hippodrome theater

#Thisweekinhistory the Hippodrome Theater opened in 1905. It was the brainchild of Frederick Thompson and Elmer S. Dundy, famous for creating Luna Park at Coney Island. It was designed as a “gigantic toy” for the masses with low admission prices aimed at bringing in middle class New Yorkers, who were excluded from “legitimate” Broadway theatres due to cost. Additionally it was planned a as high tech amusement palace complete with electricity used in every conceivable way at the time. With a seating capacity of 5,200and a stage 12 times larger than any traditional Broadway house, it was a massive place. The stage could hold up to 1,000 performers at a time, or a full-sized circus with elephants and horses. There was also an 8,000-gallon clear glass water tank that could be raised from below the stage for swimming-and-diving shows. The four-hour premier show featured a re-enactment of the Battle of Andersonville, a parade of cars driven by elephants, musical interludes from a chorus of 300, an equestrienne ballet, and high-flying acrobats. Basically something for all five senses.  For a time it was both the largest and most successful theater in #NYC, three million people visited in the first year. It featured lavish spectacles until the end of World War I, and then the Hippodrome switched to musical extravaganzas, including Good Times which ran for 456 performances from 1920-21. #FunFact: A young Cary Grant, made his American stage debut as a stilt-walker in this production. This is also the place where Harry Houdini famously made an elephant disappear. However, the Hippodrome’s huge running costs prohibited it from financial success. It became a location for vaudeville productions, then budget opera performances, then a sports arena. By the end of the decade, with real estate values in the area rising, a theater on the site no longer made sense. In 1939, the Hippodrome was torn down. .
Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.)
6th Avenue between West 43rd and 44th Streets. New York Hippodrome.
DATE:ca. 1910


Historic Jackson Ward - Richmond, VA

Jackson Ward is my favorite spot in RVA. It was founded by freed slaves in the early 19th century and grew to be the largest black neighborhood in Richmond. It was nationally recognized as a center of economic and cultural activity. It was home to the first black chartered bank and the first black battalion (the oldest African American armory in Virginia and quite possibly the United States). The houses, complete with fountains, trellises, mansard roofs, and floral and vine design patterns, were all built by black hands. Jackson Ward was formerly called the Harlem of the South. Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong once played at the Hippodrome theater here.

There are still a handful of black people still living in this neighborhood but much of it was deserted. In the 50s, the government split Jackson Ward in two to make room for building i95. This and, I imagine, factory jobs moving out of the south in the 70s & 80s made it impossible for black folks afford the community they spent their whole lives building. Now, there’s a projects a few blocks down the street, across a foot bridge over i95 in Northside, tall enough to look out on Jackson Ward and all that it was.