The Museum and Dancehall that Once Occupied 345-347 Grand Street

Posted on: October 21st, 2013 at 12:00 pm by
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My first attempt at researching the cast iron beauty at 345 Grand Street brought me to an interesting blog called With the aide of the blog owner and my research, Ladies and Gents, let’s polka to 1887, the year, according to the Department of Buildings, 345 Grand was erected.

I’ll lead.

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The author of the blog, David Grossman, put me in touch with one of the previous owners of the building, Mr. Frazer. Here’s what he had to say:

The exterior photo from around 1900 was retrieved from NY City archives by another owner, David Rakovsky on the 4th floor. When I was negotiating to buy the building in 1999, a man named Jimmy, who had been employed as a super by the owners Alan and Alice Friedman for many years, told me there used to be a dance parlor in the place, and with nods and winks he suggested that where there was dancing, there was probably a brothel too. I have no idea if that’s true as a generalization, let alone true for 345 Grand.

In any event, the dance ticket we discovered under the floorboards confirms that the 2nd floor was a dance hall, and the stairway that used to connect the 1st and 2nd floors suggests that it might have occupied both floors — perhaps a lounge or smoking room downstairs? We Googled the performers, Little Willie and Big Sam Kaplan, and contacted a few Kaplans with a LES background but learned nothing more. We surmise that a confetti dance had the band playing a medley — a polka, a waltz, etc. — and there’s an 1889 short film cited on Google called The Confetti Dance, but no information about it.

That’s about all I know, except for a few half-credible stories about Lou Reed and Blondie having (at different times) lived next door or behind us, on Ludlow. [ed: Lou Reed and John Cale lived at 56 Ludlow in 1965]

While Mr. Frazer couldn’t specify years, he did provide me with a ton of additional information to research and so I did…

From A history of the New York stage from the first performance in 1732 …, Volume 2, by Thomas Allston Brown:

THE GRAND STREET MUSEUM A VERY humble east side place of amusement was THE GRAND STREET MUSEUM situated at Nos 345 and 347 Grand Street It was opened Dec 8, 1888 and besides the living and other curiosities to be seen there dramatic performances were given and all could be enjoyed for ten cents.

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There’s really no way to confirm whether or not this particular menagerie was that of people or animals, despite what is written in the New York Times article above. Here’s an image of a menagerie you may be familiar with:

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1st Edition

Oops, no. Not that one. Well that one, too, but I meant this one:

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Central Park Zoo

Glad we cleared that up.

We do, however, have proof of the former dance hall in living color! What a find! Thanks again, Phillip.

Now, who the heck are Little Willie and Big Sam Kaplan?

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Ticket found under floorboards by Phillip Frazer

The ticket above says that they are “well known friends.”

Was it well known that they were friends or together they were well known?

Alas, no record of these boys. The paper cuts (yes, I research in actual libraries) are less painful than the fact that I have to put this little mystery on hold for now, though I did find many similarly named persons who were Jazz musicians. Nothing concrete enough to share with you.

Also, “music by Union Orchestra” implies that Little Willie and Big Sam Kaplan were not providing the entertainment. Meaning, in the 20th century many venues chose to use non-unionized orchestras and most unionized orchestras were contracted to specific venues.

Any search for The Union Orchestra came up empty. One could surmise here that this was a well-known unionized orchestra on the Lower East Side and these orchestras tended to operate solely at the hand of a unionized conductor.  I did some more sleuthing and came across an article about the Boston Pops and Carnegie Hall.

Boogie peeps, meet my grandfather’s cousin, a non-union man conducting the unionized Philharmonic-Symphony:

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(Didn’t expect to ever include him in a piece outside of my own ancestry reports. Very cool tie in if I do say so myself).

Back to the building.

Guys? Mrs. General Tom Thumb also known as Lavinia Warren of Barnum and Bailey fame had her day(s) at The Grand Street Museum. Oh, yes.

General Tom Thumb was the stage name of Charles Sherwood Stratton (January 4, 1838 – July 15, 1883), a little person who achieved great fame under circus pioneer P.T. Barnum.

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Let’s not go into more depth about the Thumbs. Both have books written about them. It would hardly be fair to 345 Grand Street.  Therefore, we must use restraint.

Also at this building of curiosities existed a brainchild of Nathan Straus (of milk laboratory fame and, of course, Macy’s). He opened a grocery and coal cellar on the ground level specifically for the poor. It closed in April of 1894.

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I was able to confirm H.W. Perlman’s Furniture and Piano outlet was there by the early 1900s.

There was a bank in 1915 and come the 1930s it was sold at least three times.

The owners were Celia Schwarz, Rose Hahn and Jessie David (together), Nathan Abrahams and then the H.W Perlman Corporation (from tenant to building owner). By the 1950s it was a warehouse for Sun Ray Yarn.

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NYT 1915

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NYT 1930

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NYT 1935

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Yet another intriguing piece of New York City’s interwoven history, and folks, if you fancy yourself a new condo (FYI: according to the NY City Register, the building converted to the Grand Digs Condominium on April 8, 2003) — some of the units are up for grabs. That is, if you’ve a minimum of a million to spare.

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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