Showing posts with label Theatre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theatre. Show all posts

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hammerstein's Victoria and Rooftop Garden

Hammerstein's Victoria and Roof Garden. The Republic Theatre is to the left.
Houdini performed at Hammerstein's many times. I decided recently to try and dig up information on this historic location. I discovered that Hammerstein's Victoria opened in 1899 as a legit theatre. However, it did not have a single broadway hit, so in 1904 it was turned into a variety theatre and became the leading Vaudeville house in NYC until the Palace Theatre was built.

Hammerstein's was unique in that it had an indoor theatre and a roof top theatre that allowed for summer performances. Back at the turn of the century there was no air conditioning and the theatres would often close during the summer months.  Others that tried to remain open would get brutally hot inside. Hammerstein's Roof Garden encompassed the roof of his theatre and the Republic Theatre next door. Incidentally, Oscar Hammerstein built the Republic Theatre as well but leased it out.

The theatre was at the corner of West 42nd St. and 7th Avenue. During Matinees at Hammersteins the ticket prices were .25 and .50 cents. In the evenings the prices ranged from .25 cents to $1.00. There were around 1000 seats, and I'm not sure what the roof garden held. A few of the acts that graced the stages at Hammersteins include; Eva Fay (daughter of Anna Eva Fay), Mae West, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Eva Tanguay, Evelyn Nesbitt, the Four Cohans, and of course Houdini.

Location of Heidelberg Building
Hammerstein's plays an important roll in the career of Houdini. In 1912, Houdini was the headliner on the bill. Also on that same bill from Jan 29-Feb 3rd was comedy/satirist Will Rogers. A few months later in July 1912 Houdini was back. To promote his appearance he presented an outdoor escape. Reports say he was tied to the tower of the Heidelberg Building in Times Square. The New York Times says that after the escape he tossed the rope down to the crowd. However, other reports say he was placed in a straight jacket and hung upside down over the edge of the Heidelberg Building. He was going to repeat one of these stunts from the fire escape of the Victoria, but the police intervened. The Heidelberg Building stood at 1459 Broadway and was renamed the Crossroads Building and eventually torn down in 1984. Today the Times Square Tower stands in the same location. (see photo left) One other thing of note in regards to this stunt on the Heidelberg Building, the New York Times reported there was a movie camera there. Ifs this footage exists today, we would know for sure exactly what he did, and we'd also have more valuable film footage of Houdini.

Also in July 1912 (he must have been driving the police crazy) Houdini was using his overboard packing case escape from the East River to excite people about his appearances at Hammersteins Victoria. He also did the feat in the theatre. A previous act had a large tank of water in the theatre and Houdini used it to recreate the underwater packing escape, it was just as big a hit indoors as it was outdoors.

In 1914 Houdini debuted is Walking Through a Brick Wall Illusion at Hammersteins. There is an interesting write-up in Variety Newspaper July 18, 1914 that says "some of the acts here have worn out the welcome mat. Houdini, however, proves an exception to the rule, and this P.T. Barnum of vaudeville is still a factor." They were were referring to his brand new Walking Through a Brick Wall Illusion and even go on to report an incident that took place between Houdini and Brick Layers Union.
Apparently the union brick layers had taken issue with Houdini because he was using a 'dry brick' system on his brick wall, meaning there was no mortar. The brick layers challenged Houdini to allow them to use mortar on the wall and then see if he could pass through, they did and he did.

There are precious few photos of Houdini and his Brick Wall. I find it hard to believe that he did not create a poster for this. To my knowledge no poster exists for this nor the Vanishing Elephant. But unlike the Vanishing Elephant which was presented as part of another show, this was Houdini's appearance at the Hippodrome and it also wasn't the only place he performed the Walking Through a Brick Wall Illusion. So maybe out there somewhere is a Walking Through a Brick Wall poster! One can only hope.

Houdini must have been one of the last big named acts to play Hammersteins Victoria because in 1915 the theatre was torn down. The competition from the new Palace Theatre down the street was too much for them.

It was not easy locating Hammersteins today. For one, it's right near Times Square and I was very confused trying to figure out which building was which. But then I discovered a clue. In the photo at the top of the page you'll see Hammersteins sitting on the corner. Then to the left of Hammersteins is a smaller theatre called The Republic. Well, I know Hammerstein's was torn down in 1915. The Republic was renamed The New Victory Theatre. The New Victory, which once was the Republic Theatre and had part of the Roof Garden Theatre on it's rooftop is still there. Of course, after all this searching I found that the address was WEST 42nd St. and that would have been a big help at the start.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Mystery of the Houdini Hole

Lincoln Square Theatre Decatur IL Today

There is a hole cut in the stage of the Lincoln Square Theatre in Decatur Il that is referred to as "The Houdini Hole"by the theatre people and the locals in town.  Legend has it that this hole was cut into the stage to allow the water to drain out from his Water Torture Cell. Houdini did stipulate in his performance rider that he required a hole be cut in the stage no less than 8 inches by 8 inches. However, there is no newspaper record of Houdini ever being in Decatur. One local man said it was before Houdini was famous which was why it wasn't in the papers. But Houdini was more than well known by the time he was doing the Water Torture Cell.

This hole should probably be called "The Blackstone Hole" because Blackstone Sr. played this theatre a number of times over the years. I got the impression that the hole was larger than 8x8 and was probably large enough for a person to go through. That would be ideal for a magician of the time, but not for Houdini.

In fact, the Lincoln Square Theatre is the very theatre where in September of 1942, Blackstone was doing a matinee performance with an audience of 1000 + kids and parents and they received word that the building next to the theatre was on fire. Blackstone calmly told the audience that in order to show his greatest trick, he would need to do it outside. He was able to get everyone out of the theatre in a quick and orderly manner without anyone getting hurt. While that was going on, Blackstone's crew was busy taking their props off the stage and getting them outside into the alley.

Sadly one person did die that day. Ted Banks, who was a close friend of Blackstone and also the show's stage manager, He died of a heart attack that evening in his hotel room. The crew didn't find out until the next morning when Ted didn't show up at the theatre. He died at the St. Nicholas Hotel which was walking distance from the Lincoln Square Theatre.

St. Nicholas Hotel on the left

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Houdini in Washington D.C.

On January 12, 1922, Houdini hung upside down outside of Keith’s Vaudeville Theatre on 15th Street in Washington D.C (first photo). The theatre was torn down in the early 80’s I believe. But if you go to the Old Ebbitt Grill which is on the corner of 15th and G St. you can actually sit in an area that used to be where the seats of the theatre were. And actually, when you walk into the Old Ebbitt Grill, you are walking through the front doors of the Keith's Vaudeville Theatre!

I went down there a few years ago and took some photos of the area. I had a most unusual sensation. I had this memory kick in of seeing the theatre. I knew it couldn’t be true, but somehow in some far corner of my mind I had this very vidid memory pop up of the theatre. I could see the red marquee with all the lights and everything. In the real world I was sure the theatre was over where the columns of the building were because that area was newer than the rest of the building. Then when I found the two pictures above my jaw dropped. The marquee is EXACTLY where my memory told me it was. And I just found a color photo and indeed this is exactly as I remember it.

I'm pretty sure the reason I had a memory of this building is because I had driven past it many times on either field trips during school or with my parents when they were taking me downtown to Al's Magic Shop when I was a kid.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Salem Theatre

The photo above is a lobby display in front of the old Salem Theatre in Salem Mass. It's around 1905 or 1906 I think. Anyway, a few years ago I was in Beverly Mass visiting my friends at the Le Grand David Magic Show and took sometime to go sight seeing. Turns out Salem is pretty darn close to Beverly. I had a really enjoyable time visiting the Witch Sites, Nathaniel Hawthorne's House and walking downtown.

It was while I was walking downtown that the above image flashed in my head. I hadn't been searching for it and it wasn't on my mind prior but suddenly it was there in my brain. I started looking for the theatre. I just had this odd sense it was close. I didn't ask anyone though. And I didn't find it.

Well, not exactly. You see, when I got back to my hotel I looked it up online. Turns out I parked right at the location where the Salem Theatre had been!  But it was torn down long ago sadly. I wish Harry had performed in Beverly, as both of those theatres still stand. In fact, both of those theatres, The Larcom and The Cabot are both dedicated to the art of magic!

If you're in that area of Mass. I would encourage you to visit the site
I think in the future I'll share some photos of Houdini spots that I've found over the years.