Tag Archives: Byron Company

Up on the roof, entertainment en plein air

Spring in New York City is glorious.  Allergy issues aside, the season of rebirth is especially welcome after this winter’s polar vortex shenanigans.  And though I celebrate the sunny days and refreshing rain of spring, I can see the heat waves forming on the horizon.  Summer is coming and with it a suffocating wall of humidity.

One of my best strategies to beat the heat is going to the theater. Be it a movie, musical, or play,  the cool darkness of a theater combined with a few hours of entertainment is my preferred place to be on an unbearably hot day.  A hundred years ago, this wasn’t so much the case.  Without air conditioning, the heat of the lights and the crush of fellow audience members could make visiting the theater  intolerable.  Not wishing to lose business during the summer months, theater owners came up with a new strategy: the roof!

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre.] ca. 1900.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10866.

In the photograph above, a rooftop audience enjoys some light entertainment on the Madison Square Garden roof.  This MSG was located at 26th Street and Madison Avenue.  Designed by Stanford White, it was the second tallest building in the City at the time construction finished in 1890. Part of the fun for the audience was the chance to watch musical comedies and operettas from 32 stories off the ground. (Check out Mia’s early blog on the theater’s Diana statue.)

Further uptown at 44th and Broadway, the New York Theatre roof offered similar entertainment fare. The New York Theatre was originally built as the Olympia Theatre by  Oscar Hammerstein I (the grandfather of the Oscar Hammerstein from musical theater’s famous “Rodgers & Hammerstein”).

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10880.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10880.

Though a financial failure for Hammerstein I, the theater was only the second to be built in what would become the Times Square Theater District.  In 1895, the area was known as Longacre Square.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10877.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10877.

Hammerstein I’s second effort at extravagant outdoor entertainment was the  Paradise Roof Garden at 201 West 42nd Street.  Part enclosed space and part open air, the Garden spanned the roofs of  the Victoria Theatre and the Theatre Republic next door.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria.]ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10856.

The Paradise Roof Garden was run by Hammerstein I’s son Willie.  As the noise of an ever expanding New York drifted upward, the vaudeville shows presented on the roof adapted to include wordless routines and pantomime.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10860.

Just down the block at 260 West 42nd Street was the American Theatre.  With a seating capacity of over 2,000, the American Theatre was a  popular venue for melodrama and comedies.  The roof  offered escape from the crowds below.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.), American Roof Garden. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.17841.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). American Roof Garden. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.17841.

Beautiful lights lit up the roof and audiences could gather around small tables to chat or enjoy a variety of entertainments.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden - American Roof Garden 1898 Eighth Ave at 42nd Street S.E. Cor. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18358.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden – American Roof Garden 1898 Eighth Ave at 42nd Street S.E. Cor. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18358.

Lighter fare was the entertainment of choice for rooftop theaters. Many of the auditoriums below were known for their comedic musicals and revues.  Rooftops offered even less serious spectacle with acrobatic troupes, vaudeville sketches, and variety acts requiring minimal staging.  It was just too darn hot to think of weightier things.  No doubt it’s the same impulse that guides the current blockbuster push for summer movies.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Casino.] 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10850

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Casino. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10850.

Movie screenings were also a part of rooftop entertaining.  As the technology developed, projectors and screens were taken up top so that audiences could enjoy the silent films and a breeze.

Postcard. "Fred Winter's Summer Garden, Brooklyn, New York." Charles Stock & Co. Litho., ca. 1910.

Postcard. “Fred Winter’s Summer Garden, Brooklyn, New York.” Charles Stock & Co. Litho., ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York, X2011.34.3841.

Rooftop entertainment began a sharp decline in the 1920s, a decline that coincided with the rise of air conditioning installations in theaters of all types. While live performance on a rooftop may be a thing of the past, New Yorkers can still check out a movie thanks to the series set up by Rooftop Films.  You can also get your fix for outdoor theater this summer with the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park productions.  Another great way to beat the heat: visit a museum!

Romeo and Juliet, a love story in pictures

Vandamm. [Katharine Cornell and Basil Rathbone.] 1934. Museum of the City of New York. 35.169.3

Vandamm. [Katharine Cornell and Basil Rathbone.] 1934. Museum of the City of New York. 35.169.3

It has been called the greatest love story of all time.  Even those who disagree can acknowledge that in the over 400 years since it was first performed, Romeo and Juliet has become one of the most well-known love stories in the world. Indeed, the tragic tale of forbidden love wasn’t original when William Shakespeare first put quill to page. The Bard borrowed liberally from classical stories and contemporary poems. Yet, it is his version that endures. The play was a Broadway staple in the early half of the 20th century, but a new production this fall is the first in over 25 years. The 36th Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet is currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and with an Off-Broadway production by the Classic Stage Company and a new film version in movie theaters, it is easier than ever to get your R+J fix. I’m taking the opportunity to revisit the romance with a pictorial re-telling from the Museum’s collection.

It begins like any love story could today, at a party. (Technically the play begins with a brawl, and when we first see Romeo, he’s mooning over someone else. Scholars be warned, I gloss over some bits.) Romeo Montague and his friends sneak into a party thrown by his family’s sworn enemy, the Capulets. Love strikes Romeo when he sees Juliet Capulet across a crowded room. Not knowing who she is, he proceeds to woo her. The scene below comes from the 1940 Broadway production starring real life off-stage lovers Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

Willinger Hollywood. [Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier in Romeo and Juliet.] 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 68.808.9362

Willinger Hollywood. [Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Romeo and Juliet] 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 68.808.9362

Juliet is won by the wooing, but very soon after they each discover who the other is. What comes next is Act II, scene ii, a.k.a. the “balcony scene.” It is later that same night when Juliet daydreams out loud on her balcony about the object of her infatuation. Romeo, overhearing her, reveals himself and they both profess their love. The scene is so famously associated with young love it is often lampooned such as in the comedic sketch from DeWolf Hopper and Marshall P. Wilder pictured below.

B. J. (Benjamin J.) Falk. [DeWolf Hopper and Marshall P. Wilder in Romeo and Juliet.] ca. 1893. Museum of the City of New York. 39.124.47

B. J. (Benjamin J.) Falk. [DeWolf Hopper and Marshall P. Wilder in Romeo and Juliet] ca. 1893. Museum of the City of New York. 39.124.47

Juliet is called in from her balcony but promises to send a messenger to Romeo the next day. Romeo meets with his friend Friar Laurence to tell of his love and arrange to marry Juliet.  Juliet’s nurse, her messenger, finds Romeo later that day, and after a bawdy encounter with Romeo’s friend Mercutio, is able to have a heart-to-heart with him.

Clipping from The Theatre, Vol. III, no. 28, June 1903. Museum of the City of New York collection on Broadway productions, Romeo and Juliet file.

Clipping from The Theatre, Vol. III, no. 28, June 1903. Museum of the City of New York collection on Broadway productions, Romeo and Juliet file.

When her nurse returns, Juliet is able to coax the message out of her. The scene is played for comedy with the old nurse complaining about the wear and tear of the journey and the youthful Juliet impatient for news.

White Studio. [Jessie Ralph as the Nurse and Jane Cowl as Juliet.] 1923. Museum of the City of New York. 27.75.4

White Studio. [Jessie Ralph as the Nurse and Jane Cowl as Juliet.] 1923. Museum of the City of New York. 27.75.4

First comes love, then comes marriage. Juliet meets Romeo at Friar Laurence’s cell to be shrived and married.

Fred Fehl. [Larry Kert as Tony and Carol Lawrence as Maria.] 1957. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.2959

Fred Fehl. [Larry Kert as Tony and Carol Lawrence as Maria] 1957. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.2959

(Okay, I cheated a little here. The above picture is from the original Broadway production of West Side Story. My only defense is that it is based on Romeo and Juliet and is arguably the best musical ever made.) Their bliss is short lived. Before the sun sets on their marriage, Romeo’s friend Mercutio gets into a fight with Juliet’s cousin Tybalt with tragic consequences.

Byron Company. [James K. Hackett as Mercutio fights Campbell Gollan's Tybalt] 1899. Museum of the City of New York. 34.271.813G

Byron Company. [James K. Hackett as Mercutio fights Campbell Gollan's Tybalt] 1899. Museum of the City of New York. 34.271.813G

Romeo comes between them, but in doing so allows Tybalt to deliver a death blow to his friend. After Mercutio dies, an incensed Romeo chases after Tybalt. The following photograph is from the 1968 Shakespeare in the Park production starring a young Martin Sheen as Romeo.

Unknown. [Martin Sheen as Romeo and Tom Aldredge as Tybalt.] 1968. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.298

Unknown. [Martin Sheen as Romeo and Tom Aldredge as Tybalt.] 1968. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.298

Romeo slays Tybalt and is banished from the city. He and Juliet are able to spend one night as husband and wife before he leaves. Below is an image of the good-bye from what today would be considered a strange pairing. Sisters Charlotte and Susan Cushman played Romeo and Juliet respectively to popular acclaim in the mid-19th century. Charlotte Cushman was one of the most respected actresses of her day, and also played Hamlet.

Lithograph by John Tallis & Company. [[Charlotte and Susan Cushman in Romeo and Juliet.] ca. 1850. Museum of the City of New York. 61.25.4

Lithograph by John Tallis & Company. [[Charlotte and Susan Cushman in Romeo and Juliet.] ca. 1850. Museum of the City of New York. 61.25.4

Acting on advice from Friar Laurence, the couple decide to wait an interval before announcing the marriage and bringing Romeo back. The Capulets throw a wrench in the works in the form of Paris, an eligible young bachelor. Faced with impending marriage to Paris and bigamy, Juliet looks to Friar Laurence for rescue. He devises a simple plan. Juliet will drink a potion to appear dead, the Friar will send for Romeo who, once he arrives, will awaken Juliet and they can live happily ever after. Easy, right?

White Studio. [Sayre Crawley as Friar Lawrence and Eva Le Gallinne as Juliet.] 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 50.281.290

White Studio. [Sayre Crawley as Friar Laurence and Eva Le Gallinne as Juliet.] 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 50.281.290

And of course, everything goes terribly wrong. Friar Laurence’s messenger is too late, Romeo thinks Juliet is really dead. He arrives at her tomb, drinks a potion and actually kills himself. Juliet awakens, sees Romeo dead and uses his dagger to stab herself. Terribly, terribly wrong.

Arnold Genthe. [Julia Marlowe as Juliet and E. H. Sothern as Romeo.] ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.299

Arnold Genthe. [Julia Marlowe as Juliet and E. H. Sothern as Romeo.] ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.299

The image that Shakespeare leaves us with is the reconciling of the two families.  The Montagues and Capulets hear the full tale of their children’s love and resolve to end their feud. For never was there a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo. Don’t believe me? Go see for yourself.

Street clocks – how New Yorkers kept time on the go.

Street clocks once dominated the sidewalks of New York City. First introduced in the 1860s, the clocks quickly became popular with businesses looking for novel ways to advertise and with the general public who appreciated the convenience.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Broadway - Southwest Corner of 32nd Street Looking North. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17118

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Broadway – Southwest Corner of 32nd Street Looking North. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17118

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Theatre, American, 42nd Street Between 7th & 8th Aves. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1180

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Theatre, American, 42nd Street Between 7th & 8th Aves. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1180

Few of these clocks exist today, however. Some became casualties of accidents as automobiles proliferated in the 20th century. Others gave way to the digital timepieces that predominate today.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). The Corn Exchange Bank. West 42nd St. Branch. 303 West 42nd Street. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.15338

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). The Corn Exchange Bank. West 42nd St. Branch. 303 West 42nd Street. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.15338

Sensing this unfortunate trend, in 1981 the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated eight sidewalk clocks still standing as landmarks, including the one below.

Berenice Abbott. Tempo of the City I. 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.249

Berenice Abbott. Tempo of the City I. 1938. Museum of the City of New York. 40.140.249

This double faced cast-iron clock at 522 Fifth Avenue on the southwest corner of 44th Street was manufactured in 1907 by the Seth Thomas Company.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17786

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17786

It originally stood one block south on Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street in front of the American Trust Company, but was moved to its current location in the 1930s when the American Trust Company merged with the Guaranty Trust Company.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 513 5th Avenue and 43rd Street. Postal Life Building, detail of lower stories. ca. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.2106

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 513 5th Avenue and 43rd Street. Postal Life Building, detail of lower stories. ca. 1917. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.2106

Now it stands proudly as a reminder of a not too distant past.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17827

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). Sidewalk clock and Guaranty Trust Company building. ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.17827

What skating rink is that? Who lived in that house? Solving mysteries in the collection.

From time to time, the Collections Department receives inquiries from the public about the information associated with images we’ve cataloged online.   The data in the catalog records is pulled from inscriptions on photographs, and from photographers’ logs, notes, and shot lists that were acquired along with many of the Museum’s major photographic collections, such the Wurts Brothers  or Byron Company.  When we notice something that seems incorrect, we conduct further research, but generally, we consider these materials primary sources, and with collections numbering in the tens of thousands of images, must trust that the photographers kept accurate records.   Nobody’s perfect of course, and from time to time a researcher, or just someone browsing images on the Collections Portal, comes across an image they feel has been misidentified and reaches out to us, often through the research@mcny.org email (to learn more about our collections research services, check out the research page on the Museum’s newly redesigned website!)

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 5 West 51st Street. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.14118

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Old Carnegie Residence. 5 West 51st Street. 1932. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.14118

One such situation occurred when we were contacted by a researcher from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which resides in the former Andrew Carnegie family residence on Fifth Avenue and East 90th Street.  The Cooper-Hewitt had, in turn, been contacted by a preservationist, who was seeking to confirm the address of an even earlier Carnegie residence.  That researcher referenced the photograph to the right from our collection, which at the time was identified on the Collections Portal as “Old Carnegie Residence. 15 West 51st Street.”  That description came directly from one of the Wurts Brothers photography logs, shown below. If you enlarge the image of the log book, you’ll see on the bottom right corner of the right page the description of the photograph: “Aug 19 1932. Fred R. King. [...] Photo Old Carnegie Residence. 15 West 51 St.” Or does it actually say 5 West 51 St.? It’s hard to tell.

Wurts Bros. log book.

Wurts Bros. log book.

Detlef Lienau, Design for George Mosle Residence, 5 West 51st Street, N.Y., 1879. Courtesy of Detlef Lienau architectural drawings and papers, Department of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

Detlef Lienau, Design for George Mosle Residence, 5 West 51st Street, N.Y., 1879. Courtesy of Detlef Lienau architectural drawings and papers, Department of Drawings and Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

The preservationist who contacted the Cooper-Hewitt wasn’t even interested in the Carnegie Mansion, she was interested in 15 West 51st Street, in relation to a preservation project her firm had underway.  The Cooper-Hewitt confirmed that the Carnegies lived at 5 West 51st, not 15 West 51st, but they then looped us into the conversation to determine the actual address of the residence pictured above.  The Cooper-Hewitt had been seeking an image of the house at 5 West 51st Street, to no avail; all they had found was the elevation to the left, created when the house was originally built in 1879 for George Mosle by Detlef Lienau, which they supplied to us.

We  zoomed in on the photograph in question (you can do this too – clicking the photograph will take you directly to our Collections Portal, where you can use the magnifying glass icon to  see the details.) There was no address visible on the building, but there was a sign indicating that the structure had recently been sold. Going back to the log book, the name Fred R. King was associated with the address. Frederic Rhinelander King (1887-1972) was an architect; notably, he designed the Women’s National Republican Club at 3 West 51st Street, built from 1933-1934.  The Wurts Brothers probably took the photograph for King just before construction of the clubhouse.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 7 West 51st Street. Graves House. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.796

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.). 7 West 51st Street. Graves House. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.796

With over 125,000 images available online, our Collections Portal is often the best source for identifying discrepancies in catalog records. We found the image to the right, then identified as “[Perhaps] West 51st St. #7. Graves House.” It looks much the same as in the first photograph, and to the right of it is the original building in question. At this point we were confident in identifying the original image as 5 West 51st Street, and the image to the right as 7 West 51st Street.  When we looked back at the elevation supplied by the Cooper-Hewitt and compared it to the photograph, certain common architectural details – such as the balustrade under the third story windows – began to emerge, affirming that in fact we’d identified the early Carnegie Residence, 5 West 51st Street.  Good news for the Cooper-Hewitt; not so much help for for the preservation planner.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). St. Nicholas Rink. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10826

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). St. Nicholas Rink. 1898. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10826

Pictured to the left is another misidentified image brought to our attention by a researcher. The photograph was originally described by its creator Byron Company as “Rinks, Iceland Skating Rink, B’way 53rd Street & 7th Ave.” The date given was 1898. But as the researcher pointed out, Iceland skating rink did not open until 1916. We weren’t certain if the title, the date, or both were incorrect. We zoomed in on the image. This revealed a group of people sitting on the sidelines to the left. Their attire led us to believe that the given date of the photograph, 1898, was indeed correct. So now we knew that the photograph wasn’t of Iceland skating rink – but what was it? We looked at rinks on the Collections Portal, but nothing matched the image. We wondered if it could possibly be St. Nicholas Rink, before it became a full-time boxing arena.

St. Nicholas Rink opened in 1896 on 66th Street and Columbus Avenue and was one of the first enclosed ice skating rinks to take advantage of refrigeration technology. The facility has an entry in Wikipedia with an accompanying image. The image on the Wikipedia page gave us hope that the Museum’s photograph was of St. Nicholas Rink. In the Streetscapes column published February 6, 2005 in the New York Times, Christopher Gray writes that the building was “a broad, industrial-like structure with a procession of high brick arches in neo-Classical style…” After reading this description and seeing the photograph of the rink’s exterior published with the article, we believed that the Byron image showed St. Nicholas Rink.

We are grateful when someone points out questionable information on the portal, and continue to invite comments. If you have insight into an image on the portal, email us at portal@mcny.org.  In addition, the Museum shares a “Friday Mystery Image,” every week on our Facebook page.  Check in around lunchtime each Friday if you’d like to help us identify unknown images in our collection.

100 years of the Actors’ Equity Association

Look at the cast list in any theater program across the country and you will see a small * beside a performer’s name leading to a footnote indicating the performer belongs to the Actors’ Equity Association.  Peruse the program bios for these same starred performers and you will often encounter the phrase “proud member of Actors’ Equity.”  The union representing live theatrical performance turns 100 years old on Sunday. Rather than attempting 100 years of coverage in a single blog entry, this week’s posting will focus on just a few points of pride.

Actors’ Equity was founded on May 26, 1913 when 112 theatrical actors met at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York City.

Byron Company. [Columbus Circle.] 1902. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17949.

Byron Company. [Columbus Circle.] 1902. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17949.

Unknown. [Francis Wilson in unidentified production], ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 52.21.25

Unknown. [Francis Wilson in unidentified production], ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 52.21.25

Six months before this meeting the Actors’ Society of America, a previous attempt at organizing a labor union for theatrical actors, dissolved, due in large part to the fact that the Actors’ Society did not have the clout necessary for serious negotiations with theatrical managers. The plans for a new organization emerged from its ashes, and the May 26th meeting established a constitution for the new theatrical labor union. Comedic actor Francis Wilson was elected the Equity’s first president.

Equity’s first significant trial as a union came in 1919 when it joined with the American Federation of Labor (now the AFL-CIO).  Demanding better pay  and performance schedules from theater owners, the Union also fought for recognition. Tensions came to a head on August 7, 1919 when the casts of 12 New York productions refused to go on stage. By the end of the month, nine more New York theatres went dark and Equity members in Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C. joined the strike.

White Studio [Actors' Equity strike of 1919.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.101.

White Studio [Actors' Equity strike of 1919.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.101.

White Studio. [Actors' Equity Strike - The Committee.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.102.

White Studio. [Actors' Equity Strike - The Committee.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.102.

Producers gave in to demands in early September after suffering an estimated loss of 3 million dollars in revenue. Equity had won its first major battle, and the result was a major blow to the power oftheater owners and managers who controlled the venues and booking across the United States.  Membership also quadrupled, bringing Equity performers to almost 14,000.

Program for "Malvalorca", 1922. Museum of the City of New York. 32.73.94

Program for “Malvalorca”, 1922. Museum of the City of New York. 32.73.94

Beginning in 1922, the organization sponsored a theatrical company run entirely by actors. Taking a lease on the 48th Street Theatre, the company’s inaugural production was Malvaloca. The Equity Players, Inc. went on to produce 13 more plays under that name  and 22 as the Actors’ Theatre. Productions were a mix of original work and revivals of major plays by Henrik Ibsen, Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neil, Oscar Wilde, and William Shakespeare. Though the company did not survive the depression, Equity Players focused on the quality of the actor and their shows were an important part of a move toward ensemble production.

Actors’ Equity Association played a part in the major social changes that swept across the country during the middle of the 20th century. The union was outspoken in its opposition to audience segregation and to  Senator Joseph McCarthy’s blacklist. Equity’s officials participated in congressional hearings advocating for governmental support of the arts that resulted in the 1965 establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Invitation to Equity's Golden Anniversary reception, 1963. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.3

Invitation to Equity’s Golden Anniversary reception, 1963. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.3

Equity celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1963 with a month long extravaganza including a reception at Gracie Mansion and a special performance highlighting the best scenes and songs from the last 50 years of theatrical productions. Festivities  continued with exhibitions at the New York Public Library and the Museum of the City of New York.

Greene & Rossi, Inc. [Frederick O'Neal and May Davenport Seymour at opening reception for Equity's Golden Anniversary Exhibition.] 1963. Museum of the City of New York, exhibition archives.

Greene & Rossi, Inc. [Frederick O'Neal and May Davenport Seymour at opening reception for Equity's Golden Anniversary Exhibition.] 1963. Museum of the City of New York, Exhibition archives.

The Museum’s exhibition was dedicated to Equity’s Golden Anniversary and included a benefit performance commemorating Equity’s accomplishments.  In the midst of the month of celebration, Equity took time to recognize the Museum’s Theater Curator, May Davenport Seymour, at a special exhibition preview arranged specifically for Equity members. Frederick O’Neal, Equity’s president-elect (the first African-American Equity president), presented Ms. Seymour with 50 roses and a scroll honoring her achievements as the founder of what was then called the Theater and Music Collection at the Museum. Ms. Seymour retired one month later after nearly 36 years spent establishing and curating the Museum’s collection.

Program insert, 1960. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.2.

Program insert, 1960. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.2.

The celebratory approbations were well deserved considering that just three years prior the organization was in another round of heated negotiations with theater owners. One of the major issues on the table was the establishment of a a pension plan. On June 1, 1960, the performers in The Tenth Man exercised a one-night shut down as protest in accordance with Equity’s harassment policy.  The next day, performers at 22 New York theatres showed up to work only to be informed that the show would not go on. The result was the largest work stoppage since 1919 in what theater producers dubbed a strike but Equity called a lockout. The Mayor’s office intervened with a plan to support pensions and the dispute was settled in less than two weeks at the expense of about one million dollars in ticket sales.

Program. Equity Annual Ball, 1924. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.1

Program. Equity Annual Ball, 1924. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.1

Since its inception, Equity has hosted events  celebrating its members and often fundraising to support wider efforts of theatrical promotion. In recent decades, those events have become more focused on the fight against one of the greatest threats to the theatrical community, the spread of HIV and AIDS. The committee for Equity Fights AIDS was established in 1987 to raise money for performers affected by HIV and AIDS. A year later, Broadway Cares was founded with the similar goal by The Producers’ Group. The two groups merged in 1992 to become Broadway Cares/Equity fights AIDS.

Program for Easter Bonnet Competition, 2009. Museum of The City of New York. F2013.50.4

Program for Easter Bonnet Competition, 2009. Museum of The City of New York. F2013.50.4

In addition to fundraising at shows, Broadway Cares/Equity fights AIDS sponsors auctions and themed events. The Broadway Bears auction sells teddy bears constructed to resemble current season characters. The more salaciously named Broadway Bares features strip-teases by Broadway performers. The program at right is for the 2009 Easter Bonnet Competition which raised $3,402,147 .

One can join an Equity by being a member in good standing of a sister union such as Screen Actor’s Guild or American Guild of Variety Artists  or by performing with an Equity contract production. At its centennial, Equity boasts nearly 50,000 members,  and every one of them has a story about how they earned the * next to their names.  For a more complete history of the Actors’ Equity Association, visit the timeline available on the organization’s website.

The curious case of the Carolyn Capers

In the normal course of my day as Theater Archivist for the Museum of the City of New York, I can count on encountering objects that impress, interest, inform, or even surprise me. Rarer is the object that utterly confounds me, such as the following image, discovered while doing some routine research.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amatuer Productions, "Carolyn Capers of 1935, " 1935. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20075

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers of 1935.” Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20075

Who were these people and what could they possibly be doing?

Information in the record linked the “Carolyn” of the capers to the  Carolyn Laundry in Harlem. Located around 111 East 128th Street, the Carolyn Laundry was a large wash and delivery service that operated in the early decades of the 20th century.  There’s evidence to suggest a branch or garage space in the Bronx in addition to the Harlem building. The company was concerned with maintaining a clean workplace. As early as 1915, workers from various departments participated in monthly meetings that addressed safety concerns.  I wasn’t able to dig up much else on the history of the organization or its fate. The Byron Company, however, documented just enough aspects of life at the laundry to pique the curiosity.  Below is the building’s exterior.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Building, With Auto Trucks, 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6829

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Building, With Auto Trucks, 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6829

The delivery men all stand at attention next to their trucks, the very picture of a formal and professional work environment.  A photograph of the “Capers” is perhaps a bit less formal.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers," 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20067

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers,” 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20067

I still don’t know how exactly the “Carolyn Capers” emerged from the laundry. My best guess is that the “Capers” consisted of employees putting on amateur entertainments, presumably for each other. I found no evidence that the performers pictured were, in fact, employees, but it was not unheard of for companies to provide an entertainment outlet for their employees as a way to boost morale. It is possible that the office parties of yesteryear involved costumes, props, and a few solid musical numbers.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Weighing Bags of Laundry, 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6819

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Weighing Bags of Laundry, 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6819

Workers, like the ones pictured above, might have been able to kick up their heels with an original dance routine.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers," 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20065

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers,” 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20065

The “Capers” appear to follow a variety show format. The Byron Company captured a few years of productions. It’s possible the “Capers” was an annual event in the follies tradition of Ziegfeld, Grand Street, and Greenwich Village.  I haven’t noticed a particular holiday theme, but the footwear and lack of set pieces seem to imply dance numbers, songs, and comedic sketches.  These are not the dramatic poses of a straight play.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers," 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.2069

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers,” 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20069

At the very least, performers showed more leg than work uniforms allowed.

Bryon Company (New York, N.Y.) Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers, 1934," 1934. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20071

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers, 1934.” Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20071

Though I found no information specifically about the “Capers,” amateur productions were experiencing a significant boom in Harlem at the time they were performed. Playwright and teacher Randolph Edmonds wrote in 1949 about the “Negro Little Theatre Movement,” describing a huge influx of  amateur performances in predominately African-American neighborhoods. The Little Theatre Movement sprang out of communities forming small groups to perform non-commercial works for each other. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, several amateur groups emerged in Harlem as a way to give outlet and find audiences for African-Americans excluded from the Broadway stage. The world famous Apollo Theatre began its amateur night in 1934. The “Capers” may seem to us a curious anomaly, but they were very much a product of their time.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers of 1935," 1935. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20074

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers of 1935.” Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20074

Visit the Museum’s Collections Portal to view more images of the Carolyn Laundry and the company’s capers.

Dollar Princesses, or how the American heiress saved Downton Abbey and other estates like it

Perhaps it goes without saying that among the Collections crew here at the Museum there are a number of huge fans of the Masterpiece Classic series Downton Abbey.   In the weeks since season three drew to a close, we’ve been attempting to placate our sense of loss over the absence of the Crawleys from our Sunday nights by hypothesizing about various plot lines for the rumored Downton prequel.   Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton, has spoken to the press about what he wants to do next: a series for American network television called The Gilded Age, set in 1880’s New York City.  One of the main storylines of the new series would revolve around the meeting of Lord Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and the future Countess of Grantham, the American Cora Levinson.  As referred to several times throughout multiple episodesDownton Abbey would have been lost if it weren’t for Cora’s inheritance.  In exchange, Cora obtained a royal title.

Reception of the Prince of Wales, 1860, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 34.241.8.

Reception of the Prince of Wales, 1860, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 34.241.8.

While the marriage of Robert and Cora may sound calculating, crass, and even downright cold to us today, it is steeped in historical fact.   The growth of United States industrialism following the Civil War created a whole new set of exceedingly wealthy American families.  Meanwhile, the British aristocracy was faced with centuries-old, crumbling estates, and minimal funds to maintain their properties.  Edward, Prince of Wales, made his celebrated visit to the United States in 1860, and New York’s wealthiest families sponsored and hosted numerous events such as the dinner listed in the menu above, in his honor.  These events founded relationships between the Prince and wealthy New Yorkers that continued to develop over the ensuing decades.

By the late 19th century, the practice of seeking noble matches for American heiresses  was commonplace enough that the term “Dollar Princess” was coined to describe these young women.  One of the most well-known matches was that of Consuelo Vanderbilt to Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough.

Invitation to the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborogh, 1895, in the Society Collection.  Museum of the City of New York. 36.177.116.

Invitation to the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough, 1895, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 36.177.116.

The marriage was orchestrated by Alva Vanderbilt, a prominent socialite of the Gilded Age, who sought to assure the social position of the Vanderbilt family through the union.   Hundreds of police were called out to restrain curious onlookers the day of the wedding.  The image below briefly catches the bride as she climbs into her carriage.  Click here to see more photos of the event.

Byron Company. Weddings, Vanderbilt-Marlborough, 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.16376.

Byron Company. Weddings, Vanderbilt-Marlborough, 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.16376.

Sadly, unlike Lord and Lady Grantham, who take every opportunity to remind us that they did “grow to love each other,” while Consuelo gained a royal title, and the Duke was said to have obtained $2.5 million in railroad stock as the marriage settlement (roughly $68 million today), the 9th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough were reputed to have a rather unhappy marriage.   The couple separated in 1906,  divorced in 1921 (an event referred to in the season three finale of Downton), and in 1926 the marriage was annulled.

Invitation to the marriage of Cornelia Bradley-Martin tot he Earl of Craven, 1893, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 33.213.3

Invitation to the marriage of Cornelia Bradley-Martin tot he Earl of Craven, 1893, in the Society Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 33.213.3

The Museum also holds an invitation to the marriage of Cornelia Martin, or Cornelia Bradley-Martin, as her mother preferred to refer to the family’s last name, to the 4th Earl of Craven, in 1893.   The Bradley-Martins, equally socially mobile as the Vanderbilts, may be best known for the lavish Bradley-Martin Ball held at the Waldorf Astoria in 1897.  According to the World, which reported on the event, of the 40 men present, less than half a dozen were not millionaires.  The series of renovations at Coombe Abbey, the ancestral home of the Earl of Craven, begun the year of his marriage to Cornelia, suggests that without the influx of American money, Coombe Abbey, like Downton Abbey, would have been lost.

So as we wonder what comes next, or in this case, what came before, for the Crawleys and the Granthams, stay tuned for more highlights from our collections as we prepare for this fall’s exhibition on the Gilded Age in New York.  Now I think I hear the dressing gong – time to pick out a gown for dinner!

Forbidden Broadway circa 1900: a look back at lampooning.

Forbidden Broadway is back again this Fall with a new “Alive and Kicking” addition gleefully lampooning the current offerings of the Great White Way.  A revue show first conceived in the early 1980s, Forbidden Broadway harks back to an earlier tradition: American burlesque shows at the turn of the century.

Unknown. [Weber and Fields], ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York, 36.440.1282

One of the most successful burlesquing teams was the duo of Joe Weber and Lew Fields who opened their Music Hall in 1896 to perform musical revues and burlesques of their own devising. (At the time the term “burlesque” described over-the-top parodies of popular theatrical productions and had less to do with the art of striptease.) One of Weber and Fields‘s most popular targets was the work of Clyde Fitch. Though his work hasn’t been performed on Broadway in decades, Fitch was one of the most prolific playwrights of early twentieth century.

Sarony. [Clyde Fitch], 1899. Museum of the City of New York, 43.430.533.

In 1909, the year he died, Fitch had four productions in Broadway theatres, three of which were new works.   He  saw over 60 productions of his work open on Broadway, often staged by him, and there have been over 30 feature film adaptations of his plays. (For more on Fitch’s life, check out the thoughtful bio at the The Clyde Fitch Report.)

Thanks to the efforts of the equitable photographers at Byron Company (and the Museum’s Digital Team), the Collections Portal contains images illustrating Fitch’s original intentions and the fun Weber and Fields had subverting them.

Fitch’s controversial play Sapho about a French seductress became the ridiculous Sapolio.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Olga Nethersole in "Sapho"], 1900. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.19676.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Plays, "Sapolio"], 1900. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.19684.

The very next year, in 1901, Weber and Fields took on Fitch’s The Girl and the Judge about the drama that ensues when a young woman faces her parents’ separation.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Annie Russell in "The Girl and the Judge"], 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 34.271.806D.

The Curl and the Judge was perhaps a more jovial look at parent/child relations.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Lew Fields and Fay Templeton in "The Curl and the Judge"], ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18806.

The ship deck setting in Fitch’s 1902 dramatic work The Stubbornness of Geraldine morphed in to the S.S. Pneumonia set for The Stickiness of Gelatine which opened at Weber and Fields’s Broadway Music Hall less than 2 months after Fitch’s opening.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Marry Mannering as Geraldine Lang in "The Stubbornness of Geraldine"], 1902. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.19813.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Joe Weber and Lew Fields in "The Stickiness of Gelatine"], 1902. Museum of the City of New York, 48.210.1515.


One of Fitch’s most popular works (it launched the career of Ethel Barrymore) was Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, a title Weber and Fields felt no need adjust for their skit.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Ethel Barrymore in Act III of "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines"], 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 34.271.804Q.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [DeWolf Hopper, Fay Templeton and David Warfield in burlesque of "Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines"], ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18681.

Fitch’s plays weren’t the only ones parodied by Weber and Fields, and just as certainly, Weber and Fields weren’t the only company doing the lampooning. Both enjoyed popular acclaim in their day, the best influenced by the best.  Fitch received the compliment of caricature, and both may have benefited in box office receipts. After all, a parody is always funnier when you’re familiar with the original.

New York Streetside

New York has seen its share of interesting, humorous, or just plain odd signs. In addition to being entertaining, the signs tell us a lot about how the city has changed over the years.

Around 1895, a dubious claim made by Painless Parker, a Brooklyn dentist:

Byron Company. Dentist: Painless Parker about 1895 124 Flatbush Ave. Brooklyn. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.18393

In 1910, a fireworks company within city limits:

Wurts Bros. Woolworth Building, lower section of 12 Park Place showing Pain's Fireworks. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.3705

Purchasing a gun was much easier in 1937 than it is today:

Berenice Abbott. Federal Art Project. Gunsmith (Variant). 6 Centre Market Place between Broome and Grand Streets. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.1.356

Berenice Abbott. Federal Art Project. Gunsmith and Police Department Headquarters. 6 Centre Market Place and 240 Centre Street. Museum of the City of New York. 43.131.1.357

Around 1940, the James Slip Gospel Mission did not gloss over its message to the world:

Roy Perry. "Your Sin Will Find You Out," James Slip. Museum of the City of New York. 80.102.123

A 1954 Planters Peanuts advertisement in Long Island City, Queens:

Wurts Bros. 32nd Street and Hunters Point Avenue. Planters Peanut warehouse and garage, front elevation to garage on Hunters Point Avenue. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.9988

Taken in 1979, when tobacco advertisements were much less controversial:

Andreas Feininger. Winston Lights, 6th Ave. in the 30s. Museum of the City of New York. 90.40.53

This photograph of an advertisement for Budweiser was taken in 1981:

Andreas Feininger. Times Square. Museum of the City of New York. 90.40.13

A message from the Lyric Theatre in 1995:

Andrea Sperling. The Lyric Theatre - Marquee with Jenny Holzer Aphorism. Museum of the City of New York. 96.172.5

No need to wonder what lies behind these doors:

Edwin Martin. Butcher and Cow (10th Ave.), 1997, New York. Museum of the City of New York. 01.63.1

Christmas in New York City

New York has been the setting for many Christmas stories, fables, and traditions. In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia Hanson of 115 West 95th Street wrote to the editor of The Sun, asking if Santa Claus was real. The movie Miracle on 34th Street featured a man named Kris Kringle who began working as Santa Claus during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, Barneys New York, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue attract countless New Yorkers and visitors with their engaging holiday window displays. Here we take a look back at some of the many ways New York has celebrated Christmas.

This picture shows teachers and students gathered around a Christmas tree in a tenement house run by a chapter of the International Order of The King’s Daughters and Sons. Margaret Bottome founded this charitable organization in her New York City home in 1886. The photo was taken around 1897.

Chicago Albumen Works. Jacob A. Riis. King's Daughters Tenement Chapter, Christmas tree in Gotham Court. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.4.228

Jacob Riis took this photo around 1900. Riis, a first generation immigrant from Denmark, sought to improve the living conditions of impoverished New Yorkers by photographing their living conditions.

Jacob A. (Jacob Augustus) Riis. Christmas gifts at 48 Henry Street. Museum of the City of New York. 90.13.1.386

Although this photo was taken about 100 years ago, the hustle and bustle of New York’s streets during the holiday shopping season remains the same.

Thomas H. McAllister. Christmas shoppers. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.8795

The Salvation Army began using red kettles in 1891 to collect money during the holiday season. In 1901, contributions to the red kettles in New York City provided the poor with a massive sit-down dinner in Madison Square Garden.  This 1906 photo shows a scene familiar to New Yorkers even today.

Byron Company. Charities, Salvation Army Christmas Dinner Kettle. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17268

The Union Settlement House was founded in 1895 to serve the people of East Harlem. By 1900, more than 3,000 people relied on its services. This photo of caroling children was taken around 1940.

Roy Perry. Union Settlement House, Neighborhood Children Rehearsing Christmas Carols. Museum of the City of New York. 80.102.73

The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is lit every year after Thanksgiving. This tradition began in 1933.

New York times. Christmas tree, Radio City. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.8800

Edward Ratcliff. Rockefeller Center at Christmas. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.8801

The Manhattan Savings Bank took a particularly festive approach to Christmas. These photos show the bank’s holiday spirit during the 1960s.

Wurts Bros. 45th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. Manhattan Savings Bank, new branch, front view from east showing Christmas decorations. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.10288

Wurts Bros. 47th Street. Manhattan Savings Bank, Christmas show, ice skaters in. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.10208

Wurts Bros. 47th Street. Manhattan Savings Bank, general view of lobby looking N.E. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.10210

Wurts Bros. 45th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. Manhattan Savings Bank, Christmas carolers. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.13752