Monday, May 3, 2021

The Lost Liederkranz Hall - 31-35 East Fourth Street

 

Other than a new entrance portico for the middle house and a broken pediment with lyre finial, the Liederkranz Society made few exterior changes.  At the far left a tiny sliver of the Seabury Tredwell house can be seen, known today as the Merchant's House.  original source unknown

In the first years of the 1830's elegant mansions were rising along Fourth Street between the Bowery and Lafayette Place.    Sitting within the exclusive neighborhood that would be called the Bond Street District, the 25-foot wide homes were four stories tall above English basements.  Intricate wrought iron basket newels sat on paneled pedestals at the bottom of the marble stoops.  The entrances were framed in elegant Gibbs surrounds (named for the 18th century Scottish-born architect James Gibbs who had resurrected the Roman design of "blocking" the frame of an entrance).  

The sumptuous residences became home to wealthy families.   By the early 1850's Henry C. Dwight lived in No. 379, and attorney William C. Wetmore's family was next door at 381.  (In 1864 Fourth Street was renamed East Fourth Street, and the houses were renumbered 31 and 33)

On the night of November 18, 1854 William Wetmore woke up to the sound of footsteps on the staircase.  The New York Herald reported, "He started up, and on opening the door heard distinctly two men retreating, but he was unable to catch them.  On examining the house he found that books, forks, knives, &c., were missing, and coats were scattered about the hall."

Around 5:00 that morning, two police officers noticed two men carrying a basket into a Bayard Street house.  Decades before search warrants, the policemen followed them into an upstairs room where they found Wetmore's stolen articles, along with burglars' tools.  James Gilmour (who was just 16 years old) and Charles Dean were arrested.  The New York Herald added, "Gilmour had on a pair of Mr. Wetmore's stockings at the time."

The Dwight house was sold in 1855 to Pierre Sarracco who briefly operated the Grand Apollinea, a dance academy, within it.  His advertisement in the New York Daily Herald on June 12 that year read:

Prof. Saracco, the only accomplished teacher known in America, gives lessons every day.  The ladies and gentlemen who may honor him with their patronage can be assured to learn, by his unique method, in a few lessons, all the most fashionable dances.

The following February an ad touted the academy as "the favorite resort of the aristocracy from all parts of the Union; a fashionable and select circle fills every evening his elegant rooms."  Despite his self-described success, Saracco sold the house three months later to esteemed portrait Charles Cromwell Ingham.

Ingham's portrait of Fidelia Marshall is typical of his work.  from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum 

Ingham was a favorite among high society for his portraits of the wives and daughters of New York City's elite.  He was a founder of the National Academy of Design, and served as its vice president until his death in December 1863.

Ingham left the East Fourth Street house in 1862.  In 1863 it and the William C. Wetmore house were purchased by the Liederkranz Society, a German singing group.  The society paid $32,000 for the two properties--just under $675,000 today.   The auction listing of Wetmore's furnishings gives a hint of the resplendent interiors.  Included were velvet carpets, "carved rosewood Suits, in velvet plush," rosewood and mahogany bedroom suites, and velvet window curtains.  The family sold almost everything other than the statuary and paintings.

The Liederkranz Society was formed in 1849 by, according to The New York Times, "a number of German gentlemen, lovers of music, who thought by this means to secure the better cultivation of German music in this country, and to have a place where they might sociably spent their evenings."  The group combined the two houses internally, erected an extension in the rear, and raised the attics to a full floor.  In November 1863 the first rehearsal was held in the new space and a month later the official opening was celebrated with a concert, banquet and ball.

On February 4, 1864 The New York Times said, "The buildings are most admirably arranged for the purpose for which they are intended, having a large dining-room in the basement, two large and handsomely furnished parlors for ladies on the next floor, sitting rooms for the members, dining-room and a cosy little wine-room on the next floor, readings rooms, a fine library, committee and billiard rooms on the floor above."

The concert hall, in the rear, was 75 x 50 feet, its ceiling and walls "beautifully decorated with paintings," according to the article.  Balconies provided guests a viewpoint of the "singing parties" which were held three nights each week.

At the time there were 700 members.  Originally a men's club, by now it accepted women and its chorus of 110 voices was composed of 50 men and 60 women.  The society was renowned not only for its concerts, but for its annual fancy dress balls, which often took the form of costume balls.  They were held in large venues like the Academy of Music or the City Assembly Rooms.

The Liederkranz Society's first ball after moving into its new space was held on February 4, 1864.  The New York Times said it "was looked forward to with great interest by the number who had been so fortunate as to secure tickets."  The $5 tickets were limited only outsiders who had a "personal introduction" by a member could obtain them.  (The cost of admission would equal about $85 today.)

In 1869 the Italianate style house at 35 East Fourth Street was added, increasing the size of Liederkranz Hall by one-third.  While its proportions matched 31 and 35 exactly, it wore the more updated trappings of elliptical arched lintels, a pedimented entrance, and floor-to-ceiling parlor windows with a cast iron balcony.  The three houses were visually joined with a common cornice topped by a pediment.

Liederkranz Hall was the scene of glittering receptions and other events.  On December 6, 1870, for instance, The New York Times reported "The German Sanitary Fair drawing of the Weber grand action piano, the Bauer piano, the Mason & Hamlin organ, the India shawl and the 'Rocky Mountain scene' will take place tomorrow at 8 P.M., at the Liederkranz Hall, No. 33 East Fourth-street."

In 1881 a building committee purchased the properties at Nos. 111-119 East 58th Street.  The cornerstone for a new structure was laid on October 1 that year and on November 26, 1882 the Liederkranz Society moved into its new home.

The East Fourth Street building became Everett Hall, a meeting and concert venue.  The structure was threated on June 15, 1887 by fire in the third floor rooms of the proprietor, Charles Beinberg.   

Beinberg's wife had no intentions of leaving the blazing building without her jewelry and cash.  The Sun reported, "Mrs. Beinberg recollected that $800 and her jewelry were in a wardrobe in the burning room, but she was stopped in an effort to reach them by the flames."  Undaunted, she rushed into an adjacent room and through a connecting door.  The article said, "she succeeded at considerable risk in saving the money and all."  Fire fighters were able to extinguish the fire before considerable damage was done.

Everett Hall was the scene of a variety of entertainments.  On September 15, 1888 The Evening World announced that the "Opening ball of the original Alaska Pleasure Club at Everett Hall, 31-35 East Fourth street," would take place that evening.  And a few weeks later, on November 18, the fourth annual ball of the Labischiner Benefit Society was held here.

As the turn of the century approached, Everett Hall became a favorite meeting place of labor groups.  It was the scene of a mass meeting of clothing trade workers in February 1891.  The labor journal Workmen's Advocate entitled an article "Sweating / Away With the Barbarous System" and noted that the hall was crowded.  It said "the organized labor of this city has taken in hand the cause of these trades and will give them all the aid in its power."

In the first years of the 20th century Everett Hall was an equally favored space among Tammany politicians.  On November 18, 1903, for instance, The Tammany Times reported on "invitation ball" of the Lawrence Mulligan Association.  "Many prominent Tammany men besides [Congressman Timothy D.] Sullivan were present."  It was also the scene of wedding receptions of high-ranking Tammany officials.

In 1912 Everett Hall was converted to an opera house.  On September 29, The New York Times reported, "The Garibaldi Theatre, at 31 East Fourth Street, opened last night with the San Carlo Opera Company in Verdi's 'La Forza del Destino.'  To-night 'La Favorita' will be sung."  The article went on to list the upcoming performances, a different opera every night.

As mid-century approached, the West Fourth Street block, where once stylish carriages dropped well-dressed ladies and gentlemen at their marble stoops, had become gritty and industrial.  The former Liederkranz Hall was converted to a parking garage.

The structure survived until 1988 when, according to one historian, it was "demolished surreptitiously in the middle of the night."  The wrecking was done with no concern for the remarkably intact sole survivor of Joseph Brewster's 1831 row.  Known today as the Merchant's House Museum, the Seabury Tredwell house suffered substantial structural damage.


The site of Liederkranz Hall remains a vacant lot.

many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post
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2 comments:

  1. It's appalling that those beautiful buildings were demolished, and for NOTHING!

    ReplyDelete
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/25/nyregion/planned-demolition-of-3-buildings-threatens-old-merchant-s-house.html?searchResultPosition=2

    ReplyDelete