Built in 1886, today marks Webster Hall’s seventh anniversary as a NYC landmark. According to the Landmarks Designation Report,Webster Hall is “one of New York City’s most historically and culturally significant large nineteenth-century assembly halls.”
The Report also noted “The site of Webster Hall, on the north side of East 11th Street, between Fourth and Third Avenues, had once been part of the Stuyvesant farm that was inherited by Peter Gerard Stuyvesant and remained in the Stuyvesant/Rutherfurd family. P.G. Stuyvesant’s house (1845), located at No. 175 Second Avenue (and East 11th Street), was later home to Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, a lawyer and noted astronomer; Rutherfurd’s son, Stuyvesant Rutherfurd (c. 1840-1909), inherited this property after Stuyvesant’s death, under the condition that he change his name to Rutherfurd Stuyvesant.”
Webster Hall has hosted a wide range of parties and meeting over its 129 year old history. In its early years it “acquired a reputation as a center of leftist, socialist, anarchist, and union political activity”, according to a January 1888 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article. As we previously reported: By the 1910s and 1920s, Webster Hall became famous for its masquerade balls, following the success of a 1913 fundraiser for the socialist magazine The Masses. The parties, which attracted the bohemians of the Village and beyond, grew more and more outlandish–and the costumes, skimpier and skimpier. Although Prohibition could have killed the momentum of the parties, in fact, it had the opposite effect. As liquor consumption was driven underground, Webster Hall became a speakeasy, and the legends of the parties grew. Gay and lesbian Villagers first attended the parties of accepting organizations like the Liberal Club, but by the mid-1920s were putting together dances and celebrations of their own at the hall. These celebrations were able to continue without harassment, as long as the police were paid off properly. When Prohibition was finally repealed, a large ball called the “Return of John Barleycorn,” was thrown on New Year’s Eve to celebrate.
By the end of the 1950s, RCA converted the building into their East Coast recording studio and called it the “Webster Hall Studios.” Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte, and Julie Andrews all sang at the studios, and several musicals, including Hello, Dolly! and Fiddler on the Roof, were also recorded here.
Webster Hall reemerged on May 1, 1980 as The Ritz nightclub, and until its relocation in 1986, it was a leading venue for rock shows in New York City. The roster of Ritz performers included, Madonna, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Prince, Sting, Guns N’ Roses, KISS, among many others. In 1990 the building was purchased by the Ballinger Family from Toronto, and returned the Webster Hall name to the reborn dance club and concert venue which remains today.
As real estate development pressure grew exponentially in the East Village during the 2000s, and historic sites like St. Ann’s church just one block north were lost to out-of-scale developments, GVSHP and others saw the need to protect the scale and character of many of the East Village’s unique historic structures. In the summer of 2007 GVSHP supplied the Landmarks Preservation Commission with extensive research on the history of Webster Hall, and urged the LPC to landmark the site. Shortly thereafter the LPC commissioners voted to consider the building for landmark designation and in spring 2008 the building was officially designated a New York City landmark, recognizing its extraordinary role in the cultural development of the Village.