Posts Tagged ‘Edmund Wilson’

Dance-hall days on 14th Street

December 21, 2009

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?”