1902 Encyclopedia > New York City > Social Work. Places of Amusement. Clubs.

New York City
(Part 4)

Social Work. Places of Amusement. Clubs.

The social life of New York in the earlier days, and, in fact, down to 1825, took its tone from the landholding aristocracy. Social traditions were, however, principally Dutch, and were characterized by the simplicity and frugality of that people. As the place grew in wealth and population, the ascendancy of the old Dutch families and gradually lost. The successful commercial men who came to New York from all parts of the country became the real local magnates, and business prosperity became the chief sign and cause of social distinction. This state of things still exists. There is no other city in United States in which money gives a man or woman so much social weight, and in which it exercises so much influence on the manners and amusements, and meets with so little competition from literary, artistic, or other eminence. The luxury of domestic life is carried to a degree unequalled in any other city. The entertainments are numerous and costly, and the restaurants, of which Delmonico’s is the chief, have achieved a world-wide fame. The number of horses and equipages has greatly increased within twenty years under the stimulus given by the opening of Central Park, the drives of which on fine afternoons in April and May and the early part of June present a scene of great brilliancy. The city is, however, almost completely deserted during the summer months by the wealthy, who fly to country houses along the coast from New Jersey as far up as the province of New Brunswick, or to the mineral springs of Saratoga, or to Europe. Thirty years ago it was the ambition of rich men to own country houses along the Hudson river, the scenery of which possesses great grandeur, but its banks have of late been infested by malaria, and for this and other reasons the tide of fashion has been turned to the seaside, and more particularly to Newport in Rhode Island, which is now a city of marine villas. For people of small means New York is slenderly provided with summer entertainments, except such as are afforded by the beauty of the suburbs and by the many water-side resorts within easy reach on the Hudson, the New Jersey coast, and Long Island Sound, and especially at Coney Island, which is really a continuation of the sandy beach that extends all along the south side of Long Island. Its western extremity is distant from the Battery about 8 _ miles in a straight line, and its extreme length is about 5 miles. Since 1874 when capitalists suddenly woke up to the capabilities of the spot, a number of favorite resorts have sprung up on the island, with monster hotels, in one of which as many as four thousand people can dine at once, conveniences for surf-bathing, and a great variety of amusements. The island is reached by steam and horse cars, by steamboats, and by carriages. The Germans have beer gardens on a grand scale, both on Manhattan Island and elsewhere which they frequent in vast numbers. The Irish organize picnics to groves and woods along the Hudson and East Rivers, which are let for that purpose. Excursions by water down the harbor and up Long Island Sound are very numerous. For this species of amusement there are few cities in the world so well situated.

New York has about thirty places of amusement using scenery, not including a few small variety theatres of little importance; of all these the Metropolitan Opera House is much the largest. Its stage is 96 feet wide, 76 feet deep, and 120 feet high. There are seventeen outside entrances, six of them 10 feet wide; and the whole structure is fire-proof. The chief fover is 34 feet wide and 82 feet long, with a parlor so connected that the foyer can be used as a lecture-room, the parlor giving place for a stage. The seating capacity of the auditorium is about three thousand. Of the other theatres the largest are Miner’s Bowery, Miner’s Eight Avenue, Academy of Music, M’kee Rankin’s, Niblo’s Fourteen Street Theatre (Haverly’s), Thalia, Criterion, London, Harrigan and Hart’s Cosmopolitan, Fifth Avenue, Star, Twenty-third Street, Union Square. Beside the theatres there are two fine concert and lecxture-rooms-Steinway Hall and Chickering Hall.

The clubs of New York may be divided into two classes, - the political and social, and the purely social. To the former belong the Manhattan and the Union League; to the latter the Century (1847), Harmonie (1852), Knickerbocker (1871), Lotus (1870), New York, St. Nicholas Union (1836), and University (1865). The Manhattan Club (weith some 570 members) is the local club of the Democratic party, founded during the closing years of the civil war, and reorganized in 1877. The Union league Club was founded in 1863, in order to give to the Federal administration during the war the organized support of wealthy and influential men in the city, and it has been ever since the Republican social organization of the city. The century Club represents literature, art, and the learned professions, and owns a valuable collection of pictures and a well-selected library. All the members of the harmonic Club speak German. The original plan of the Lotus Club looked to a membership of literary men and artists, and members of the musical and dramatic professions.

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