Monday, January 17, 2022

The Lost Tony Pastor's Opera House - 199-201 Bowery


The theater was designed to include an income producing tavern.  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

On October 26, 1857, The New York Times complained, "The wooden building No. 199 Bowery, looks as if it were about to fall--it has had a leaning that way for a long while.  Why do not the authorities look to it?"  The article may have been responsible for the removal of the derelict structure between Delancey and Rivington Streets, and the construction of a one-story theater on the site.

Eight months later, on June 30, 1858, The Family Herald reported:

Mr. Hoym, the director of the Stadt [Theatre], has opened a new and more commodious establishment--'Hoym's Summer Theatre,' at Nos. 199 and 201 Bowery.  The theatre is intended, we believe, to take the place of the Stadt...Mrs. Hoym, a capital comedienne, went some time since to Europe for artists.

Like his Stadt Theatre, Otto Hoym's New Theatre offered plays in German and English.  His Bowery audiences were also entertained with other attractions.   An advertisement on September 19, 1858, for instance, listed that varied acts, including Zavistowski's Ballet and Pantomine Troupe; "the prodigy infant Alice and her sister le petite Emeline;" the "graceful and much admired danseuse," Mdlle, Christine; the play, The Warriors of the Harem; and "the beautiful ballet of Sailors Ashore."

And on December 22, 1858, the auditorium was the scene of "A grand Complimentary Sparring Exhibition," as announced in The New York Times.  The highlight of the night was a bare-knuckle match between John Carmel Heenan, known as "Benicia Boy," and John Woods, who claimed the two had a $2,500 side bet (more than $80,000 today).

John C. Heenan, the "Benicia Boy."  Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 14, 1860 (copyright expired)

Patrons paid from 13 cents for a seat in the gallery to $4 for a private box.

Trouble had came to both Hoym and his tenant shortly after opening.  On May 2, 1858, The Family Herald reported that Otto Hoym had been arrested and charged with staging a dramatic performance "on the Sabbath, contrary to law."  His tenant, saloon proprietor Gustavus Lindemuller was taken in, as well, "on a similar charge."

It was not the last time the two would appear before a judge.  On November 18, 1860, they were on trial for the same offenses.   Their attorney, James T. Brady, offered ignorance of the law as Hoym's defense, saying in part, "The defendant is a German, coming from a land entertaining very liberal views concerning the observance of Sunday.  On the continent of Europe Sunday is not only a day of worship, but of relaxation and amusement."

When the Civil War broke out, Hoym immediately enlisted in the Union Army.  In his absence, Lindemuller ran the venue, advertising it as Lindenmuller's Theatre.  He continued the wide variety of acts, such as Mr. Albert W. Selden, "the American Horse Master and equestrian missionary," in February 1862.  By his method of tachyhippodamia, "a wild horse may be subdued in twenty minutes."

In 1864 Hoym's Theatre became Howe's Great Circus, offering attractions like Mlle. Marietta Ravel, "the celebrated tight-rope artiste and danseuse," and John Denier, "the wonderful gymnast."  It was a short-lived venture and by November that year the theater was home to Campbell's Minstrels.  It advertised a "Varied and Exciting mélange of Ethiopian Oddities."

That same year Sam Sharpley and Tony Pastor formed Tony Pastor's Variety Company.  Pastor later recalled to The Evening World, "on July 31, 1865, we went into Campbell's Opera-House, No. 201 Bowery.  We took the house for two weeks and stayed there ten years."

The partners bought the building and renamed it Tony Pastor's Opera house.  The following summer Pastor bought out Sharpley and took over the management on his own.  Although he was a temperance adherent, Pastor allowed the lager beer saloon to remain, but refused to have patrons bring drinks into the theater.

Tony Pastor's 201 Bowery Songer, 1867 (copyright expired)

While Pastor enjoyed tremendous success in his variety theater, the saloon had troubles.  It was being operated by Peter Tracy in 1867 when he was shot to death in a drunken brawl in a Livingston Street restaurant.  It then became Charley Shay's Quincuplexal Saloon, where "the original Cynocephalus" was displayed in a glass case.  Shay's advertisement on April 3, 1869 called it "The only orang outang that ever appeared in any part of the world as a circus rider."

The "largest and best fitted up Billard Hall and Saloon on the Bowery" was offered for sale in 1870.  And in 1874 the now vacant space was advertised as "splendid for restaurant, beer of billiard saloon."  It now became Roe's Billiard hall.

Tony Pastor remained in the building until 1875.  He moved northward to East 14th Street, taking space in the same building as Tammany Hall.    The Bowery building was briefly home to the Bowery Opera House (on May 7, 1875, it advertised "Buffalo Bill and Kit Carson to appear at Matinee this afternoon), and then the Volks' Garden variety theater. 

In 1883 architect William Graul was hired to remodel the venue.  When it reopened on September 3, the name Volks' Garden was anglicized to the People's Theatre.  On September 16 that year the play The Irish Arab was staged.  Meanwhile, the saloon was again under new management.  In 1893 A Souvenir of New York's Liquor Interests called it "one of the finest saloons in the city, and at night, when its numerous electric lamps are lighted a brilliant fairy-like effect is produced."

The People's Theatre was owned and operated by former congressman Henry Clay Miner.  On February 24, 1900 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that one of the last transactions he had done before his sudden death three days earlier was the renting of the "theater and cafe" to Adler & Edelstein.

Jacob Adler was a popular Jewish actor and, while he and Edelstein kept the theater's name, it's offerings changed.  On April 26, 1901, for instance, The Jewish Messenger announced, "A benefit performance of the Jewish 'King Lear' by Jacob Adler, the Yiddish actor, and his company, will be given under the auspices of the Federation of East Side Clubs at the People's Theatre, No9. 201 Bowery."

On the frigid night of January 19, 1904 fire broke out.  The New-York Tribune reported, "There were a number of actors and stage hands in the theatre when the fire started.  A Yiddish play is being acted at the theatre in the evenings, and a rehearsal as in progress."  The blaze rapidly spread into the stage loft and through the roof.  By the time firefighters extinguished the fire, it had spread to several other structures.  
"When the fire was out the front of the building could hardly be seen because of the ice," said the article.

Ice covers the sidewalk and facade of the heavily damaged theatre.  New-York Tribune, January 20, 1904.

The Henry C. Miner estate filed plans for reparations and renovations on March 10.  They called for new staircases enclosed within brick fire walls, "fireproof ceilings," and a rearranged auditorium that increased seating to 2,060.  The building was altered again in 1908 by architect Louis Maurer.

The New York Times, December 17, 1915 (copyright expired)

Beginning in 1915 the Yiddish troupe shared the building with Louis Zuro's Italian Zuro Grand Opera Company.  He opened the season on April 26 with a performance of Aida, with soprano Alice Eversman in the title role.

Diva Alice Eversman, Musical America, March 10, 1917 (copyright expired)

Little by little the Italian audiences nudged out the Yiddish patrons.  On October 7, 1916 The New York Clipper reported, "A drama by Arthuro Giovannitti, entitled 'Tenehre Rosse' ('Red Darkness') will be produced Tuesday night, Oct. 10, in the People's Theatre...Mimi Aguglia, the Sicilian actress, who is here studying English preparatory to playing on the English-speaking stage, will help produce the play."

The venerable building was remodeled again in the fall of 1916 by architect R. Thomas Short.  By February 24, 1932, when another fire broke out, the entertainment had noticeably changed.  The New York Sun reported that traffic to the Williamsburg Bridge was tied up for an hour "while firemen battled a smoky fire in the basement of the People's Theater, a burlesque house."  

A barber shop operated from the former saloon space around 1941 and a marquee had been added.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The venue had returned to Italian plays staged by the Campobasso Company by 1938.  That year The Italians of New York, a guidebook by the Federal Writers Project, said, "The plays these companies present are very similar in thematic material and in characterization to those produced in Italian theaters in the Bowery a generation ago."

Live theater gave way to motion pictures before long.  But the end of the line for the single-story building was on the horizon.  It was demolished in 1945.  Somewhat appropriately, a single-story building that also serves as the entrance to a 12-story apartment house occupies the site.

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