Fri, 30 May 2014
Ladies' Mile -- the most famous New York shopping district in the 19th century and the "heart of the Gilded Age," a district of spectacular commercial palaces of cast-iron. They are some of the city's greatest buildings, designed by premier architects.
Unlike so many stories about New York City, this is a tale of survival, how behemoths of retail went out of business, but their structures remained to house new stores. This is truly a rare tale of history, where so many of the buildings in question are still around, still active in the purpose in which they were built.
We start this story near City Hall, with the original retail mecca of A.T. Stewart -- the Marble Palace and later his cast-iron masterpiece in Astor Place. Stewart set a standard that many held dear, even as his competitors traveled uptown to the blocks between Union Square and Madison Square.
Join us on this glamorous journey through the city's retail history, including a walking tour circa 1890 (with some roleplay involved!) of some of the district's best known buildings.
PLUS: Why is Chelsea's Bed Bath and Beyond so particularly special in this episode?
Thu, 1 May 2014
England's great thespian William Macready mounted the stage of the Astor Place Opera House on May 10, 1849, to perform Shakespeare's Macbeth, just as he had done hundreds of times before. But this performance would become infamous in later years as the trigger for one of New York City's most violent events -- the Astor Place Riot.
The theater, being America's prime form of public entertainment in the early 19th century, was often home to great disturbances and riots. It was still seen as a British import and often suffered the anti-British sentiments that often vexed early New Yorkers.
Macready, known as one of the world's greatest Shakespearean stars, was soon rivaled by American actor Edwin Forrest, whose brawny, ragged style of performance endeared the audiences of the Bowery. To many, these two actors embodied many of America's deepest divides -- rich vs. poor, British vs. American, Whig vs. Democrat.
On May 10th, these emotions overflowed into an evening of stark, horrifying violence as armed militia shot indiscriminately into an angry mob gathering outside the Astor Place theater. By the end of this story, over two dozen New Yorkers would be murdered, dozens more wounded, and the culture of the city irrevocably changed.