Automats, Taxi Dances, And Vaudeville

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Winner of the Publication Award for Popular Culture and Entertainment for 2009 from the Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America

Named to Pop Matters list of the Best Books of 2009 (Non-fiction)

From the lights that never go out on Broadway to its 24-hour subway system, New York City isn't called "the city that never sleeps" for nothing. Both native New Yorkers and tourists have played hard in Gotham for centuries, lindy hopping in 1930s Harlem, voguing in 1980s Chelsea, and refueling at all-night diners and bars. The slim island at the mouth of the Hudson River is packed with places of leisure and entertainment, but Manhattan's infamously fast pace of change means that many of these beautifully constructed and incredibly ornate buildings have disappeared, and with them a rich and ribald history.

Yet with David Freeland as a guide, it's possible to uncover skeletons of New York's lost monuments to its nightlife. With a keen eye for architectural detail, Freeland opens doors, climbs onto rooftops, and gazes down alleyways to reveal several of the remaining hidden gems of Manhattan's nineteenth- and twentieth-century entertainment industry. From the Atlantic Garden German beer hall in present-day Chinatown to the city's first motion picture studio—Union Square's American Mutoscope and Biograph Company—to the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, Freeland situates each building within its historical and social context, bringing to life an old New York that took its diversions seriously. Freeland reminds us that the buildings that serve as architectural guideposts to yesteryear's recreations cannot be re-created—once destroyed they are gone forever. With condominiums and big box stores spreading over city blocks like wildfires, more and more of the Big Apple's legendary houses of mirth are being lost. By excavating the city's cultural history, this delightful book unearths some of the many mysteries that lurk around the corner and lets readers see the city in a whole new light.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Truly "the city that never sleeps," New York City has been known for two centuries for its ceaseless pace. Of course, entertainment venues are ultimately as ephemeral as they are exciting; yesterday's nightlife hot spot becomes today's abandoned building. David Freeland's Automats, Taxi Dances & Vaudeville rescues these monuments of leisure from oblivion, offering us glimpses into the once-bustling world of Gotham's German beer gardens, nickel silent movie theatres, burlesque houses, and all-night diners and bars. This carefully researched paperback will appeal to history buff fans of authors like Luc Sante and Timothy Gilfoyle.
From the Publisher
“With an archaeologist’s eye and a storyteller’s wit [Freeland] roams from Chinatown to Harlem—concentrating on scenes of the city’s nightlife a century ago during the vaudeville era but also reaching back into the nineteenth century as he summons up forgotten neighborhoods and personalities who gave old New York its raffish vigor.”
-Wall Street Journal

“The richness of the New York stories he presents, in elegant prose, is more abundant than the actual brick and mortar that remain. His is a guidebook to the city’s history, to what it has bequeathed us, even as much may be lost.”
-Library Journal

“Exceptionally well-written and researched, this volume will satisfy anyone curious about New York, or the way a modern metropolis builds and rebuilds itself to reflect the times.”
-Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Freeland’s affectionate, detail-packed tome about Manhattan’s forgotten pleasure centers—from dance halls to gambling dens—adds a lyrical song to the cacophony. Organized geographically and for the most part chronologically, the book explores eight neighborhoods—Chinatown, Chatham Square, the Bowery, the East Village, Union Square, the Tenderloin, Harlem and Times Square—via their entertainment centers, with the added hook that physical remnants of these historical hot spots still exist.”
-Time Out New York

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

In its people and its real estate, New York maintains a complicated relationship with its past: though always moving forward, the city is also preoccupied with its grand old architecture, a refined sense of nostalgia and an idealized sense of times gone by. Still, few New Yorkers know much about the city's actual history. Historian and music journalist Freeland (Ladies of Soul) provides an excellent correction in this detailed exploration of Manhattan's lost leisure spots, from defunct 19th century Chinatown beer gardens to the earliest integrated theaters in Harlem. Along the way, Freeland unreels meticulous accounts of Manhattan's more fascinating and scandalous moments. New Yorkers past and present will learn much about parts of the city-buildings, neighborhoods, people and hot spots-long gone, or so transformed as to be unrecognizable. Focusing on five neighborhoods-Chinatown, Union Square/East Village, the Tenderloin, Harlem and Times Square-these stories provide a vivid cross-section of the city as a whole in ways a more generalized approach couldn't. Exceptionally well-written and researched, this volume will satisfy anyone curious about New York, or the way a modern metropolis builds and rebuilds itself to reflect the times.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal
Historian and music journalist Freeland (Ladies of Soul) shows us the palimpsest that is Manhattan: a volume of tales, many obscured and overwritten by newer stories, with much early material lost forever, but with parts that lurk obscurely, not entirely erased. A seeker like Freeland, who set forth both along New York's pavement and into its archival material, can discover many old stories, ripe with adventure, colorful personalities, and triumphs and sorrow. Stoked by his knowledge of local cultural and musical history, Freeland sought to "bring out of hiding" New York's obscured places, the half-visible fragments, that testify to earlier eras of the city's history of entertainment and leisure. Freeland explains that because popular culture is ever shifting and changing, and operates beyond the status quo, its built environment falls prey to destruction sooner than does that of government and finance. From Chinatown (beer gardens, Chinese theater, gang warfare) to the East Village and Union Square (the "Jewish Rialto," rooftop movie-making) to Tin Pan Alley, Times Square (the Automat, taxi dancers), and Harlem (jazz and ragtime on 133rd Street), Freeland turns his readers into intrepid time travelers. The richness of the New York stories he presents, in elegant prose, is more abundant than the actual brick and mortar that remain. His is a guidebook to the city's history, to what it has bequeathed us, even as much may be lost. VERDICT Highly recommended for all urban history buffs, New York City visitors and residents, and all studying the colorful history of urban American popular culture. [See the Behind the Book, p. 108.]—Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814727621
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

David Freeland is a writer who specializes in music history and popular culture. He is a contributing writer to the weekly New York Press, and his articles and criticism have also appeared in music magazines including American Songwriter, Relix, and Goldmine. He is the author of Ladies of Soul, a history of under-recognized female vocalists from the 1960s, and wrote the introduction, supplementary articles, and over 100 entries for Schirmer’s reference work Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Part I. Chinatown, Chatham Square, and the Bowery
1 A Round for the Old Atlantic (The Atlantic Garden)
2 Chinatown Theater (The 1893 Chinese Theater)
Part II. Union Square and the East Village
3 A Roof with a View (American Mutoscope Studio)
4 Caretakers of Second Avenue (Hebrew Actors’ Union)
Part III. The Tenderloin
5 If You Can Make ’Em Cry (Tin Pan Alley)
6 Tenderloin Winners and Losers
(Shang Draper’s Gambling House)
Part IV. Harlem
7 A Theater of Our Own (The Lincoln Theater)
8 Rise and Fall of the Original Swing Street
(West 133rd Street)
Part V. Times Square
9 The Strike Invisible
(Horn & Hardart’s Original New York Automat)
10 Last Dance at the Orpheum (The Orpheum Dance Palace)
11 Nights of Gladness (Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe)
A Note on Sources
About the Author

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