Academic journal article Base Ball

A Base Ball Krank's Guide to Madison Square

Academic journal article Base Ball

A Base Ball Krank's Guide to Madison Square

Article excerpt

Madison Square, formed by the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway at 23rd Street in Manhattan, is fashionable today after more than a century of decline, though it still does not gleam as brightly as it did during the Gilded Age. The once strong association in the popular mind of the neighborhood with baseball off the field has long faded. But for a generation beginning in the 1880s the Square boasted an ambience that sometimes was compared to that of Paris-a mix of stately homes and establishments of elegant entertainment peppered with typically New York signs of ostentation and the huckster. One could dine at the finest restaurants, enjoy the very best theater, and stay at some of the most luxurious hotels and clubs in New York in a neighborhood barely recognizable from the "open and useless field" where the Knickerbocker and Gotham Clubs had played an early version of baseball more than four decades before.1

The Square was at the center of contrasting worlds so different their inhabitants had little contact with one another, other than perhaps a common passion for the New York Giants. Broadway, from the Square's southern boundary, 23rd Street, down to 8th, was known as the Ladies Mile, a reference to the grand department stores that had grown up in the area and to the many smaller and alluring shops nearby. Directly to the west and northwest-from 23rd Street to the 30s along Sixth Avenue-was the infamous Tenderloin, or Satan's Circus, a gas-lit carnival of vice flavored with houses of prostitution, garish saloons, tawdry dance halls, high-end gambling houses, pool rooms with bookmaking operations, and houses of assignation.2 It was estimated in 1885 that half of the buildings in the neighborhood were given over to some type of immorality. At the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street arose the second Madison Square Garden, in 1889 replacing the first one on the same spot and built on the very place where the Knickerbockers had played. Designed by architect Stanford White, it featured a concert hall, theater, roof garden, and a prominent tower built after the Giralda tower in Seville, topped by a nude statue of the goddess Diana.

Profound changes in society made Madison Square equally famous as Manhattan's center for amusement: the growth of a middle class with more leisure time; the partial emancipation of women; improvements in transport, the media, and technology (Madison Square was one of the sites of the first electric street lighting in New York City); and the explosion in New York's immigrant population. A result of this brew was a popular cult of celebrity. By the mid-1880s tobacco companies distributed pictures of well known ballplayers, pugilists, jockeys, and actors on their cigarette packages. Americans devoured the papers for news of "Lily Langtry and her scandals, of Lillian Russell and Diamond Jim Brady, of the first American tours by Sarah Bernhardt."3

Madison Square also was displacing Union Square as the center of New York's legitimate theater, increasingly a major industry, with its piano shops, theatrical agencies, printers, costume shops, and photography studios. As the city grew, that industry was migrating up Broadway, though a major holdout survived by adapting to these trends: Tony Pastor reigned at his Music Hall on 14th Street near Union Square. His establishment, founded in 1881, was the birthplace of vaudeville, America's most important form of entertainment before pictures began to talk, the place where Lillian Russell debuted on Broadway. Vaudeville had something for everyone, with a typical bill that included singers, dancers, comedians, animal acts, jugglers, acrobats, magicians, and monologists.4 Pastor's Music Hall was located not only near such attractions as Huber's Dime Museum, the popular German restaurant Luchow's, F.A.O. Schwarz, Tiffany's, Brentano's, the Hippodrome, Steinway Hall, and the Academy of Music, but also near whorehouses and gambling dens popular with the "sporting" lads. …

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