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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan!

Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
For Halloween give her a trumpet
And for Christmas, buy her a drum.
She Belongs to Me,” 1965

Today marks a milestone in American musical history – rock’s poet laureate, Bob Dylan (nĂ© Robert Zimmerman) turns 70 years old.

Dylan was born in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941; after dropping out of college, he relocated to New York City in 1961 to pursue a music career and meet his idol, Woody Guthrie. (You can read much more about Dylan coming to NYC in our blog post about Dylan from a couple of years ago.)

Dylan lived a number of places in New York over the years – on West 4th Street (which gave rise to “Positively 4th Street”), on MacDougal south of Bleecker, in the Chelsea Hotel (whose coughing heat pipes are memorialized in “Visions of Johanna” and which gets a shout-out in “Sara”), and at that “crummy hotel overlooking Washington Square” that Joan Baez so poignantly describes in “Diamonds and Rust.”

If you are looking for ways to celebrate, Patell and Waterman’s History of New York has compiled a good list of Dylan-related links, including WBAI’s 23-hour Dylan marathon.

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Read more about Dylan in New York in

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Reminder: One-Third of a Nation at Metropolitan Playhouse

Just a reminder that we'd love to see you this Sunday, May 22, for the talkback following the Metropolitan Playhouse's 3:00PM performance of One-Third of a Nation. This 1930s, WPA-sponsored play weaves the story of Manhattan into an examination of -- to quote erstwhile mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan -- why the rent is "too damn high." It's a fascinating play and we are going to do a Q&A after to answer any questions you might have about the many eras of NYC history it covers.

You can read our earlier blog post about the play or buy tickets at the Metropolitan's website.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Astor Place Riots

Today marks the anniversary of the Astor Place Riots, and while there were many conflicts in 19th-century New York between rich and poor, immigrant and native-born, this riot stands out. After all, how often do troops fire on citizens who are fighting over rival Shakespearean actors?

As we write in Inside the Apple:

In 1849, [the Astor Place Opera House] invited acclaimed British tragedian William Macready to perform Macbeth during his tour of the United States. This annoyed the patrons of the Bowery Theater, who were champions of American actor Edwin Forrest. Forrest had recently returned from a disappointing European tour (where he’d been hissed and booed in London by Macready’s fans), so to tweak Macready, Forrest had embarked on a tour of the same cities Macready was playing doing his rival version of Macbeth. Thus, when Macready was scheduled to appear at the Astor Place Opera House, the Bowery Theater downtown would mount Forrest’s production of Macbeth.
Had this been nothing more than two rival Shakespeareans treading the boards, things might have remained calm. However, the audience at the Bowery Theater, led the rowdy Bowery B’hoys (a quasi-gang), turned it into a violent clash over class and values. Was Macready, an imported British actor, better than Forrest, his American rival? They set out to prove he was not....
On May 7, 1849, Macready took the stage at the Astor Place Opera House and was greeted with rotten eggs, old shoes, and other objects smuggled into the theater by Five Pointers who’d infiltrated the audience. Macready refused to go on the next two nights, but on May 10, he agreed to continue. All the day before, Bowery B’hoys and Isaiah Rynders—a political heavyweight in the Five Points and personal fan of Edward Forrest—had posted flyers around town encouraging people to come to Astor Place. As the flyer announced in all capital letters: Shall Americans or English rule in this city? 
By the time the performance began, a crowd of between 10,000 and 20,000 people surrounded the theater, pelting it with bricks and paving stones. New York’s elite militia, the Seventh Regiment, was called in to quell the riot—the first time a military unit had been asked to do so in peacetime. When the crowd did not disburse, the soldiers were given the order to fire and by the end of the evening scores had been injured and eighteen people had been killed; four more people would die from their injuries over the next few days.
It's interesting to note that while today New York is filled with theaters, in 1836 (a decade before the riot) the city still only had a total of five theaters. More astonishingly, the New York Mirror complained this was too many. “The resident population would not more than adequately support one” and visitors “might possibly eke out a respectable audience for two more—but for five! that’s too great a supply for the demand.”

The Astor Place Opera House is now gone, replaced by the Mercantile Library (aka Clinton Hall)--the building with Starbucks in it.

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Read more about Astor Place Riots and the history of the area in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday, Empire State Building

As Ephemeral New York recently reminded us, for years May 1 was "moving day" in New York City, when all  commercial leases expired. (Can you imagine the chaos as people moved from office to office all around town?)

The biggest moving day of them all was May 1, 1931, when the Empire State Building--at 1,250 feet, the tallest building in the world--opened, eighty years ago today.

After the race between the Manhattan Company on Wall Street and the Chrysler Building to be the tallest (complete with Chrysler's secret vertex), the Empire State Building had to come up with a way to add a spire to its roof that didn't arouse public suspicion and wasn't considered by architects to be a cheat. To do that, they added a dirigible mooring mast. As we write in Inside the Apple
This was utter folly. Not only does a dirigible need to be anchored by both the nose and the tail (which is why they landed at air fields in New Jersey in the first place), the updrafts in Midtown were so strong that a zeppelin the length of two city blocks would have whipped around in the wind like a child’s toy. More to the point, a dirigible’s gondola was in the ship’s center; people would never have been able to (as pictured here in an early publicity drawing) exit from the helium-filled balloon straight into the 102nd-story waiting room.
In late September 1931, the New York Evening Journal completed the only successful dirigible mooring. At great danger to life and limb, it delivered a package of newspapers from the Financial District to the Empire State Building’s roof. It looked great on the newsreel cameras, but would be the closest the mooring mast ever saw to real use.
When the building opened, it was soon nicknamed the "Empty State" Building due its lack of tenants, and custodial staff were instructed to go around flipping on and off the lights to make it seem occupied!

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Read more about the Empire State Building in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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