Celebrate Good Times … At Webster Hall

Celebrate Good Times … At Webster Hall
Artists & Writers host a carnival at Webster Hall.
The Artists & Writers Dinner Club hosts a carnival at Webster Hall.

The Artists & Writers Dinner Club hosts a carnival at Webster Hall.

On Wednesday, GVSHP will be celebrating the 14th Birthday of the Neighborhood Preservation Center, the building where we have made our headquarters for the last fourteen years. The celebration – tickets are still available – is a benefit for the center, which serves as a resource center that offers space and shares information to facilitate exchange among those working to improve and protect neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. Appropriately, the birthday celebration will take place at Webster Hall, the landmarked assembly hall turned concert venue right down the street from the Center. Webster Hall was built in 1887 (with an annex added in 1892) and has been used as a place for celebrations, protests, balls, dances, concerts, and more ever since.

Greek Americans meet in front of Webster Hall to prepare to return home for Balkan War, October 1912. From the Library of Congress’s George Grantham Bain Collection

Greek Americans meet in front of Webster Hall to prepare for return home from Balkan War, October, 1912. From the Library of Congress’ George Grantham Bain Collection.

Off the Grid has featured this historic complex before. And for good reason. Webster Hall often served as a rallying place for labor through the 20th century. The founding convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) took place here in December 1914. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) voted to ratify a new contract at the hall in 1931. You can read more about Webster Hall’s role in the labor movement in this past Off the Grid post.

Often, labor and other organizations used the hall to host celebrations and fundraisers. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, an old New York City newspaper, in describing a Christmas event where poor children were invited to celebrate and receive gifts, states “Webster Hall, on East Eleventh street, is a big, bare dingy place, where all the year round discontented men meet to discuss their wrongs and sympathize with one another, and where secret societies and political organizations, labor unions and similar associations make a business of pleasure. It is a grimy neighborhood, where the rattle of retail trade continues all day and leaves poverty to toss itself to sleep at nightfall.”

This rather gloomy picture of Webster Hall and the neighborhood belies the place’s role as an entertainment hall. Wrestling matches took place at the hall in both 1919 and 1921. In the early 20th century it became famous for masquerade balls, first sponsored by the Bohemian, Socialist magazine, The Masses. Balls were even held for the repeal of prohibition. Webster Hall’s center as a place of entertainment can be explored in this past Off the Grid post.

Still want more information? Read GVSHP’s proposal to landmark Webster Hall on the GVSHP. Or stop on by Wednesday evening and see for yourself.

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Sheryl
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Sheryl Woodruff was GVSHP's Senior Director of Operations until December 2014.

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