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Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville [Kindle Edition]

David Freeland
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From the lights that never go out on Broadway to its 24-hour subway system, New York City isn't called "the city that never sleeps" for nothing. Both native New Yorkers and tourists have played hard in Gotham for centuries, lindy hopping in 1930s Harlem, voguing in 1980s Chelsea, and refueling at all-night diners and bars. The slim island at the mouth of the Hudson River is packed with places of leisure and entertainment, but Manhattan's infamously fast pace of change means that many of these beautifully constructed and incredibly ornate buildings have disappeared, and with them a rich and ribald history. Yet with David Freeland as a guide, it's possible to uncover skeletons of New York's lost monuments to its nightlife. With a keen eye for architectural detail, Freeland opens doors, climbs onto rooftops, and gazes down alleyways to reveal several of the remaining hidden gems of Manhattan's nineteenth- and twentieth- century entertainment industry. From the Atlantic Garden German beer hall in present-day Chinatown to the city's first motion picture studio Union Square's American Mutoscope and Biograph Company to the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, Freeland situates each building within its historical and social context, bringing to life an old New York that took its diversions seriously. Freeland reminds us that the buildings that serve as architectural guideposts to yesteryear's recreations cannot be re-created once destroyed they are gone forever. With condominiums and big box stores spreading over city blocks like wildfires, more and more of the Big Apple's legendary houses of mirth are being lost. By excavating the city's cultural history, this delightful book unearths some of the many mysteries that lurk around the corner and lets readers see the city in a whole new light.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In its people and its real estate, New York maintains a complicated relationship with its past: though always moving forward, the city is also preoccupied with its grand old architecture, a refined sense of nostalgia and an idealized sense of times gone by. Still, few New Yorkers know much about the city's actual history. Historian and music journalist Freeland (Ladies of Soul) provides an excellent correction in this detailed exploration of Manhattan's lost leisure spots, from defunct 19th century Chinatown beer gardens to the earliest integrated theaters in Harlem. Along the way, Freeland unreels meticulous accounts of Manhattan's more fascinating and scandalous moments. New Yorkers past and present will learn much about parts of the city-buildings, neighborhoods, people and hot spots-long gone, or so transformed as to be unrecognizable. Focusing on five neighborhoods-Chinatown, Union Square/East Village, the Tenderloin, Harlem and Times Square-these stories provide a vivid cross-section of the city as a whole in ways a more generalized approach couldn't. Exceptionally well-written and researched, this volume will satisfy anyone curious about New York, or the way a modern metropolis builds and rebuilds itself to reflect the times.


“. . .Freeland offers an area-by-area archeology of New York City's popular culture as revealed in remnants of buildings that housed leisure activities in the late-19th century to the recent past. . .A necessary resource for anyone interested in popular culture. . .”


“Freeland combines the detective acumen of a modern Sherlock Holmes and the exploratory curiosity of Indiana Jones as he uncovers forgotten but still visible treasures of Gotham’s offbeat and seamier underside. This physical genealogy of Manhattan’s historic nightlife will become an invaluable companion for anyone exploring New York’s neighborhoods.”
-Timothy J. Gilfoyle,author of City of Eros

“What a treat to have Freeland take us by the hand and lead us on his own unique guided tour through a not-so-vanished Old New York! For anyone who craves a glimpse of the glamorous city of days gone by, this is a trip well worth taking. Freeland has an amazing flair for uncovering all the little pockets of history that are hiding right under our noses and even beneath our feet. I don’t think I’ll ever see the city in quite the same way again.”
-Charles Busch,actor/playwright (The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom)

“A worthy successor to Herbert Asbury’s All Around the Town and The Gangs of New York and, more recently, Luc Sante’s Low Life, in depicting a long-vanished New York and its entertainments. . . . Many New York locales of a bygone age are depicted with panache in this incredibly well-researched volume. Freeland ‘gets it’ that behind the mostly bland facades of modern NYC lie decades of colorful history.”
-Kevin Walsh,author of Forgotten New York

“The richness of the New York stories he presents, in elegant prose, is more abundant than the actual brick and mortar that remain. His is a guidebook to the city’s history, to what it has bequeathed us, even as much may be lost.”
-Library Journal


Product Details

  • File Size: 1708 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00329NFNU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #507,981 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Well-Researched Look Back into New Yory City History August 20, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If youre interested in the social history of NYC neighborhoods, and want a well-researched, and still very readable account, I recommend this book. It discusses neighborhood evolution in areas like Times Square, Chinatown and Harlem. (The book's title gives a hint of some of the stories it tells).

Its also has a great bibliography for those who want to keep on reading - there's no one book about NYC that could possibly tell the whole story.

The only negative I have is the poor quality of the photos -- there arent many of them, and in this paperback, theyre far from high quality (web sites like those of the NY Public Library, the Museum of the City of NY, and the NY Historical Society have some great on-line photo collections for those interested in better pictorial histories).

All-in-all, a very enjoyable read by a guy who did his homework.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing vansihed social scenes back from the dead September 18, 2009
By Everett
I'm reading this book now and I'm finding it to be both interesting and an easy read.

The author takes you on time machine-like tours of selected social/entertainment scenes in mostly, I seems, 19th Century Manhattan. The historical social scenes revolve around specific structures & sites where at least some physical remnants still exist today. In reading about the histories of specific buildings, the reader ends up learning so much more than the mere architectural "brick & mortar" aspects. We learn about different ethnic and immigrant cultures that thrived and declined at different times and in different neighborhoods.

The chapters are organized by neighborhoods, and therefore also by the ethnicities of those neighborhoods. We start out with the German immigrant community in the Bowery area, then we go to Chinatown, then to Jewish immigrant life on Second Avenue and so forth.

There's a refreshing amount of heart & soul for what is essentially a history book. What you're left with is the realizeation that if you observe & learn, you can still find traces of previous centuries in everyday places.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treat for anyone who loves the city June 2, 2010
By Pawiba
What makes David Freeland's book special is the personal/human touch he adds to make these forgotten places truly live again. Anyone who loves the City has looked at a building or spot and wondered "What was that? Who was there? What's the link to the past?" Freeland's research and prose make you see these things, and creates a continuity of urban life, making you, the reader, a part of New York City's vibrant life and history. It's a great, fun read, and I hope there are many sequels.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book for real NYC lovers August 29, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Indispensable for NYC tour guides like myself. I really enjoy finding the architectural remnants of New York's bygone days. Well written and presented.
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More About the Author

David Freeland is the author of the books Ladies of Soul (University Press of Mississippi) and Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan's Lost Places of Leisure (NYU Press), which was selected as one of the Best Books of 2009 by Pop Matters and a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2010, and won the Metropolitan Chapter of the Victorian Society in America's 2009 Publication Award for Popular Culture and Entertainment. As an historian and music journalist his work has appeared in New York History, New York Press, City Arts, No Depression, American Songwriter, Relix, Living Blues, South Dakota Review, Blues Revue, Goldmine, and Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians.


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