There are a number of places that have brought back fond childhood memories as I have walked the past 43 Streets, but none can match what The Town Hall building means to me. Perhaps the best part of my reflection was sharing stories with my dad, who is now ninety. In the 1950s, he played an instrumental role in the founding of the NYU Club, which was housed in this historic site for some forty years.
While working in the bank, my dad overheard a conversation between Herb Silverman, a member of the board of trustees of New York University, and Jules Bachman, a professor at the school regarding the formation of an uptown alumni club. He jumped in and said, "I am a graduate of NYU, can I help you?" The men turned around, looked at him and said, "Great, you are our new treasurer." Fourteen years later, my dad suggested that perhaps it was time to find someone else to take over his responsibilities. Members of the board replied that was fine, but as my dad tells it, "they got me back - they then made me president!"
The NYU Club was a social place without any pretension or exclusivity. It was my home away from home. It is where I learned to become a bit more adventurous in my eating habits, and where I experienced sitting around the dinner table with numerous adults participating in their conversation. As a little girl they welcomed me in and actually listened to what I had to say. I grew up here, announcing both my engagement to friends over lunch and years later, my pregnancy at my father's retirement party from the bank that he had worked in for forty-seven years.
It was a sad day for many of us when the club was forced to close. After a long run, it basically ran out of members. Today, however, the NYU alumni gather at the Princeton Club further east on this same street.
Having outgrown the various spaces that a league of women had rented over the years, the Town Hall opened its doors in 1921 with the goal "to make educated and politically sophisticated voters of both New York women and men." In an effort to stay afloat, not only were relevant lectures given by prominent political people (including presidents and Eleanor Roosevelt), but concerts began to be played followed over the years by entertainment in the arts.
During the 1950s and 60s, the Hall was rapidly losing money. This area of Manhattan had become unsafe and they were facing competition from Lincoln Center where people were flocking for the Philharmonic, opera and later, the ballet. They also found that people were turning to their televisions to listen to lectures and various debates on similar subjects that the Town Hall was promoting. Despite some rough years, the Town Hall went on to invite some of the top artists and speakers of the time including Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., John Houseman, Henny Youngman, Ruby Dee, Lillian Gish, Alan King, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.
Unfortunately, despite the popularity of their entertainment, the Hall was close to being shut down at the end of the 1970s. It was Marvin Leffler, however, a dear friend of my parents and a member of the NYU Club, who had the foresight on how to make the necessary changes to keep the Town Hall functioning. He single-handedly overcame numerous obstacles including the tremendous debt that they had incurred, negotiated with NYU and went on to make a profit. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of sitting in the audience and listening to some of the world's most popular musicians, singers and comedians perform. Since 1978, Mr. Leffler, along side the director, Lawrence Zucker, "have been instrumental in applying sound business practices and artistic integrity in steering the Hall through changing times, tastes, and economic conditions and, in so doing, have restored it both physically and programmatically to its present financially viable state."
Built in 1900 by famous impresario Oscar Hammerstein I, New Victory Theater was a relative newcomer to theater row on west 42nd Street. The venue was originally named Theatre Republic, but a series of ownership changes saw the name and theme changed every few years. It had a stint in the '30s as Minsky's Burlesque, New York's first Broadway burlesque theater, and a subsequent time as Victory movie theater (so named for the United States' success in WWII), later the first theater on the street to show pornographic films. This more sinful time coincided with the neighborhood falling on hard times. In 1990, New York City took over the theater together with a handful of others in an effort to refurbish the area, returning the theater to a more mainstream focus. In 1995, the Victory reopened as the New Victory and became New York's first theater aimed entirely at children and their families, making the return from vice to virtue complete. It now holds the distinction of being New York's oldest continually operating theater.
The last theater commissioned by the Shubert brothers, the Ethel Barrymore was built by Herbert J. Krapp in 1928 to honor its namesake. The brothers decided to dedicate this to the actress when she came under their management as a way to convince her to take the lead role in The Kingdom of God, the theater's premiere play. Ethel Barrymore was part of the Barrymore family, an acting dynasty during Broadway's zenith. She was considered the "it" girl of her generation and starred in numerous successful Broadway shows.The building's design is based on the public baths of Rome and is among Krapp's most intricate endeavors. The front of the theater features a terra-cotta grillwork screen and French-inspired embellishment beneath the marquee.Through the Depression and Broadway's times of trouble, the Ethel Barrymore Theatre has persisted and continues to carry on the legacy of Ethel and the Barrymore family with shows like A Streetcar Named Desire and A Raisin in the Sun, which have gone on to revolutionize the theater, much like Ethel did throughout her life.
Since its initiation in 1959, Tony's Di Napoli has thrived as a family-run Italian restaurant. The menu, more specifically, is inspired by Southern Neapolitan cuisine. Everything at Tony's is served family style. That is, one portion is large enough to feed two or three people. Over the years, many in the world of show business have come through their doors, thus inspiring Tony's to memorialize their visits with portraits lining the wall. Some subjects of these paintings include Antonio Banderas, Hugh Jackman, Bernadette Peters, Whoopi Goldberg, Alec Baldwin, and Christina Applegate. The food was good, but for added entertainment, it was fun for some members of the Manhattan Sideways team to stroll around the restaurant trying to name everyone on the walls.
When the City of New York acquired this lot to house Engine 65 in 1895, clubs and residents around the area feared it would disturb the peace. Having calls since their very first night on the job, and as the first responder to Times Square, it became clear that the service was needed and soon became wildly appreciated. One of the firemen, Chris, told me this was something he had always wanted to do. “I love the camaraderie between the guys,” he said, a theme that seems to reoccur throughout all Manhattan fire stations.