Dance-hall days on 14th Street

Fourteenth Street near Union Square has gone through many incarnations. In the late 1800s it hosted New York’s theater district, home to theaters and music halls as well as piano and organ salesrooms.

You can see the Steck Pianos sign and a sign for Estey, an organ manufacturer, in this 1880s photo of 14th street. And the street car on the left has the word “theatre” printed on the front.

By the the turn of the century the area slid into more of a low-rent vaudeville and dance-hall hub. It must have been a colorful, slightly depressing place to visit.

The narrator of “The Princess With the Golden Hair,” a short story by Village writer Edmund Wilson, published in 1942, observed:

“In the restlessness of my after-dinner boredom, I began looking in on the dance-halls. The first one I visited was desolating and soon drove me out again. Sparse couples—uninterested hostesses and  elderly stolid men—were shuffling  or revolving to monotonous music under lighting that was glamorless and garish.

“I wondered whether they were all like that or whether there mightn’t be gayer places: was this the type of the popular recreation that a city like New York had to offer?”

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6 Responses to “Dance-hall days on 14th Street”

  1. Nabe News: December 21 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] photo of Fourteenth Street, near Union Square, dating back to the 1880s.  At the time, the area was New York’s theater […]

  2. tompkins Says:

    The East 14th street of 30 years ago still included structures such as Luchow’s
    The Academy of Music (the movie theater that my mother said was where they went on dish night during the Depression—it became The Palladium nightclub), The Jefferson Theater, a second story loft with a ’40’s era sign advertising “Irving Klaw Movie Star Photos,” (Klaw of Betty Page bondage photos fame), an ancient theater used as a catering hall-where the former Virgin Records store now stands) The former Klein’s Department store-part of which was a building that housed the saloon where the original “Face on the Barroom Floor” was and a rooming house at the corner of Irving Place and 14th that had a beautifully curved corner, among other treats , Andy Warhol’s Factory (and several previous sites of said establishment), and a Rizzoli Bookstore were on the north side of Union Square.
    All gone. Glad I saw ’em.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Ephemeral readers remember Luchow’s very fondly. It’s a consistently popular post, and no wonder:

    https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2009/01/23/legendary-luchows-on-east-14th-street/

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Great, a reader who remembers Irwin Klaw. In my early days I stood outside his studio imagining that a look-a-like of Bette Page or her would saunter by, but alas, I stood there like a fool getting propositioned by the girls who owned 14-12th Street in those days, namely hookers, and which, even at 10 bucks a pop I couldn’t even afford.

  5. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Here’s the Jefferson Theater, Irwing Klaw had his studios right above the 99c store. Just imagine a kid there in the 60s…

    Jefferson Theatre

  6. Tracing a Village writer through her apartments | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Powell (above, in 1914) never gained the kind of fame that friends like Edmund Wilson and Malcolm Cowley […]

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