PART ONE

THE RISE AND FALL OF FUN

1.

THE CHILDREN OF NECESSITY

THE WORD “SQUARE” DOES NOT have the same meaning in Manhattan as in Paris or London or Rome. Belgrave Square and the Piazza della Repubblica are rectilinear spaces that serve as punctuations or pauses in the street plan. Here the business and the pace of the city slows, cars are forced to the periphery, and pedestrians are invited to wander across broad spaces, often around and amidst a garden. Think of the Place des Vosges, that quintessential seventeenth-century square in the heart of Paris, with its grand brick-faced houses and elegant cafés looking out over a park where schoolchildren in uniform play on swings. This is the Paris of Madeline, and of our dreams.

New York City has, or rather had, several such gracious spots, in the districts developed in the nineteenth century—Washington Square, in Greenwich Village; Gramercy Park, in the East Twenties. But most of the places New Yorkers call squares are, in fact, axial points where Broadway crosses another north–south avenue. Some of those places, including Union Square, at 14th Street, and Madison Square, at 23rd, also featured charmingly landscaped parks, with fine houses gathered around the perimeter; but because they were also traffic hubs, these places eventually became large-scale commercial centers, so that New Yorkers now think of them as places to shop rather than to stroll. And as Broadway continues north it slices straight through the adjacent avenue, putting an end both to parks and to pedestrians. The square immediately to the north of Madison is Herald Square, which consists of a few rows of benches, a statue of Horace Greeley, and an enormous number of cars. The next square after that is Times Square, which is neither square nor safe to cross by foot, and which is possibly the least serene place in the Western Hemisphere—“a ganglion of streets that fuses into a traffic cop,” as the essayist and urban bard Benjamin de Casseres put it in 1925. Is it any wonder that our dreams of Paris are so different from our dreams of New York, when the one has the Place des Vosges, and the other Times Square?

Why does Manhattan have traffic jams where other cities have plazas? A reasonable guess would be that the sheer force of growth wiped the old gathering spots off the map. That would be reasonable; but it would be wrong. The curious truth is that Manhattan looks the way it does because it was designed that way. Possibly the unlikeliest aspect of this fact is that Manhattan was designed at all. Whereas political capitals, whether Washington, D.C., or Rawalpindi, have often developed according to a blueprint, mercantile centers normally expand willy-nilly from some original core, according to the ambitions and appetites of the people who shape them. And this was certainly true at first of Manhattan, which expanded northward from the tip of the island. The narrow, crooked lanes around Wall Street offer a reminder of what the entire city once looked like.

But Manhattan’s street plan is, in fact, a monument to political control of private behavior. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Manhattan was a flourishing port city of perhaps 100,000 souls which extended about as far north as the stream that is now Canal Street. The farmland beyond was controlled by large landlords, who often carved out private streets for their own convenience. It was by no means clear whether the power to map out the rapidly growing city belonged to the municipal governing body, the Common Council, or to private landowners. In 1807, the city appealed to the state to settle the issue, and the state agreed to appoint a commission that would have “exclusive power to lay out streets, roads and public squares,” and to “shut up” streets already built by private parties.

Whatever the original intention, the commissioners chose to interpret their charge as a mandate to utterly transform the map of the city. In 1811, they published one of the most audacious documents in the history of urban planning. It was a work that bore the stamp of the new republic —though it was Benjamin Franklin’s rationalism and unsentimental materialism, rather than Thomas Jefferson’s sense of romance and grandeur, that infused this extraordinary design. In remarks accompanying the plan, the commissioners noted that they had wondered “whether they should confine themselves to rectilinear and rectangular streets, or whether they should adopt some of those supposed improvements, by circles, ovals and stars, which certainly embellish a plan, whatever may be their effects as to convenience and utility.” Note the stacked deck—on the one hand, “embellishments” of “supposed” value; on the other, “convenience and utility.” “In considering that subject,” the commissioners continued, “they could not but bear in mind that a city is to be composed principally of the habitations of men, and that strait-sided, right-angled homes are the most cheap to build, and the most convenient to live in. The effect of these plain and simple reflections was decisive.”

So the commissioners straightened out Manhattan’s twisty street plan into a relentless, unvarying grid—twelve avenues, placed at unequal intervals and running on a roughly north–south axis, and 155 streets crossing the avenues from the settled northern border of the city far up into the wilds of Harlem. As there were to be no ovals or stars, so there were to be no plazas, no public gathering spots. The commissioners went on to observe, “It may be, to many, a matter of surprise that so few vacant spaces have been left, and these so small, for the benefit of fresh air, and consequent preservation of health. Certainly, if the city of New York were destined to stand on the side of a small stream, such as the Seine or the Thames, a great number of ample places might be needful.” Pity Paris or London, languishing beside “a small stream,” while in Manhattan the health-giving sea dispelled the vapors attendant upon urban life. And then the commissioners returned to their commercial preoccupations: the very fact that Manhattan was an island, they noted, ensured that the price of land was “uncommonly great”; so “principles of economy” would have to be given more weight than might otherwise have been prudent. Thus, no plazas.

Generations of urban thinkers, from Frederick Law Olmsted to Lewis Mumford, have reeled in horror at a master plan that obliterated topography in favor of the endless multiplication of identical units, and could find no larger rationale for doing so than cost. And yet everything about the plan bears the stamp of this new democratic republic: its simplicity and horror of adornment; its blunt practicality; its faith in the marketplace as a democratic instrument, equally open to all. The grid was a blow against the large landholder with his private streets; even the decision to identify the avenues and streets by number rather than name was an act of “lexicographical leveling,” removing from the great families the privilege of memorializing themselves in the city’s street plan. The grid was an abstraction, but an abstraction placed at the service of the citizen—intended not to thwart the city’s appetites and ambitions, but to facilitate their satisfaction.

The commissioners did permit several interruptions in the pattern. There would be “places,” such as Union Place, formed at the conjunction of various streets and thus “the children of necessity,” and “squares,” large areas to be set aside for parade grounds or marketplaces, though not for strolling or the taking of fresh air. Besides these, only one exception to the relentless principle of the grid would be permitted: Broadway. This boulevard was already the city’s main street, crossing over the canal and running all the way to Grace Church at 10th Street (where it formed the southern boundary of Union Place). The path continued as the Bloomingdale Road; as it slanted northward, this roadway cut at a sharp angle through the avenues, forming triangles which, though children of necessity as well, apparently seemed to the commissioners too unimportant for further comment.

THE “SQUARES” NEVER had a chance before the city’s growth, and before the simple principle—which the commissioners seem to have anticipated—that land would be converted to its most valuable use. Neither the parade ground nor the marketplace was ever built. And as New York became, first, the great port city of the eastern seaboard, and then the nation’s chief source of capital, the city’s boundary pressed out into the numbered streets of the new grid. The grid did not, of course, lend itself to the idea of a “city center”; instead, the center moved steadily north, from the area around City Hall, to what is now SoHo, to Washington Square. In 1832, a developer gained control over the waste area the commissioners had laid out as Union Place, and renamed it, in the great tradition of real estate marketing, Union Square. By the late 1840s, Union Square was lined with fine houses and shops. The opening up of Madison Avenue in 1847, with its headwaters at Madison Square at 26th Street, made possible a new elite neighborhood; and soon the rich were moving northward along Madison and Fifth.

New York City underwent a radical transformation in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. An economic boom turned lower Manhattan into one of the world’s great commercial centers, with buildings that, for the first time, towered above the highest church steeples. Eight- and ten-story office buildings went up at the tip of the island; the offices of the city’s great newspapers clustered around City Hall; wholesalers and small-scale manufacturers moved into cast-iron buildings in the area around Houston Street, and printers and publishers gathered around Astor Place, just below Grace Church. The tremendous growth of downtown propelled everything else northward. As recently as 1840, virtually the entire population of the city was jammed below 14th Street; by 1870, more than half the city lived to the north, mostly in the rapidly developing East Side.

The city’s theaters and amusements, which in the late eighteenth century centered around City Hall Park, headed north along with the population generally. This happened both because the fine stores and office buildings and government offices that occupied lower Manhattan could afford to pay more in rent than theaters and restaurants could, and also because culture followed its consumers. (The poor remained downtown, in what is now called the Lower East Side, or lived along the wharves on either side of the island, where much of the city’s manual labor was employed.) Nevertheless, in mid-century the city had no real entertainment district. New York was a city of pedestrians, and people lived where they worked; most neighborhoods, save the most exclusive, necessarily had a mixed character, with factories, taverns, shops, and private homes all on the same street, and often in the same building.

But the rise of mass transportation changed the face of New York. The first elevated railroad, immensely noisy and dirty and inefficient but still positively miraculous at the time, was completed in 1870; it carried passengers up the West Side from Dey Street, far downtown, to 29th Street. A Sixth Avenue line followed in 1878, and then Third Avenue, and then Second. Public transportation meant that New Yorkers could live in one neighborhood, work in another, and enjoy themselves in a third. Basil March, the hero of William Dean Howells’s 1890 novel, A Hazard of New Fortunes, lives with his wife in the dignified precincts of Washington Square, but commutes by “el” to his office at the raffish magazine he edits in the East Forties. Though he also explores the city on foot and by coach, March always seems to take the el when he wants to go “uptown,” where yet newer worlds await him. By Howells’s time, the East Side had been developed up to 125th Street, though the West Side remained largely pastoral.

An incidental effect of this new capacity to take large numbers of people from one place and deliver them to another was that those peculiar junctures created by the periodic intersections of Broadway with an avenue suddenly presented themselves as nodal points in the city—not squares, but traffic convergences. Broadway itself never had an el, but it was flanked by els, and the avenue itself was served by horse-drawn “omnibuses” and by “horsecars,” which were horse-drawn trolleys whose wheels ran along tracks in order to make for a smoother and swifter ride. And so the entertainment district consolidated around juncture points along Broadway. Theaters were still scattered around the city—along Second Avenue, and 125th Street in Harlem, and in Brooklyn—but by the 1870s, the city’s first true entertainment district had emerged, at Union Square.

What was new about Union Square was that it supported not just the theater but an entire industry brought into being by the theater, as well as all the other forms of pleasure associated with theatergoing. In and around the square were legitimate theaters, such as Wallack’s, as well as “variety houses”—featuring what would later be called vaudeville—such as the Union Square Theater and Tony Pastor’s New Fourteenth Street Theatre; Steinway’s piano shop; theatrical agencies; theatrical printers; show publications like Leslie’s Sporting and Dramatic News; Sam French’s play publication store; the costume house of Roemer and Kohler; and the studio of Napoleon Sarony, photographer to the stars. Union Square’s southern boundary, 14th Street, was known as the Rialto, because it was so heavily frequented by theater people; among the show folk themselves, the area immediately in front of the Union Square Theater, at the south-eastern corner of the square, was known as the Slave Market, because it served as an open-air hiring hall. Indeed, the society novelist Richard Harding Davis wrote that “it is said that it is possible to cast, in one morning, any one of Shakespeare’s plays, to equip any number of farce companies, and to ‘organize’ three Uncle Tom’s Cabin combinations” from the crowd on 14th Street.

Tony Pastor, the vaudevillian, was known as the Impresario of Fourteenth Street. Pastor was a living summation of nineteenth-century urban entertainment. An Italian born in 1834 (or thereabouts), the son of a grocer, Pastor was an uneducated urchin who sang at temperance meetings, played tambourine in a minstrel company at Barnum’s Museum on lower Broadway in 1847, and knocked around through half a dozen circuses in the 1850s, working as a singer, clown, acrobat, tumbler, dancer, and horseback rider, often all in a single show. In the early years of the Civil War, Pastor began a career as a balladeer in “concert saloons,” descendants of the English music hall where the acts were often flimsy excuses for the alcohol, and the “waitress girls” considered the serving of drinks the beginning rather than the end of their job. Pastor became a beloved figure, famed for a stock of 1,500 tunes, and for his good-humored ribaldry. He sang about soused Irishmen and farcical Negroes and avenging wives and long-suffering husbands.

For all his knockabout life, Pastor was a rough-hewn gentleman, gracious and accommodating as well as thoroughly good company, his assiduously maintained mustache always waxed to fine points. Pastor understood that so long as variety was presented in the riotous, blowsy atmosphere of the concert saloon it would remain a minor adjunct to male carousing. He recognized that decency could be good for business; his goal, as he put it in one of the innumerable interviews he later granted as the grand old man of Broadway, was “to make the variety show successful by dissociating it from the cigar-smoking and beer-drinking establishment.” Pastor opened a variety house of his own on the Bowery in 1865, and ten years later moved to the more respectable location of 585 Broadway, in what is now SoHo. There some of the great figures of the late-nineteenth-century stage, including Lillian Russell and May Irwin, made their debuts. At 585, drinking was permitted in an adjacent saloon, but not in the auditorium.

Pastor moved northward with the theater district, finally settling at 14th Street in 1881, just as the area was becoming New York’s entertainment capital. The location alone signified a new level of prestige for variety. Pastor charged as much as $1.50 for a reserved seat, then the priciest variety ticket in town, and he secured the best acts. The bill of fare for one typical evening included Ryan the Mad Musician, “who plays on the xylophone without looking at the instrument”; the Sisters Hedderwicke, “character duettists and dancers”; Clark and Williams in “a funny Negro sketch”; Martha Wren and Zella Marion in an Irish operetta called “Barney’s Courtship”; and Professor John White, “with his mule, monkey and dog.” Pastor himself often came out to sing one of his sentimental tunes, which almost invariably brought down the house. But the most distinctive feature of Pastor’s was that no liquor was served. Pastor encouraged a family atmosphere; as one wag said, it was the kind of variety “a child could take its parents to.” There was a Ladies’ and Children’s Matinee, where the management gave out bouquets and wax dolls; door prizes on other nights included barrels of flour and even dresses. And it worked: Pastor’s became both the most respectable and the most popular variety house in New York. Pastor had raised the variety show almost to the level of legitimate theater, as he himself was wont to say. As a singer he was a traditionalist, but as a promoter and entrepreneur Pastor was one of the creators of early-twentieth-century Broadway.

A combination of competition from “continuous houses,” in which patrons could come and go as they pleased in the course of an all-day show, and the further migration of the entertainment district, ultimately stranded Tony Pastor. By the mid-nineties, he was being consulted by newspaper reporters as a sage of Broadway, a graybeard who had graced the sideshow at Barnum’s as a lad. He was stout and lovable, a Broadway character with his collapsible opera hat and the diamond solitaire that glittered on his shirtfront. But Pastor’s remained an important stop on the vaudeville circuit. In 1905, a twelve-year-old Jewish ragamuffin named Izzy Baline got a job at Pastor’s as a “song-plugger,” a kind of itinerant marketer of new ballads. He sang “In the Sweet By and By” with the Three Keatons, the youngest of whom went on to become one of the greatest silent comedians. And Izzy Baline went on to become Irving Berlin.

BY THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY, the distinction between “legitimate theater” and popular entertainment, even the sort of relatively genteel popular entertainment that Tony Pastor offered, was growing sharper, a fact recognized in the city’s geography. Downtown, where the poor immigrants lived in their squalid warrens, you could see Yiddish or Italian or Chinese or Irish dialect theater. The Bowery was chockablock with vaudeville houses, and there were more around Union Square. The neighborhood known as the Tenderloin, in the West Twenties and Thirties, was the city’s most notorious den of vice: prostitutes openly strolled along Sixth Avenue, and both sides of 27th Street west of Sixth were lined with whorehouses, one side for white patrons and the other for black. The Tenderloin was home to many of the city’s biggest and most notorious concert saloons.

The legitimate theater increasingly clustered around Madison Square, the next in the nodal points created by Broadway. Occupying as it did the space between Madison Avenue, a rapidly developing upper-class district, and Fifth Avenue, which already enjoyed that status, Madison Square was a far grander and more glamorous setting than Union Square. It was here that the Gilded Age’s nouveaux riches went to preen their feathers in public. On weekend afternoons, society gathered among the flower beds and fountains in front of the great, pillared Fifth Avenue Hotel, at 23rd and Fifth. Madison Square was less a rialto than a faubourg, with the city’s finest jewelers, furriers, florists, and haberdashers. In 1876, Delmonico’s, the most famous restaurant in the country and perhaps the only one with a celebrity chef, the famous Charles Ranhofer, moved up from downtown to 26th Street, two blocks north of the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Ward McAllister, Mrs. Astor’s social secretary, was a regular patron, as were many of the other members of the Four Hundred. In this refined and clublike setting, men of wealth and standing could gather with their own kind, and eat, drink, and spend with abandon.

Many of the new theaters that sprang up around Madison Square catered to this elite. At the socially exclusive Lyceum, the electric lights had been personally installed by Thomas Edison. The Madison Square Theatre, on Fifth Avenue, enjoyed an equal cachet; at a special benefit performance there in 1884, “pretty ladies of the most exclusive social circles of New York posed, elaborately garbed, in tableaux illustrative of Tennyson’s Dream of Fair Women.” The better theaters sometimes presented Shakespeare—though often in bowdlerized form—and one of the sensations of the age was the 1884 visit to Broadway by the company of London’s Lyceum Theatre, led by the great Ellen Terry, who showed Americans how to perform the classics. For the most part, “refined” drama meant translations of contemporary French and German farces. (The German variety was considered less indecent.) These were often presented as if they were original English-language plays. The most respected theatrical manager of the day, Augustin Daly, kept a steady stream of these productions going at his theater on Broadway and 30th. Most of them were, despite a surface air of sophistication, extremely creaky affairs. According to a plot summary of The Undercurrent of 1888, “the one-armed messenger (he is also one half-sister’s father) is tied to a railroad track by the villain (a wicked uncle), but the scheme is foiled by the heroine, the daughter, who luckily happens to be in a blacksmith’s shop nearby.”

The drama of the time was cartoonishly stylized, with a first old lady and a second old lady, a first comedian and a second comedian, a juvenile lead, and so forth. The gifts of the Gilded Age lay more in the direction of consumption than of production. And yet, for this very reason, Broadway became an increasingly delightful, pleasure-filled place. In 1883, the Casino Theatre opened at the corner of 39th and Broadway, at the time an extremely remote locale. The Casino was a giant piece of Moorish whimsy, with a great circular tower terminating in an onion-shaped dome; it was modeled on a Newport clubhouse designed by the famous architect Stanford White. The Casino was intended to be a sort of theatrical clubhouse, with all sorts of amenities provided for the wealthy patrons who would pay for membership. The theater had a street-level café and a gallery where theatergoers could enjoy refreshments while gazing down through big windows at the street. And on top of the Casino, gathered around the Moorish dome, was a facility unheard-of on Broadway— a roof garden.

The Casino was built by Rudolph Aronson, who, like Tony Pastor and many another Broadway impresario, began his career as a performer and left his mark as an entrepreneur. Aronson’s background was very different from Pastor’s. Born in 1856, Aronson was a classical pianist, composer, and conductor who traveled to Europe as a young man for further musical training. In Paris, he passed many a happy hour at the “concert gardens” that lined the Champs-Elysées. He dreamed of opening up just such a spot along Broadway, but was thwarted by the high price of land. Then he had a revelation, which he later recorded in his memoirs: “Why not utilize for garden purposes the roof of the building I hope to erect, and thus escape the enormous cost of valuable ground?” He even dreamed up the expression “roof garden.”

The Casino Roof Garden consisted of a circular open-air promenade trimmed in blue, white, and gold, like the theater itself. A tiled arcade, running from the tower to the corner of the building, allowed patrons to watch the pedestrians on Broadway’s blazing pavements. The roof garden featured a rustic theme, with embowered hideaways and shrubbery and plants scattered among the café tables; hidden gas jets cast a romantic glow over the scene, while the colored lights of the Casino lit up the street below. Patrons could listen to the orchestra up on a stage, or watch the performance downstairs through an opening in the theater roof. On opening night, July 8, 1883, the orchestra presented Johann Strauss’s operetta The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief while patrons enjoyed coffee, ice cream, and light beverages brought up from a restaurant downstairs. For New Yorkers accustomed to baking helplessly in the summer heat, it must have been a transporting experience. An obviously delighted critic for The New York World wrote, “It is now possible to sit at a table and drink your beer or wine fanned by the night breeze and at the same time look down upon the performance of a comic opera or listen to the music of Mr. Aronson’s orchestra.”

Within a decade, the city was said to be “roof-garden daft,” with theaters up and down Broadway offering entertainment beneath the stars. And as the roof garden became more popular it became less elegant and constrained, more democratic and informal; both men and women wore shirtsleeves, and many of the customers were out-of-towners treating themselves to a night on Broadway. The entertainment became far more populist as well. The roof gardens began offering variety shows, specializing in “dumb acts” like jugglers, acrobats, and animal performers, acts that could be enjoyed perfectly well amidst the noise of drinking and talking. There was a rage for “skirt dancers,” women who wore calf-length skirts and long underskirts and struck balletic poses and made sweeping gestures which showed off their bodies. Aronson himself lost control of his theater in 1892 but hung on to the roof garden, making a success of a high-class Parisian-style “revue.” The following year he lost control of the roof garden as well, and spent much of the rest of his life traveling the world, hobnobbing with the great composers he so much admired. He himself left behind no music of any importance, but he had invented something more important in the history of Broadway: a new and charming way of experiencing life. The roof garden was a delightful setting that put people at their ease, and that helped define the dreamy pleasure-world of Broadway for the next thirty years.

By the later years of the century, the whole experience of being in Broadway was becoming more open and fluid—more modern. Broadway was lined with electric streetlights, and all night long patrons and theater people, clubmen and chorus girls and gawking tourists, strolled up and down. The stretch between Madison Square and 42nd Street had come to be known as the Upper Rialto, and, as the author of The New Metropolis, a portrait of the city published in 1899, notes, “The best and worst of it is to be met here—stars, supers, soubrettes, specialists and managers alike. . . . The life of the street is as active at midnight as at noon, for the theatres create a constant patronage for the restaurants, which are crowded up to the early hours of the morning.”

And Broadway was becoming sexy—not crude, like the Tenderloin, but racy and suggestive. Popular theater revolved increasingly around the charms of nubile young women. By the nineties, a vogue had set in for “light opera,” an early form of musical comedy with only the sketchiest plot fleshed out with comic bits and elaborately costumed chorus girls. Carrie Madenda, the heroine of Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser’s great, bleak novel of 1900, is an aspiring actress who begins her career in an unnamed production at the Casino, at that time the reigning temple of light opera. Carrie’s role is to march at the head of a column of twenty girls in the “ballet chorus,” wearing a white flannel outfit with sword dangling from a silver belt. When the run of Carrie’s show ends, she finds another job in the chorus line of The Wives of Abdul at the Broadway Theatre, where she is assigned to “a group of oriental beauties who, in the second act of the comic opera, were paraded by the vizier before the new potentate as the treasures of his harem.”

Indeed, in 1900, just when Dreiser’s novel appeared, the Casino played host to a drama of giddiness and gratification that defined the culture of Broadway at the turn of the century. In keeping with its usual fare, the Casino offered a frivolous concoction called Floradora, a tale about a beautiful heiress cheated out of her inheritance. The play received poor notices, insofar as it was noticed. In one scene, however, six chorus girls, who had plainly been chosen for their beauty rather than their talent, paraded around the stage carrying parasols while their male partners did most of the dancing. A group of Yale men began coming to the theater in order to give the girls a standing ovation. Soon a cult developed over the “Floradora Sextette.” Diamond Jim Brady and Stanford White, boon companions and two of the leading celebrities of Broadway, ordered standing tickets for the show; within days, every playboy and clubman in town was gathering to worship before the altar of pulchritude. Broadway had never seen such a craze before. The Floradora Girls were inundated with flowers, gifts, and expensive dinners; each of them ultimately married a millionaire, the most famous match being that of Evelyn Nesbit to Harry K. Thaw. Six years later, Thaw murdered the man he believed was carrying on an affair with his wife: the casino’s architect, Stanford White. The Floradora Girls were the first chorines to go platinum, as it were. And yet these incarnations of the Platonic ideal of female beauty averaged five feet four inches in height, and 130 pounds. The Broadway ideal of female beauty was still evolving.

Something new was emerging as the city’s entertainment culture began to lap at the edges of 42nd Street—and yet it was still only a dim shadow of the place that would come to be called Times Square. The word “Broadway” didn’t conjure up anything like the magic, or the wickedness, that it soon would evoke. There are no novels of Broadway from this era; Sister Carrie, which does seek to anatomize this new world, was published just as Madison Square was giving way to Times Square (and, indeed, contains perhaps the first reference in literature to the gay life of 42nd Street). The cardinal points of New York’s literary geography in the 1880s and 1890s were Fifth Avenue; Washington Square, redoubt of old money; Wall Street, with its thrilling casino of speculation; and, for socially conscious writers like Stephen Crane, the Bowery, where misery raged. Winston Pierce, the main character of His Father’s Son: A New York Novel, written by the society author Brander Matthews in 1896, actually lives in a brownstone on Madison Square, yet neither Pierce nor any of his friends or family members takes the slightest note of the square or its environs. The only reference to theater occurs when the protagonist takes his wife, Mary, to 14th Street to see The Black Crook, a famous, if already venerable, production featuring an enormous troupe of scantily clad chorus girls. Mary is scandalized—and rightly so. Winston is tumbling rapidly down a moral slope that leads to adultery, drinking, gambling, and theft; his fascination with chorus girls in tights is a warning sign of his degeneracy.

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