The Mystery Behind Henington Hall
A couple of weeks ago I was walking along 3rd Street in the East Village and stopped in front of a sculpture park that I had seen many times before. Just past Avenue B, the park holds a number of metal sculptures which, without doing any research, seemed to be the work of current artists (perhaps even local artists).
And then I looked closer and noticed a 2 1/2-story gabled building at the back of the park, which shares the lot of the tenement facing East 2nd Street. What is that? At first I thought it was the back of an old church or synagogue with its front now cut off after the tenement was built right up against it. The roof along with the long arched window openings made me think it was some kind of communal space, and sometimes you see older buildings attached to newer ones (which only adds to the fascinating history of a property).
Well, I was a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Here’s what building permits we have on file here at GVSHP revealed to me about this building’s past.
Known as Henington Hall and located at 214 East 2nd Street, it was built in 1907 as a six-story and 2-story building, according to the building permit. What an interesting find! The gabled building wasn’t an older building on the lot, rather it was built as part of the new construction.
But how was it used? The photo above shows the building from 2nd Street, which wasn’t constructed as a tenement at all. The permit indicates that the entirety of Henington Hall was to be occupied as stores, a restaurant, a hall, meeting rooms, and lofts. Designed by architect Herman Horenburger for Solomon Henig, the community space was likely created for the area’s Jewish residents. Horenburger in a few short years would be commissioned to redesign the facade of a rowhouse into Mezritch Synagogue, which became part of the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District last year.
Meeting spaces such as Henington Hall were valuable ways of finding entertainment in these dense neighborhoods, and it’s two-story rear addition provided additional space without losing much-needed light at the upper floors of the taller section of the building. It’s interesting to see a gabled roof for a non-religious building built this late in Manhattan’s development, which is what made me think it had been a religious structure of some kind (it seemed too wide to be an earlier Federal house, which was often capped with a gabled roof).
A 1911 article from The New York Times indicates that William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper giant, made a speech in front of 500 east side residents at Henington Hall as part of his run for office. Though the article listed the address as being on Second Avenue, we’re assuming they meant Second Street. According to this piece, Henington Hall was even noted as a ballroom just like Webster Hall.
By mid-century, the upper floors had been converted to apartments, though by 1961 they were converted again to a projection room, studio and office on the first floor with artist studios and a plaster model and machine shop on the upper floors.
The building’s role as an artistic haven continues to this day. Since 1974, it has been home to the Kenkelaba Gallery, an exhibition and work space for African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American artists that are typically not featured elsewhere. The sculpture park I’ve often noticed is part of Kenkelaba and features a rotating display of artists’ work. You can learn more about this East Village space here.