An Interesting History of 101 Avenue A

Posted on: January 9th, 2012 at 11:18 am by

The following piece was written by the newest contributor here at Bowery Boogie, Allison B. Siegel.  As urban historian, preservationist and educator, Siegel focuses on 18th through early 20th Century NYC, bringing her penchant (and obsession) for history and adventure to everything that she researches.

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I think it was 1994 the first time I set foot in a particular tenement storefront many people know as The Pyramid Club. And like most things, I remember it like it was yesterday. With scorching guitar riffs and earsplitting vocals as my soundtrack, I wandered around while my crew shook the tiny dance floor. I was trying to look through the pitch black walls into the old soul of the building. I sensed then, there was a history here – after all, this is New York.  And so, while it may have taken some time, I finally found what I’d been looking for. Herewith, the little known history of an Alphabet City landmark.

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A search for 101 Avenue A in the New York Times archives brought forth several articles. Evidence suggests the address went through a series of monikers; all gathering halls which, for the time, is fitting. Gathering halls were common in the 19th century and were a staple of the German community that lived throughout the Lower East Side.

1879 as Kern’s Hall:

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1886 as Shulz’s Hall:

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1889 as Kerr’s Hall:

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And again as John Leppig’s Hall and Meeting Room. This reincarnation lasted for 30 years as John Leppig, was the Unofficial Mayor of Avenue A and this, his gathering hall:

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Did you catch that blurb about the first Peter Doelger brewery? I had stumbled across his name before and so here my proverbial light bulb set aglow.

See, I am Dead End Kid now, and while researching my neighborhood (where the original Dead End Kids lived), The Peter Doelger Brewery appears on 55th Street and First Avenue. But before that “Peter Doelger…opened a small brewery in 1859 at 101 Avenue A, then moved to a new place at 55th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, where he operated a very successful brewery (eleventh largest in the U.S. in 1895).”

His legacy’s cool factor (what with being a beer maker and surviving prohibition) explodes off the meter if we follow the Doegler line to BK. Anybody heard of Mae West? One of the very first American sex symbols (yes, first, as in pre-Marilyn), responsible for some awesomely boring movies she penned herself, a plethora of quotes I happen to use as my mantras and like, oh, I don’t know, being MAE freaking WEST! Yep, she’s the granddaughter of Peter Doegler. My head just exploded. Old Kinderhook? Moving on.

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[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]

Andrew Berman and G.V.S.H.P. nominated 101 Avenue A to the LPC. In their research they discovered that German-born architect William Jose oversaw the construction of the building in 1876. Berman’s introductory letter to LPC states the following:

During its time as a meeting hall, it celebrated the opening of the adjacent Tompkins Square Park in 1879, acted as a gathering place for local laborers and unions, and memorialized the more than 1,000 people — many East Villagers of German descent — who died in the General Slocum disaster of 1904…

The now-named East Village saw its immigrant community fading away, and by the 1960s a brand new group of counterculture heads started to move in. By 1979 – a legend was born: named for the building’s pyramid tile design, The Pyramid Club opened her doors, and oh if her walls could talk! Punk rock! Death Metal! Hardcore! Techno! Goth chicks and Hells Angels co-mingling with Drag Queens…Drag Queens giving way to the gay 80s. 80s music reigns supreme these days, but remember, while you dance at The Pyramid, picture its past patrons. They are the reason why YOU get to spend 5 bucks and dance to the 80s every Thursday and Friday.

Ah, New York. My stunning and gritty, sparkling and filthy, tremendous, transcendent metropolis – you were forged by the keepers of secrets and those secrets I plan to find and reveal, one brick at a time. Bless up.

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