Today is Chris’s birthday. She is all that is left of Greenwich Village that Henry Brevoort founded. She has lived in New York’s Village for forty years. Broadway All is the Godfather of her daughter, Julie. She dated Joe Marra who owned the Night Owl, and accompanied her friend, Bill Graham, to see the Tower of Power. There are America’s first libraries. Here we are my fine reading and writing friends. We cared so much! We built this city!
Happy Birthday, Chris!
In 1834,Henry Brevoort built a mansion at 24 5thAvenue, at the northwest corner of 9th Street. Mr. Brevoort was descended from Dutch settlers and since 1701, his earlier ancestors had retained their farm, stretching from 5th Avenue to the Bowery and extending north of 14th Street. He was a lifelong friend of Washington Irving, with whom he corresponded by letters for over 50 years. His son, James Carson Brevoort, was a world famous collector of rare books and coins and was very involved with the Astor Library.J. Carson Brevoort also studied with his uncle, James Renwick. Mr. Renwick built the house at 21 5th Avenue, which would become the home of Mark Twain. According to Nathan Silver’s book Lost New York, the Brevoort House was probably designed by the firm of Ithiel Town and A.J. Davis. Its classic Greek Revivalelements made it a model for later homes in the City.
In 1845,directly across the street from the Brevoort House, a large, stately hotel was erected by the family, stretching the Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets.Called the Hotel Brevoort, it kept alive the family’s name after the mansion was torn down in 1925 to make way for another hotel.
In 1902, restaurateur Raymond Orteig purchased the Hotel Brevoort along with the nearby Hotel Lafayette, located at University Place and 9th Street. A native of France, Mr. Orteigmodeled both hotels on French precedents. The Café Brevoort, which he opened on the ground floor and basement of the hotel, served up haute French cuisine to notables of the day including Mark Twain, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eugene O’Neill and George F. Baker. It included a Parisian sidewalk café, a new feature for the time. A deep interest in aviation had led Orteig to donate the $25,000 prize which inspired Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight, another venture that made him an international figure.Charles Lindbergh collected his prize at the Brevoort Hotel. Raymond Orteig would run the hotel until 1933 when it was taken over by the Knott Management Corporation.
From 1901-1938 Henri Grechen operated a barber shop out of the hotel where, according to the Times, he “cut the hair and shaved the beards of many famous persons.” This included Mark Twain, who used Mr. Grechen’s services for the 4 and ½ years that he lived nearby at 21 5thAvenue.
The Hotel Brevoort was extremely popular for the European elite and royalty. Congressmen, Senators, Mexican and Turkish heads of state, past U.S. presidents, army generals, and even Prince Arthur all frequented the hotel. It was a popular spot for book readings, luncheons for nearby churches, dinners for the likes of Gertrude Whitney, and big fundraisers for institutions like St. Vincent’s. On January 18, 1916, the day before she was tried in Federal Court for sending her articles on birth control through the mail, Margaret Sanger gave a rousing speech at the hotel during a dinner held to support her. The New York Times captured the event saying it had, “the flavor of Bohemia and Greenwich Village.”
In 1954 the hotel was demolished to make way for a large apartment building. Built by architects Corbet and MacMurray and completed in 1956, this 19-story building has 296 apartments that were converted to co-ops in 1981. It features a limestone and polished brick façade, interior courtyard garden, and lobby complete with murals painted by Paul Sample. One of the building’s earliest residents was Buddy Holly and, interestingly, Judge Judith Scheindlin lived there before she became television’s Judge Judy. The building was named the Brevoort, a lasting reminder of this prominent Dutch family and the hotel that anchored the Village.
Irving returned from Europe in early 1806, certain of two things: that he didn’t want to be a lawyer, and that he did want to be a writer … if he only knew how. Until then, the law remained his only viable form of employment, and he applied himself to passing the bar exam—which he did, albeit just barely.
That same year, Irving fell in with a group of moderately successful young men—including Gouverneur Kemble, New York blueblood Henry Brevoort, and James Kirke Paulding— who dubbed themselves the roguish “Lads of Kilkenny.” The Lads spent most of their time socializing, eating late dinners and staggering home drunk. But when pressed by Irving, they could also be remarkably productive—and in January 1807, Irving, Paulding, and Irving’s oldest brother William published the first installment of the satiric magazine Salmagundi.
Poking fun at the politics, social scene, and mores of the time, Salmagundi was the equivalent of Mad magazine to New Yorkers of 1807. A popular success even beyond New York, snooty critics accused its creators of “immoral influence.” Irving was delighted with such notoriety. Twenty issues would be published before squabbles with their publisher brought the magazine to an end.
Salmagundi cancelled, Irving found another topic ripe for satire—a recently-published travelogue called Picture of New York. Progress was slow, however, for he had fallen in love with Judge Hoffman’s 17-year-old daughter, Matilda. For nearly a year, Irving and Matilda carried on their romance, until the spring of 1809, when Matilda died of tuberculosis. Devastated, Irving retreated to a friend’s home in Kinderhook where, ironically, he would complete his finest burlesque while digging his way out of a black depression.
Scrapping his initial idea to parody the travelogue, Irving instead compressed the reams of notes and random scribblings into something new. The resulting book, A History of New York, was no mere parody, but a rollicking, satirical history of the Dutch conquest, establishment, and eventual loss of his home town. In December 1809, Irving published his book under a new pseudonym, Diedrich Knickerbocker, a wry, crusty Dutch historian. An immediate bestseller, Knickerbocker soon became the personification of All Things New York. Even today, it appears across the front of New York’s NBA team, although in its more well-known abbreviated form, reading simply “Knicks.”
Despite his success as Knickerbocker, Irving remained uncertain of his abilities—and for the next few years he cast about trying to determine if he could earn a living as a writer or whether, out of necessity, he would have to find a real job. He eventually landed a post as editor of a new magazine, the Analectic, where, as the War of 1812 raged around him, he patriotically cranked out biographies of America’s naval war heroes. Itching for military glory himself, Irving was delighted to receive a commission to serve as a colonel in the New York State Militia. To his great disappointment, he saw no action.
With the failure of the Analectic in 1814, and the war over, a bored Irving sailed for Liverpool in 1815 to visit his brother, Peter, who was overseeing the family’s shipping business in England—a business, Irving soon learned, that was on the brink of collapse. Irving spent the next two years trying unsuccessfully to dig out the firm, eventually declaring bankruptcy—a humiliating process that would haunt Irving for the rest of his life.
The Lost Brevoort Mansion — 5th Ave. and 9th Street
|Shortly after this photograph was taken in 1925 the Brevoort mansion would be demolished — NYPL Collection|
In 1828 George Rogers began construction of his country home on the northern edge of what would soon become Washington Square. An unpaved road named Fifth Avenue stretched north of the square through the farmland of Henry Brevoort—a wealthy landowner so influential that when the City Fathers planned the extension of Broadway they were forced to swerve it to the west at East 10th Street rather than demolish his orchard.
Brevoort’s son, also named Henry, was born in September 1782. In 1817 he married Laura Carson of South Carolina. Brevoort was what The Evening World would later call a “gentleman of great wealth and unlimited leisure.”
He was a patron of literature and arts and became close friends with Washington Irving and Sir Walter Scott. The World said “Himself a writer of no mean skill, Brevoort stood always ready to aid those who found writing, in a day when writing won little material reward, a gateway to financial embarrassment. To him Irving owed much of his fame and happiness.”
In the first years of the 1830s the younger Henry began plans for a new mansion and looked towards the Bond Street neighborhood, then among the most exclusive residential areas in New York. But his feisty father had other ideas. Almost a century later a relative would recall, “I remember hearing the family tell how great-grandfather wanted to build his home on Second Avenue, which was then the fashionable section, but his father, who owned all of the Brevoort farm, running back to where Grace Church now stands and taking up considerable space along Fifth Avenue, greatly objected to giving him land on Second Avenue. ‘No, sir, go further back on the farm; go back to Fifth Avenue, for things are going to move that way,’” he reportedly directed.
Henry, “feeling very much in the woods and quite out of it,” therefore constructed the first house on Fifth Avenue. His mansion would set the tone of the street for a more than a century to come.
Brevoort commissioned Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis to design his new townhouse. The pair was among the most highly respected architects in the country and they produced an imposing Greek Revival home surrounded by gardens. Completed in 1834, it broke ground with several architectural innovations—a sectioned Greek key pediment and a “paneled” front façade accomplished by slightly recessing the two outer bays, for instance.
|The house in 1900 — from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
The house was designed as much for entertaining as for living. There was a billiard room, a library and two large parlors separated by the entrance hall. William Cullen Bryant would call it “a kind of palace in a Garden.” Upstairs were seven large bedrooms on the second floor and nine servants’ rooms on the third..
The sophisticated Brevoorts stepped out of the box, once again, in 1840 when they planned the first grand entertainment New York society had seen. Until now, entertaining was relatively understated. Yet in Europe extravagant fetes were not only commonplace, they were expected. Invitations went out in February 1840 for a bal costume, so popular in European society. It would set the pace for social events of high society for the rest of the century.
Anticipation among wealthy New Yorkers was fevered. Philip Hone, former mayor and family friend, wrote a few days before the event, “Nothing else is talked about; the ladies’ heads are turned nearly off their shoulders, the whiskers of the dandies assume a more ferocious curl in anticipation of the effect they are to produce, and even my peaceable domicile is turned topsy turvy by the note of preparation which is heard.”
The Herald noted that people were “moving heaven and earth to get an introduction to this highly respectable Dutch family, and hence an invitation.” The final guest list included old New York names, foreigners including the Swiss and Neapolitan consuls, literary figures, and relatively new names in society like John Jacob Astor and August Belmont.
On the evening of the ball, Philip Hone threw a “preparatory gathering” of friends so they could see his family’s impressive costumes. Philip dressed as Cardinal Woolsey in a scarlet merino robe and ermine cape. His three daughters came as Day and Night and as a character from “The Legend of Montrose.”
Between five and six hundred of New York’s wealthiest citizens filed into the Brevoort house for the ball. Socialites and moguls appeared as historic and literary characters such as Joan of Arc, Queen Esther and Diana. Mrs. Jonathan Ogden dressed as Queen Catharine of Arragon; author Charles A. Davis was a Quaker; Mrs. Robert Gracie came as Portia; Delancy Kane as a goldfinch and her sister Lydia was a sorceress; Bache McEvers dressed as William Penn; Mrs. Rufus Prime was Esmeralda; close family friend Henry C. De Rham, Jr. was “a Greek;” and Nicholas Schermerhorn most assuredly raised eyebrows when he arrived as “a Dutch girl.”
Philip Hone was rightfully impressed. He wrote in his diary “The mansion of our entertainers, Mr. and Mrs. Brevoort, is better calculated for such display than any other in the city. Mrs. Brevoort, in particular, by her kind and courteous deportment, threw a charm over the splendid pageant, which would have been incomplete without it. Never before has New York witnessed a fancy ball so splendidly gotten up, in better taste, or more successfully carried through.”
The glamorous party, however, resulted in scandal and public outrage.
The scandal involved Matilda Barclay, the daughter of British Consul George Barclay. Mr. and Mrs. Barclay came to the party dressed as a fox hunter and a peasant woman. Matilda came as Lalla-Rookh in a costume made by Madame Harche that reportedly cost $300—about $8,000 today. The Herald snidely reported it was “a thin slice from the fortune of $150,000 which, with her excellent heart and beautiful self, she intends to bestow on one of the gallant young gentlemen whom she meets at the ball.”
Matilda had no intentions of bestowing her fortune or heart on any gallant young gentleman, however. Also attending was the dashing T. Pollock Burgwyne of South Carolina, dressed as Feramors, a character in the same poem as Lalla Rookh. When the evening was over and the Barclays prepared to leave, their daughter was nowhere to be found. She had slipped out with the Southerner and married him.
The Herald gleefully reported that the newlyweds were seen at the Astor House the following day where Matilda was “playing the fancy dress character of a married lady.” The elopement caused a righteous backlash and, as The Evening World later reported “As a result masked balls were made taboo, and a fine of $1,000 was imposed on any one who should give one—unless the giver told on himself, in which event the fine was reduced one-half.”
|A tintype captured the Brevoort doorway which would have been described when the house was built as “pure Greek.” from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
James Gordon Bennett took advantage of the affair to sell papers. His Herald fueled an uproar among the working class when, on March 2, he devoted his entire front page to the Brevoort ball. He countered his description of the extravagant ball and over-the-top expenditures with the suffering of the laborers. The article added the floor plans of the house for good measure.
Philip Hone was outraged at Bennett’s meddling. “This kind of surveillance is getting to be intolerable and nothing but the force of public opinion will correct the insolence.” He gathered support from wealthy merchants, financiers and politicians in an effort to urge “respectable people [to] withdraw their support from the vile sheet.”
For a while The Herald lost advertisers and it was boycotted by clubs, fashionable hotels and homes.
Henry Brevoort died in 1848 and two years later Laura sold the house to Henry De Rham for $57,000 (over $1 million today). Henry was a dry goods merchant and banker and the De Rhams were not only close friends of the Brevoorts, they were distant relatives.
The De Rham family remained in the house through the First World War as the lower Fifth Avenue neighborhood changed from one of mansions and carriages to businesses. Little changed to the great house, including the name—New Yorkers continued to refer to it as the Brevoort Mansion, despite the De Rhams living here four times as long as the original owners. The New York Times later suggested that “The house, however, has always retained the name of its original owners, partly, perhaps, in view of the prominence of the family and partly because of the unusual magnificence of the house in its early days.”
|In the summer of 1903 the De Rhams had the shutters tightly closed against the heat. The Brevoort carriage house can be seen behind on 9th Street — from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
In July 1919 the house was finally sold, and again it went to a distant relative. The New York Times reported that “it was bought by George F. Baker, Jr., whose wife is the great-granddaughter of the builder of the house.” The fabulously wealthy Bakers lived on Madison Avenue and toyed with the idea of restoring the old mansion for their personal use.
“The return of the venerable house to a twentieth century descendant of the original Brevoort farm owners is an interesting incident in the vagaries of real estate changes on Manhattan Island,” said The Times. “It is now assessed at $205,000.”
Edith Kane Baker told The Evening World in October of the following year, “Yes, I intend to entertain quite a lot when I move into this ancestral home.” She added that the purchase was “of a sentimental nature. I greatly appreciate Mr. Baker’s thoughtfulness and desire to have our children live in a home which their great-great-grandfather built so many years ago.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Baker will have a great deal of remodeling and altering to make their new, old-fashioned homestead as modern and as comfortable as their present home at No. 260 Madison Avenue,” said the article. “The house has no way of heating besides an old-fashioned furnace and grates; parquet flooring is only laid upon the first floor, while the upper floors bore traces of carpets and the kitchen is still in the basement.”
Renovations, however, did not come to be. In November 1920 Baker leased the mansion to the Red Cross for $1 a month. By April 1925 nothing had been done to the old house and, in fact, the Bakers were eying another mansion far uptown at 93rd Street and Park Avenue.
On April 4 of that year The Times reported with regret “To the residents of [Washington Square] and to every lover of old New York there will come a feeling of personal and civic loss when the stately Brevoort mansion [is] leveled to the ground.” George Baker had sold the property for the erection of an apartment house.
In an earlier article in 1919 the newspaper said “Few residences on Manhattan Island have such an interesting history as the old Brevoort mansion on lower Fifth Avenue. Situated on the northwest corner of that thoroughfare and Ninth Street, it suggests, as it did more than three-quarters of a century ago, the quiet dignity and social elegance of New York aristocratic life long ago.”
|A view up the Avenue on May 26, 1912 shows still-extant mansions. In the distance is the tower of First Presbyterian Church — photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
The Outlook perhaps captured the mood of New Yorkers best. On April 8, 1925 it wrote “But the old Brevoort mansion is to be destroyed, to make way for another apartment-house and the modernization of that section of the avenue will be practically complete—and wholly depressing to those who love some flavor of the past.”
Broken Records: The Final Days of Bleecker Bob’s Golden Oldies
It was an institution, a rite of passage, a historical landmark, and a great place to kill time at 2 a.m. on a weekend before you passed out on the couch. Bleecker Bob’s helped start one of New York’s greatest bands, was America’s No. 1 punk outpost, and was on the receiving end of solicitous phone calls from Madonna. KORY GROW goes behind the counter of a record shop for the ages, and gets the real story on why the beloved joint had to close its doors.
What was once the booming beatnik stomping ground that served as home to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, and then about a decade later, the Ramones and Blondie, now offers more and more of the amenities available at most Midwestern malls. To residents and tourists alike, the closing of Bleecker Bob’s is another high-points blow in the assassination attempt on the neighborhood’s character.
Early in my reporting for this story, the friendly, bearded man who ran the poster section in the back of the shop and who went merely by “Bill,” uttered six words that resonated deeply with me during the month and a half that I spent at the store: “This is a landlord’s town now.” It’s a sentiment echoed by the neighboring businesses and customers of Bleecker Bob’s. A few days before the shop closed, I phoned Lewis Rosenthal, the property’s landlord (according to New York City records), but despite the power he holds in the situation, he declined to comment for the story. Nevertheless, the cast of characters willing to talk, including the store’s employees, its neighbors, customers and competitors, as well as Bob himself, took the time to share their memories — good and bad — of the New York institution as it played out its final days.
The roots of the store date to September 1967, when a lawyer named Robert Plotnik (born in Baltimore in 1942) who was working for the New York district attorney, teamed up with a record-collector friend named Al Trommers, who went by the moniker “Broadway Al,” to open a shop called Village Oldies at 149 Bleecker Street. The pair had connected over their love of doo-wop and vocal-harmony groups, respectively. “I said, ‘Bob, we’ve got to get a nickname for you,’” Trommers recalls in the 2012 documentary, For the Records. “‘Robert Plotnik’ does not sound like a hip name for a hip record store. I said, ‘I’ve got a good idea. Since we’re on Bleecker Street, why don’t we call you ‘Bleecker Bob?’ And it stuck.” The duo moved locations twice before Trommers tired of what he describes as Plotnik’s increasingly difficult disposition and decided not to sign another lease in the mid-’70s, making way for the opening of Bleecker Bob’s proper and its move in 1981 to West Third Street.
Since then, the shop has resided in the same location as what was once a narrowly designed music venue called the Night Owl Cafe. In the mid-’60s, acts like the Lovin’ Spoonful, James Taylor, and Tim Buckley used its stage (where the CD racks used to live) to win over freewheelin’ folk fans, seated in and around church pews. Some of the store’s older employees guess that the shop’s dirty, rough-hewn wooden floors date back to the Night Owl days.
- By far the oldest and most fashionable hotel on lower Fifth Avenue, the Brevoort stood here at the northeast corner of 8th Street for a century—from 1854 to 1954. In the 1920s its French-born owner Raymond Orteig offered a prize of $25,000 to the first pilot to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. On June 27, 1927 the prize was awarded at the Brevoort to Charles A. Lindbergh. The present apartment building at 11 Fifth Avenue takes its name from the hotel. The rock star Buddy Holly lived here in 1958.
A recent report by Crain’s New York that a number of hotels were opening in and around the Union Square area had us thinking here at Off the Grid about some historic Village hotels.
The Hotel Brevoort was built in 1845 by the Brevoort family, owners of a large tract of land stretching from 5th Avenue to the Bowery and extending north of 14th Street. The hotel was demolished in 1954 and a new residential building, aptly named the Brevoort, still stands today. The hotel, and its later café, were frequented by heads of state as well as Village artists and writers.
James Carson Brevoort (New York City 10 July 1818 – Brooklyn, New York 7 December 1887) was a United States collector of rare books and coins. He served as superintendent of the Astor Library for two years, also serving as trustee.
He received his early education at home, in France, and at Hofwyl, near Berne, Switzerland. He then studied at the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris, and was graduated with the diploma of a civil engineer.
On returning to the United States, he accompanied his uncle, James Renwick, one of the commissioners on the northeastern boundary survey. In 1838 he went abroad as private secretary to Washington Irving, U. S. Minister to Spain. After serving a year in this capacity, he spent several years in European travel, and returned home in 1843. Two years later he married the daughter of Judge Leffert Lefferts, of Brooklyn, where he afterward resided, serving on the board of education, and as one of the constructing board of water commissioners.
He became a regent of the University of New York in 1861, and the same year received the degree of LL.D. from Williams College. For ten years, beginning in 1863, he was president of the Long Island Historical Society. In 1868, he was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society. For two years, March 1876 to February 1878, he was superintendent of the Astor Library in New York City, of which he had been a trustee since 1852. He oversaw the beginning of a card catalog for the Astor collection. He resigned as a trustee in September 1878. He was a member of the New York Historical Society, the Academy of Natural Sciences, the American Geographical Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and numerous other scientific, literary, and artistic associations, in which he was always actively involved.
He was a collector of rare books and coins. From his father, Henry Brevoort, he inherited about 6,000 volumes, mostly Americana, which were collected in Europe during the turbulent years from 1810 until 1832. To this library, Brevoort made large additions, until in 1875 it comprised about 10,000 volumes, many of them very rare and costly. He also collected medals and manuscripts. About 1875 he began to bestow many of his treasures upon various institutions. His collections also embraced entomology and ichthyology (books and specimens).
He contributed to the American Journal of Numismatics a series of illustrated papers on “Early Spanish and Portuguese Coinage in America.” In the Historical Magazine he published a paper on the discovery of the remains of Columbus, and in 1874 prepared a volume, printed privately, entitled Verrazano the Navigator, or Notes on Giovanni de Verrazano, and on a Planisphere of 1529, illustrating his American Voyage in 1524, this being a revision and expansion of a paper read before the American Geographical Society, 28 November 1871.
His father, Henry Brevoort (born in 1791; died in Rye, New York, 11 April 1874), was descended from the old Holland Dutch stock, and inherited a large landed estate on Manhattan Island, which became extremely valuable as the city increased in population. He was a gentleman of literary taste and the lifelong friend of Washington Irving, with whom he traveled in Europe and corresponded for half a century.
Brevoort married Elizabeth Dorothea Lefferts in 1845, and they had one child, Henry L. Brevoort (1849-1895).
One of his sisters, Margaret Claudia Brevoort, called Meta Brevoort, was one of the most famous and talented mountaineers of her time. Another sister, Laura (1823-1860), married Charles Astor Bristed.
The university logo, the upheld torch, is derived from the Statue of Liberty, signifying NYU’s service to New York City. The torch is depicted on both the NYU seal and the more abstract NYU logo, designed in 1965 by renowned graphic designer Tom Geismar of the branding and design firm Chermayeff & Geismar. There are at least two versions of the possible origin of the university color, violet. Some believe that it may have been chosen because violets are said to have grown abundantly in Washington Square and around the buttresses of the Old University Building. Others argue that the color may have been adopted because the violet was the flower associated with Athens, the center of learning in ancient Greece.
Washington Square and Greenwich Village have been hubs of cultural life in New York City since the early 19th century. Much of this culture has intersected with NYU at various points in its history. Artists of the Hudson River School, the United States’ first prominent school of painters, settled around Washington Square. Samuel F.B. Morse, a noted artist who also pioneered the telegraph and created the Morse Code, served as the first chair of Painting and Sculpture. He and Daniel Huntington were early tenants of the Old University Building in the mid-19th century. (The University rented out studio space and residential apartments within the “academic” building.) As a result, they had notable interaction with the cultural and academic life of the university.
In the 1870s, sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French lived and worked near the Square. By the 1920s, Washington Square Park was nationally recognized as a focal point for artistic and moral rebellion. As such, the Washington Square campus became more diverse and bustled with urban energy, contributing to academic change at NYU. Famed residents of this time include Eugene O’Neill, John Sloan, and Maurice Prendergast. In the 1930s, the abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and the realists Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton had studios around Washington Square. In the 1960s the area became one of the centers of the beat and folk generation, when Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan settled there. This led to tension with the university, which at the time was in the midst of an aggressive facilities expansion phase. In 1975, the university opened The Grey Art Gallery at 100 Washington Square East, housing the NYU art collection and featuring museum quality exhibitions.
The Astor Library was a free public library in the East Village, Manhattan, developed primarily through the collaboration of New York City merchant John Jacob Astor and New England educator and bibliographer Joseph Cogswell. It was primarily meant as a research library, and its books did not circulate. It opened to the public in 1854, and in 1895 consolidated with the Lenox Library and the Tilden Foundation to become the New York Public Library (NYPL). During this time, its building was expanded twice, in 1859 and 1881.
The Astor Library suffered from its name. There was actually no proprietorship, and no question of family fiefdom. It was a free public library. But the public, though free to criticize, was reluctant to contribute towards its support. That was left to the Astors.
Later building use
The NYPL abandoned the building in 1911, and the books were moved to the NYPL’s newly constructed building by Bryant Park. In 1920, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society purchased it. By 1965 it was in disuse and faced demolition. The Public Theater (then the New York Shakespeare Festival) persuaded the city to purchase it for use as a theater. It was converted for theater use by Giorgio Cavaglieri. The building is a New York City Landmark, designated in 1965.
The Public is headquartered at 425 Lafayette Street in the former Astor Library in Lower Manhattan. The building holds five theater spaces and Joe’s Pub, a cabaret-style venue used for new work, musical performances, spoken-word artists and soloists. The Public also operates the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, where it presents Shakespeare in the Park, one of New York City’s most beloved summer traditions. New York natives and visitors alike have been enjoying free Shakespeare in Central Park since performances began in 1954.
The street originated as a real estate speculation by John Jacob Astor, who had bought a large market garden in 1804, for $45,000, and leased part of the site to a Frenchman named Joseph Delacroix, who erected a popular resort and called it “Vauxhall Gardens” after the famous resort on the edge of London. When the lease expired in 1825, Astor cut a new street through, a 100-foot wide three-block boulevard with no cross streets, which began at Astor Place and ended at Great Jones Street which he named Lafayette Place to commemorate the Revolutionary war hero, who had returned to a rapturous reception in America the previous year. Lots along both sides of the new street sold briskly, earning Astor many times what he had paid for the land two decades before. The grandest was the terrace of matching marble-fronted Greek Revival houses on the west side of the street, called La Grange Terrace when it was built in 1833, but known to New Yorkers as “Colonnade Row” for the two-story order of Corinthian columns that unified its fronts; the nine residences each sold for as much as $30,000; four that remain are the only survivors of the first fashionable residential phase of Lafayette Street, which gained its new name when the city extended the street south in the early 1900s. At that time its route was carved from the former Elm Street, Marion Street, and Lafayette Place and connected to Centre Street at the Municipal Building.
The Astor Opera House, also known as the Astor Place Opera House and later the Astor Place Theatre, was an opera house in Manhattan, New York City, located on Lafayette Street between Astor Place and East 8th Street. Designed by Isaiah Rogers, the theater was conceived by impresario Edward Fry, the brother of composer William Henry Fry, who managed the opera house during its entire history.