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Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan's Lost Places of Leisure

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814727638
ISBN-10: 0814727638
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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.

Review

“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.”
-Publishers Weekly, starred review



“In this wonderful book Freeland, a writer who has the courage of his dreams, is not afraid to remind us of what we have wiped out, and in our stumbling childlike sleepwalk through time continue to destroy.”
-PopMatters.com



“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



“Reading this book is like going on a walking tour with a really knowledgeable guide, who knows not only what building to point out but also what stories lurk behind the front door.”
-The New Leader



“. . .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. . .”
-CHOICE



“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)



“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



“With an archaeologist’s eye and a storyteller’s wit [Freeland] roams from Chinatown to Harlem—concentrating on scenes of the city’s nightlife a century ago during the vaudeville era but also reaching back into the nineteenth century as he summons up forgotten neighborhoods and personalities who gave old New York its raffish vigor.”
-Wall Street Journal



“Freeland’s affectionate, detail-packed tome about Manhattan’s forgotten pleasure centers—from dance halls to gambling dens—adds a lyrical song to the cacophony. Organized geographically and for the most part chronologically, the book explores eight neighborhoods—Chinatown, Chatham Square, the Bowery, the East Village, Union Square, the Tenderloin, Harlem and Times Square—via their entertainment centers, with the added hook that physical remnants of these historical hot spots still exist.”
-Time Out New York



“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



“Only a reader made of stone will be able to resist the occasional longing for what used to be; but overall, Freeland’s headfirst dive into the past makes the experience seem utterly contemporary, vital and alive. He brings a scholar’s knowledge and a native New Yorker’s passion to the table.”
-The Villager



“Only a reader made of stone will be able to resist the occasional longing for what used to be; but overall, Freeland’s headfirst dive into the past makes the experience seem utterly contemporary, vital and alive. He brings a scholar’s knowledge and a native New Yorker’s passion to the table.”
-Downtown Express

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (August 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814727638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814727638
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,424,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Robert in NY VINE VOICE on 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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
This book is a fabulous time capsule of the New York I grew up fantasizing about, and that still sets my imagination awhirl. To read "Automats" is like having a guided tour into the corners of New York where the past has somehow survived. How vividly and knowledgeably David Freeland evokes the Manhattan of old. He does it with enormous passion and a sense of fun. This is the best kind of history book. Highly recommended!
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