04 May 2008

The Strangest Building in the East Village

The strangest building in the East Village, in my opinion, is 62 E. 4th Street, a five-story structure built in 1889. It's a mystery what the architect was after (though it's apparent he was proud of his creation given the prominent dating smack dab in the certer of the building). There's all sort of Italianate grandeur in the shapes and lines. But it's all thrown off by the bizarre, frontal, cylindrical metal fire escape, enclosed by a tubular metal grill. Most buildings of the time employed the usual zig-zagging metal staircase, with a ladder leading from the second floor to the ground. The top floor included a boarded-up space of what looks like a door. But to where? There's no balcony. And what was the intention of the column-framed loggia on the fourth floor?

The bottom two floors are used by a dance company and theatre company. The top three floors are not in use, and haven't been for more than 40 years. Can't imagine what the building functioned as when it was first built. Though a helpful reader below says it was called the Astor Ballroom back in the 1940s and was the location of his parents wedding.

UPDATE: Boy, what I thought was just a casual post about an odd building is certainly provoking a lot of interest. This just in from the probing Gothamist. 64 E. 4th has a late '60s past that included gay cinema, Andy Warhol and Jim Carroll. Fascinating, and it just adds to my contention that this is indeed the oddest building in the East Village.

Still very curious about its original purpose.


Anonymous said...

I love that building! If you learn anything more about its history, please let us know.

It's been a years since I've walked past the building at night, but it used to be fantastically lit.

seventhstreet said...

I often stare at that building. My parents were married there in 1949 when it was called
The Astor Ballroom!

Anonymous said...

I've always loved this building and thought it a bit odd, but in a great way. I would love to see this one restored or at least being used I should say.

Anonymous said...

The explanation that would make sense of a lot of the facade's oddities would be that it was built as a theatre or club (associational, not for "clubbing" or drinking).

The open space is a loggia. Just a loggia. Typical for buildings of the late 1880s / early 1890s. I guess people liked them.

Anonymous said...

To elaborate--theatre building mixed with artists' studios. Semi-enclosed fire escape on facade mandated by laws dealing with fire safety for theatre buildings. But I'm not an expert.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about you, but in the event of a fire I wouldn't want to find myself in the stove pipe that is the so-called fire escape.

I still think the building looks cool though. I'd love to see the inside.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I walked right past that building (for perhaps the 200th time in my life) on Sunday and didn't notice it. Next time I will look up.
Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

Of all the pictures, none shows the left side of that column - what does it say?

Based on a quick search last night, the building was used as a meeting hall from the 1880s forward (at least as late as 1927). In the 1880s it was the home of a German music union (they moved to Yorkville in about 1890 or so). It was called Astoria Hall in the early 20's and the Manhattan Lyceum in 1927.

The building itself appears to have been constructed in two phases - the first perhaps was 1889, though I think it was probably earlier. There is an alteration permit in about 1893 to add three stories to the building (which makes sense if you look at the facade, but makes no sense with the 1889 date). It may be that 1889 refers to the founding date of something, not the date of construction.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks a lot of great stuff, Halden. How did you find it out? The word on the left is "Built."

Anonymous said...

Everything was from a search in the historic NY Times. I was not very exhaustive, and it took some creative search strings to find what little I did.

Strange about the date.

Anonymous said...

On New Year's Eve of 1983-1984, I attended an incredible concert in the second floor auditorium that featured Reagan Youth and False Prophets, among others. Exploring the interior further, I found another mini-auditorium on the first floor and a large area with dressing rooms in the lower floor -- it was old and beautiful, like stepping back in time.

In the late 1980s, a group of people who were renting the lower floors for only $200 from the city were looking for someone to take over the lease and let them off the hook (for some reason, they were about a year behind in their rent payments). My friends and I negotiated a deal, whereby we'd cover the back rent and use the lower floors for performances, film showings, etc. But first, the existing group wanted one last big blow-out. Their party was so loud and out of control that the cops came and HPD (the city's dept. of "Housing Preservation and Development," which had an office just a few doors away) shut the place down and locked everyone out.

Shortly after this, HPD crews "renovated" the historic interior beyond recognition.

What a shame....

Janine said...

I see this is an old blog post but thought I would add my 2 cents as well. I have my grandparents original wedding (11/11/1934) newspaper announcement which states they had their reception at 'Manhattan Lyceum in E 4th St.” I looked that up and stumbled upon this post. I found that at the time of my grandparents wedding it was a theater/dance hall in the German/Jewish community. Manhattan Lyceum was at the turn of the century, 66 East 4th Street, known as Turn Hall, was a focal point for the German immigrant community, and the first Yiddish theater in New York, in what became the Yiddish Theater District. Next door, at 64 E. 4th, was the Labor Lyceum, where early advocates for unionizing gathered and the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union was born.

Lyceum (Ancient Greek: Λύκειον, "Lykeion") was a gymnasium and before that a public meeting place in a grove of trees in Classical Athens.

It seems, according to the next link, it's original purpose has always been in the theater realm. See page 85-86 for the history of this location, talks about the structure as well. http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/2491.pdf