Tag Archives: Webster Hall

Webster Hall will return: The end of an era for NYC’s oldest party room

When news circulated this week that East Village nightclub Webster Hall would be closing for renovation in August, people understandably freaked out. It seems we’re losing historically significantly places at an alarming rate, places that seem to take a little bit of New York City’s personality with them when they disappear forever.

It was announced earlier this year that the venue was switching to new corporate owner Barclays/AEG/Bowery Presents in an effort to “bring them up to contemporary standards and add a few more customer features.” For many people, that’s code for stripping a place of its charm.

But don’t panic! This change is but the latest for this storied party venue. The hall has had many facelifts over the past 130 years, evolving to mirror the tastes of Greenwich Village residents. Indeed this corporate upgrade is a belated reflection of the neighborhood’s various sleek changes. (The projected renovations seem positively mild in comparison to the blistering reinvention of Astor Place.)

In 2008 Webster Hall was designated a New York City landmark for its impressive terra-cotta architecture and its status as a beacon of ethnic and social counter-culture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

As we wrote in our book Adventures In Old New York: “Opened in 1886, the hall hosted the annual Greenwich Village Ball from the 1910s to the 1930s, a bacchanalia where artists, bohemians, drag queens, and general reprobates of the best kind came to drink, dance, and seriously make merry until early morning. It worked hard to earn its nickname “the devil’s playhouse.”

Author Allan Church wrote, “So many dances-till-dawn and fancy dress balls were held there that one Villager said of himself and his wife: ‘We’ve sold our bed. Why sleep when there’s a dance every night at Webster Hall?’ ”

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In celebration of its new landmark status, we recorded an entire episode on the history of Webster Hall back in January 2009. In 2015, some additional material was added to the show.  Listen to it here or look for it in our Bowery Boys Archive feed (episode #73):

We look forward to visiting the new Webster Hall but of course we’ll be swinging by before August 5 to bid adieu to present incarnation.  Here’s a few clippings from old newspapers, giving you a few additional insights into Webster Hall’s spectacular history:

Webster Hall was rebellious before it even opened. St. Ann’s, the church which most vigorously decried its existence, has all been erased except for its entrance:

In 1887 Webster Hall played host to a private dance for wealthy black New Yorkers, members of the Doctors’ Drivers’ Association, “a band of athletic young gentlemen who are always on the alert to bear physicians on errands of mercy.”

A depiction of the baseball scoreboard that was installed by the New  York Evening World to ‘instantaneously’ update baseball scores from Boston in 1890. [The complete article is here.]

New York Evening World
New York Evening World

1

 

The party rages at a Webster Hall costume ball, in a photo by the great Jessie Tarbox Beals. Just click into this photo for a closer view and observe the bizarre costumes.

Courtesy Schlesinger Library
Courtesy Schlesinger Library

 

Garment workers meet out in front of Webster Hall, between 1910-1915.  The venue was a pivotal meeting spot for union groups, political activists and anarchist leaders like Emma Goldman.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

Greek immigrants gather in front of Webster Hall as they prepare to return to their country to engage in the first Balkan war (October 1912).

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

From a 1930 article:

 

A 1933 poster advertising the annual Greenwich Village costume ball, designed by John Sloan

Courtesy Ephemeral New York
CourtesyLibrary of Congress

 

The cast of ‘How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying’ recording the cast album at Webster Hall, 1961.

cast

 

Jefferson Airplane’s first New York concert, January 8, 1967, at Webster Hall

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

 

Run DMC performing at The Ritz, May 15, 1984

Photograph by Josh Cheuse/updownsmilefrown
Photograph by Josh Cheuse/updownsmilefrown

 

 

Podcast Rewind: Webster Hall Nights “I’ve Been To A Marvelous Party”

PODCAST REWIND  Webster Hall, as beautifully worn and rough-hewn as it was during its heyday in the 1910s and 20s, disguises a very surprising past. It’s a significant venue in the history of the labor movement, Greenwich Village bohemians, gay and lesbian life, and pop and rock music.

The Webster Hall ballroom has hosted the likes of Emma Goldman, Marcel Duchamp, Jefferson Airplane, Robert F Kennedy and Madonna. Listen in to find out how it got it’s reputation as ‘the devil’s playhouse’.  This was originally released on January 3, 2009.

NOW WITH BONUS CONTENT: Almost ten minutes of newly recorded material in 2015, adding a couple more interesting details from Webster Hall’s unique history.

A special illustrated version of the podcast on Webster Hall (Episode #73) is now available on our NYC History Archive feed, via  iTunes or other podcast distribution services.  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#72), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.

A depiction of the baseball scoreboard that was installed by the New  York Evening World to ‘instantaneously’ update baseball scores from Boston in 1890. [The complete article is here.]

New York Evening World
New York Evening World

1

 

The party rages at a Webster Hall costume ball, in a photo by the great Jessie Tarbox Beals. Just click into this photo for a closer view and observe the bizarre costumes.

Courtesy Schlesinger Library
Courtesy Schlesinger Library

 

Garment workers meet out in front of Webster Hall, between 1910-1915.  The venue was a pivotal meeting spot for union groups, political activists and anarchist leaders like Emma Goldman.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

Greek immigrants gather in front of Webster Hall as they prepare to return to their country to engage in the first Balkan war (October 1912).

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

A 1933 poster advertising the annual Greenwich Village costume ball, designed by John Sloan

Courtesy Ephemeral New York
CourtesyLibrary of Congress

 

The cast of ‘How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying’ recording the cast album at Webster Hall, 1961.

cast

 

Jefferson Airplane’s first New York concert, January 8, 1967, at Webster Hall

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

 

Run DMC performing at The Ritz, May 15, 1984

Photograph by Josh Cheuse/updownsmilefrown
Photograph by Josh Cheuse/updownsmilefrown

More Webster Hall history: Riot at the Ritz



Fans incensed by PiL’s cheeky use of a video screen began attacking the stage

It may not have the historical cache of a Civil War draft riot, but Webster Hall has had its share of violence. The discontent of union workers? Anger over its salacious activities? NO. Just pissed off Public Image Limited fans in May 1981. You can read all about it here from a Rolling Stone article.

“PiL play behind a large screen, on which pre-taped video footage is projected. However, the audience doesn’t get the concept (or joke…) and smashes the venue apart after 25 minutes!”

A year earlier, young Irish rock band U2 had their American debut at Webster Hall, back in its days as the Ritz. Their second performance there, in March of 1981, was reviewed by the New York Times, and the original review — by Stephen Holden, no less — is worth a look if you’re a U2 fan. My favorite line:

Bono Hewson, U2’s lead singer, has a moderately strong voice that was partially drowned out at the Ritz. This was a shame, since the band’s material is of considerable interest.”

PODCAST: Webster Hall

Webster Hall, as beautifully worn and rough-hewn as it was during its heyday in the 1910s and 20s, disguises a very surprising past, a significant venue in the history of the labor movement, Greenwich Village bohemia, gay and lesbian life, and pop and rock music. Its ballroom has hosted the likes of Emma Goldman, Marcel Duchamp, Elvis Presley, Robert F Kennedy and Madonna. Listen in to find out how it got its reputation as ‘the devil’s playhouse’.

Listen to it for FREE on iTunes or other podcasting services. Or click this link to listen to the show or download it directly from our satellite site.

Webster Hall in its first decade of the 20th century….

…and the first decade of the 21st century

Outside the club during a labor rally in the 1910s (pic courtesy Library of Congress

Dorothy Parker arrives at Webster Hall in 1938 with husband Alan Campbell

In its years as an RCA recording studio, Webster Hall saw most of the greats of pop, jazz, classical and Broadway making albums here.

As the Casa Galicia during the 1970s

Elvis, Madonna, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Jefferson Airplane, Run DMC, Prince, U2 — all the greats have performed at Webster Hall. And then there’s ….