A Lot about a plot

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The Theater That Was a ‘Weapon in the Class Struggle’

This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

The Workers Laboratory Theatre, headquartered at 42 East 12th in the 1930s. (University of Wyoming American Heritage Center Archives)

The Workers Laboratory Theatre, headquartered at 42 East 12th street in the 1930s. (University of Wyoming American Heritage Center Archives)

In June 1931, with America’s working class still deep in the grip of the Great Depression, a handful of actors in New York City performed Art is a Weapon, a skit first adapted by the New York’s Workers’ Laboratory Theatre. It begins with a Capitalist, with a “silk topper and over-refined accent,” making his declaration about the limited uses of art. The workers respond by making the distinction between proletarian and bourgeois art; between art intended to amuse and enlighten the elite and art meant to liberate workers.

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Cracking the Case of the Mystery Safes in the Speakeasy Basement

This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

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(Photo: Nigar Hacizade)

If you walked into a building expecting to see a regular museum, but found an apartment-sized living room with minimal, seemingly random paraphernalia, unremarkable oil paintings and posters on the walls, and a $20 admission charge, what kind of review would you post on TripAdvisor? Would your visit even be long enough to merit one? And yet 56 of 70 reviews for the The Museum of the American Gangster, on the second floor of 78-80 Saint Marks Place, described it as “excellent” or “very good.” Half the reviewers on Yelp gave the place five stars. The glowing assessments have something in common: they all caution the visitor to get over any initial disappointment and enjoy the guided tour.

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From Anarchist Hangout to Bathhouse to Arcade: The Steamy History of 6 St. Marks

This week, we continue with our series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

6 St. Marks Place today (Photo by Prianka Srinivasan)

6 St. Marks Place today (Photo by Prianka Srinivasan)

It’s a little after seven on a Friday night, and the narrow basement of 6 St. Marks Place is heaving with booze and bodies. A young man juts his phone over his head and, like a digital periscope, slowly pans the room, recording the clusters of people huddled around the 56 arcades lining the walls. For countless other ‘90s kids, his enthusiasm is unsurprising. “Dude, they have Mortal Kombat!” he gushes, “I used to love that game!”

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The Hard-Fightin’, Hard-Tumblin’ German Gymnasts of 4th Street

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

German immigrant board Hamburg steamer

“From the old to the new world—German emigrants for New York embarking on a Hamburg steamer.” Harper’s Weekly, 1974. (Library of Congress.)

Yesterday New York was AS GERMAN AS BERLIN and any one on the Bowery might have fancied himself unter den Linden. Germany bubbled up everywhere and the substantial joy of substantial Teutonia foamed LIKE A HUGE FLAGON OF LAGER. – New York Herald, April 11, 1871

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Basquiat’s Place: How a Site of Mob Beef Became a Boutique Butcher Shop

This week, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

Japan Premium Beef at 57 Great Jones Street. (Photo: Hanna Wallis)

Japan Premium Beef at 57 Great Jones Street. (Photo: Hanna Wallis)

Below the sparkling glint of a crystal chandelier, slabs of meat rest behind glass as if displayed in a museum. Each label is handwritten in gold ink on a black card, leaving a sense of mortal weight; something lost, commemorated, aggrandized.

The little butcher shop at 57 Great Jones Street lacks any trace of blood or a stained smock. It gives no hint of the secrets lurking in the building’s history, like an art icon’s untimely death or the 1905 murder that catalyzed the decline of the Italian mob in the Bowery. The shop’s unexpected elegance hides the death intrinsic to each of its products. Steaks appear as objects of art, an impression their price tags reinforce.

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How a Mosque Ended Up Next to a Pig-Roasting, Shot-Pounding Metal Bar

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

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30 Cliff Street today. The metal bar “Iron Horse” located in background.

At dusk, bearded men dressed in suits take hurried strides towards 30 Cliff Street, a nondescript building on a relatively quiet strip between busy Fulton and John Streets. Through metal and glass doors reminiscent of a hospital, men file into the prayer room and prostrate in unison on a floor covered in cheap knock-offs of Persian rugs, the mosque’s only pretension to traditional Islamic grandeur. Very little about Masjid Manhattan says mosque the way the word is understood in Istanbul, Tehran or Lahore: no grand domes and minarets, no call to prayer over a loudspeaker; it’s almost as if the place doesn’t want to call too much attention to itself, and it isn’t hard to understand why.

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For Over a Century, a Home For Women Who’ve ‘Sunk So Low’

This week, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

Exterior of 10 Second Avenue, when it was home to the Isaac Hopper Home, 1930 (Courtesy of Women's Prison Association)

Exterior of 110 Second Avenue, when it was home to the Isaac Hopper Home, 1930 (Courtesy of Women’s Prison Association)

On May 31, 1848, Maria Seaboth, a 14-year-old orphan, showed up at the door of  the second location of the Isaac T. Hopper Home, a halfway house for women just released from prison at Tenth Avenue and 21st Street. Life couldn’t have been worse. She was destitute, homeless, and friendless and had been wandering from place to place, taking shelter in “various filthy and disgusting abodes,” the matron’s diary recorded as she observed the couple of dozen women in her charge.

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Once a Home for Destitute Girls, Now Handsome Co-Ops Worth Millions

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

307 East 12th Street from across the street. (Photo: Katie Schlechter)

307 East 12th Street from across the street. (Photo: Katie Schlechter)

The commotion began as Gertrude Williams strolled home from her cashier job at an uptown restaurant. At Broadway and 39th, a strange man tried to strike up a conversation. Annoyed yet accustomed to such unwanted attentions, she ignored him. But he persisted. The New York Tribune described what happened next: “Raising her pugnacious right, she caught him square on the jaw.”

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Before the Puerto Rican Poets, There Was the Polish Violinist

This week, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

(Photo: Shanna Ravindra for NY Mag)

(Photo: Shanna Ravindra for NY Mag)

The entrance to the Nuyorican Poets Café dissolves into a mural of faceless men standing in line, all dressed in white-hat-and-suit ensembles, hands stuffed into their pockets. The painting is based on a black and white photograph from the 1980s of spectators waiting outside the Café. To the right of the entrance is a detailed portrait of the Rev. Pedro Pietri, one of the Nuyorican’s founding poets. The murals replicate the artistry of what goes on inside the walls.

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The Story of the Gaslight Café, Where Dylan Premiered ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’

This week, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

MacDougal Street where once was the Gaslight Café (© Kasper van Laarhoven)

MacDougal Street where once was the Gaslight Café (© Kasper van Laarhoven)

Bartenders with beards and tattoos serve $15 cocktails to a sharply dressed, late-20s public at what is now the Up & Up. The menu instructs: “Gentlemen will please refrain from approaching ladies. Ladies are welcome to start a conversation or ask a bartender to introduce you.” What would Kerouac have thought of that? “Refrain” is not much of a Beat chorus.

It isn’t hard to imagine the place as it was. Strip away the 2016 fanciness, insert a small stage and there you are: the legendary subterranean Gaslight Café of half a century ago.

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