Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich Village in the 1920s’

A Village speakeasy attracts a bohemian crowd

August 13, 2012

If you think New York packs in a lot of bars today, imagine what it was like in the 1920s.

During Prohibition, 32,000 speakeasies were operating in New York City, twice the number of legal saloons that existed in 1920.

Cousins Jack Kriendler and Charles E. Berns ran one of them: a little basement space called the Red Head, opened in 1923 off Fourth Street in Greenwich Village, then under the dark and grimy Sixth Avenue El.

“The Volstead Act had gone into effect in January 1920, so the illegal club in a tea room was an immediate hit,” states Dorothyparker.com.

After it was gutted by a fire, “the pair moved their speakeasy to a basement at 88 Washington Place at the height of the bootlegging, Jazz Age New York.

“Called the Fronton, it was now a real speakeasy, complete with live music and huge tables.”

Club Fronton had a Spanish theme and catered to artists and writers, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay (below) and Dorothy Parker (above), plus nightlife-loving politicians like Mayor Jimmy Walker.

Police raids didn’t close the Fronton down—eminent domain did. After a year, the property was condemned by the city so the West Fourth Street subway station could be built.

Kriendler and Berns moved to midtown this time. In 1928, they set up a speakeasy at 21 West 52nd Street. The 21 Club was an instant success—and 80 years after Prohibition, still packs them in.

[Above photo: 88 Washington Place today, a condominium residence]

Fashionable women at a Chop Suey restaurant

January 16, 2012

Edward Hopper’s 1929 painting Chop Suey is a reminder of a much older New York, when this dish was advertised in neon outside Chinese restaurants around the city.

“These fashionable women are dining at a modest Chinese restaurant not unlike one the Hoppers frequented,” writes the National Gallery of Art.

“Characteristically, Hopper depicts a moment before or after the main event—here, the meal—takes place. Also typical is the isolation and ambiguous relationship between the figures: it is not clear whether the dining companions are even looking at or conversing with one another.”

Dorothy Day: the “paradoxical saint” of New York

April 24, 2011

Anarchist, pacifist, and committed Catholic Dorothy Day is in the process of being canonized for sainthood.

She’s not the first New Yorker to become a saint or be in line for the designation, but she may be the least likely candidate.

Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Day spent her early adult years as a Marxist journalist and agnostic, anti-war, pro-suffrage activist.

She lived lived on the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village, in common-law arrangements with men, and had an abortion.

Then in the 1920s, after her daughter was born, she experienced a spiritual awakening. Day started going to mass daily, studied scripture, and embarked on an ascetic life.

And she founded the Catholic Worker movement: a newspaper with a socialist, pacifist slant that included a larger dedication to serving the poor.

Day did this by opening “houses of hospitality” in poor areas of the city that provided food, clothing, and shelter for the down and out.

Day herself lived in one, a group of cabins in Staten Island, the borough where she died in 1980 and is now buried in.

She never gave up her commitment to peace and improving the lives of the poor, which earned her accolades on the left.

But she also condemned abortion and birth control, which won her praise from conservative Catholics.

The black-caped horseman of West Fourth Street

December 27, 2010

A bank branch, yogurt shop, tanning salon…. The two-story building at 220 West Fourth Street, put up in 1931, is pretty nondescript.

Except for the cool little plaque above the door of a spy store on the first floor.

It depicts a horseman clad in black, rearing his horse and lifting a sword over his head in defense.

So who is he? Must be General Philip Henry Sheridan—namesake of the nearby intersection of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue.

Sheridan was the Union general who decimated Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War and then prosecuted the wars against the Plains Indians.

A huge hero in the late 19th century, Sheridan probably wouldn’t get a square named after him today.

Halloween in Greenwich Village

October 27, 2008

Before the annual Village Halloween Parade got its start in 1973, there was the Greenwich Village Halloween Carnival, as reads the poster this 1920s-era bohemian chick is putting up on a street sign pole.

It’s tough to make out the fine print and find out where it was held, for example. But it looks like someone named Paul Whiteman was the sponsor.