New York has long been known as a center of the arts, with many spaces dedicated to music, dance, and other performances. Many have stood strong for decades, while others are almost forgotten. Below are a few places where New Yorkers enjoyed the arts. Tell us, where do you get your cultural kicks?
Carnegie Hall’s cornerstone was laid in 1890, where Andrew Carnegie stated, “It is built to stand for ages, and during these ages it is probable that this Hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.” The Hall opened the next year, and since then it’s become the place to perform for musicians of any type. They just need to make sure they practice.
Clinton Hall [former Astor Place Opera House], Astor Place and 8th Street, New York City, circa 1885; copy negative after an original photograph by an unknown photographer. H.N. Tiemann & Co. photograph collection, 1880-1916. New-York Historical Society Library
Clinton Hall, aka the Astor Place Opera House, was the site of the famous Astor Place Riot of 1849, which left dozens dead or injured. The riot began with a dispute between Edwin Forrest, a notable American actor, and William Macready, a similarly famous British actor. Macready was performing Macbeth at the Opera House, and on May 10, 1849, hundreds of Forrest fans gathered to stop the performance. In this video, our librarians explain the melee. Clinton Hall was converted into condominiums in 1995, though remnants can still be found if you know where to look.
Our friends The Bowery Boys dive into the history of this opera house, built in 1889 by Oscar Hammerstein. “Thanks to the construction of the elevated railroads in the 1880s, the once-distant Harlem was now linked to the heart of the city,” and Hammerstein saw the need for theaters as more people began moving to the area. However, Hammerstain had a hard time turning a profit, and “The Harlem Opera House was sold and transformed into a more traditional vaudeville house. By the 1930s, to compete with the thriving amateur nights over at the Apollo, the Harlem Opera House had its own amateur nights. Its most notable discovery is one of the greatest names in music—Ella Fitzgerald.” It was torn down in 1959.
Built by the same team that created Luna Park amusement park at Coney Island, the Hippodrome Theater operated from 1905-1939. It seated 5,300, and held performances by everyone from Harry Houdini to Coco the baboon. It was torn down in 1939, and in 1951 a significantly less eye-catching office building took its place.
Manhattan Opera House was another project of Oscar Hammerstein’s. According to its history, “Hammerstein built the opera house with the bold intention to take on the established Metropolitan Opera by featuring cheaper seats for the ordinary New Yorker.” After four years, the Met offered Hammerstein $1.2 million to stop producing opera for ten years, and after accepting he began experimenting with different acts. The building changed ownership a few times, and by 1940 it was Manhattan Center, which now houses another modern stage—The Hammerstein Ballroom.
No look at New York’s entertainment venues would be complete without Radio City, the art-deco theater known as “The Showplace of the Nation.” When it opened it was a popular feature film venue, though it soon had to compete with multiplexes, and began showcasing more live shows, like their famous Christmas Spectacular.