Village, the legacy of the show has lasted. In 2011, a musical revue detailing Greenwich Village history billed itself as “The Greenwich Village Follies.” The show, performed at Manhattan Theater Source on Macdougal St., covered local history from the 1700s to the Stonewall rebellion in 1969.

 

After the departure of the Greenwich Village Follies, the Greenwich Village Theatre remained a landmark of Sheridan Square and the Village until 1930 when it was demolished.

Sources

Bordman, Gerald. American Musical Theater: A Chronicle. Oxford University Press: 2001.

Gates, Anita. “From George Washington to Beatniks and Beyond.” NY Times, Jul. 3, 2011.

Hischak, Thomas S. Off-Broadway Musicals since 1919: From Greenwich Village Follies to the Toxic Avenger. Scarecrow Press: 2011.

Strausbaugh, John. The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, a History of Greenwich Village. Harper Collins: 2013.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

On the evening of February 2, 1913, a crowded audience enjoyed a moving picture show at the Houston Hippodrome, a movie theater in the East Village. During the movie a small fire erupted in the projection booth. The fire was quickly put out, but not before it was noticed by members of the audience. A frightened boy in the balcony shouted “Fire!” and unintentionally started a panic that took the lives of two and injured many more.

Headline about the Houston Hippodrome fire, New York Tribune, February 3, 1913, page 1.

Headline about the Houston Hippodrome fire, New York Tribune, February 3, 1913, page 1.

The Houston Hippodrome had been opened in December 1909, in a former Protestant Church at 141-143 East Houston Street. The proprietor, Charles Steiner, and his partners renovated the church to convert it into a theater, turning the pulpit into a stage and the organ loft into a projection booth, but retaining the wooden pews as seating for the audience. Though the building was not originally designed to be a movie theater, Steiner and company also made changes to meet all existing theater safety regulations, such as adding fire escapes and enlarging doorways. However, the Houston Hippodrome received citations from the Fire Department on multiple occasions for filling the theater beyond its mandated 299 person capacity. With the huge population in the Lower East Side at the time, it was easy to draw a large audience to enjoy moving picture shows and vaudeville acts.

Charles Steiner, proprietor of the Houston Hippodrome.

Charles Steiner, proprietor of the Houston Hippodrome.

But the New York theater regulations did nothing to prevent the deadly 1913 panic. When the cry of “Fire!” was raised, the audience members rushed to the exits, ignoring or unable to hear the theater staff members’ attempts to calm the crowd. The patrons in the balconies hurried down the stairs, where some people fell and blocked the stairways. Those on the main floor rushed through the too small theater exits, which led out into the lobby that was full of patrons awaiting the next showing. As the doorways became clogged and people became more frightened, many lost their footing and were pushed and stomped. Two women were crushed to death in the confusion and 32 others were injured.

Image of the Houston Hippodrome, New York Tribune, February 3, 1913, page 1.

Image of the Houston Hippodrome, New York Tribune, February 3, 1913, page 1.

Irving Steiner, the projectionist and brother of proprietor Charles Steiner, was initially taken into custody and held on the count of criminal negligence, and the owners and proprietors were questioned by police and fire officials. But Irving Steiner was soon released, and no charges were brought against him or any others. When the Fire Commissioner examined the scene afterwards, he found that the building was in compliance with all safety regulations then in place, and that, despite the hyperbolic headline, the audience was not over the 299 person capacity (though other patrons waiting in the lobby for the next showing would have added to the total number in the crowd). But he also noted that similar fires and dangerous panics were common in small theaters throughout the city, suggesting that the current safety codes were insufficient. In an article about the fire, a New York World editor wrote pessimistically that “without change it [the theater] may be used for more performances, may witness more panics, may gather fresh stains of blood. It is deadly but legal.”

But the Houston Hippodrome panic did help persuade the city’s Board of Alderman to pass new legislation on theater regulation. The fire safety requirements were increased and the Houston Hippodrome underwent a $7000 renovation in the summer of 1913 to meet the new codes. The Hippodrome remained in operation until 1917, when it was demolished and a larger theater was built in its place. Today the Sunshine Cinema still welcomes audiences for movie showings in the space.

The Sunshine Cinema today stands where the Houston Hippodrome once was.

The Sunshine Cinema today stands where the Houston Hippodrome once was.

Read Full Post »