Description & Building Alterations
This structure was once two separate Federal-era row houses built in 1831-32 and owned by Elisha Peck and Anson G. Phelps (evidenced by Flemish Bond, which stops short of the top floor). Originally part of a luxurious row of houses called “Albian Place,” in 1871 the buildings were combined, decoratively embellished, and raised from 3.5 to 4 stories to become Turn Hall, home of the New York Turn Verein, which comes from the German term for “gymnasium.” This is also when the building was extended through the block to 3rd Street. It features decorative window enframements and railings, elaborate brackets supporting the cornice and a central pediment with the inscription “1871.”
The New York Turn Verein was a German-American socialist movement. The laying of the cornerstone in 1871 was met with great celebration with a vast audience that included the mayor of New York City. In addition to meeting spaces, the Turn Verein also utilized Turn Halle as a theater. Within its walls, A Frightful Dream and Koldunya (The Sorceress) by Abraham Goldfaden debuted in 1882. This marked the first entirely Yiddish theatrical production in American history. Koldunya (The Sorceress) featured Ukrainian-born singer and actor Boris Thomashefsky, one of the Yiddish theater’s greatest stars.
The Turn Verein moved out in 1898, and beginning in 1899 the property became known was known as Manhattan Lyceum Hall, an anarchist meeting hall. Speakers Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman spoke here. Beginning in November of 1905 until sometime in early 1906 (as seen in articles from the New York Times from the time) this building on East 3rd Street side housed the Orlenev Lyceum, opened by a troupe of actors from St. Petersburg headed by Pavel Orlenoff and Alla Nazimova. Nazimova, known as the actress who brought the Stanislavsky Method to the United States, participated in productions by Ibsen, Chekov and Gorsky at this location, which were performed in Russian. Her work throughout her acting career was an inspiration to playwrights Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and the founders of the Group Theater. Emma Goldman is credited as being the interpreter and manager of the Lyceum and theater luminaries who came to see the troupe included Ethel and John Barrymore, Minnie Maddern Fiske, producer Henry Miller and Margaret Anglin.
The Building was renamed Manhattan Plaza in 1938, when it was converted to a catering facility and dance hall, and then in 1954 it became a film studio known as the Biltmore Studios (later ABC Stage City). From 1969 until 2013, the Millennium Film Workshop – previously known as the Film Project – worked out of 66 East Fourth Street. It showcased the work of avant-garde filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, Carolee Schneemann, Bruce Conner, Rudy Burckhardt, Robert Breer, and Kenneth Anger. In 1974, La MaMa, which has a long history of featuring and supporting LGBTQ artists, opened its annex at this location, and in 2005, the City of New York sold this and seven other properties on Fourth Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue for $1 each to the Fourth Arts Block nonprofit organization, founded in 2001. The city had acquired the properties in the 1950s in anticipation of an urban renewal project that never occurred.
The Native American Theater Ensemble (NATE), founded 1971 by Hanay Geiogamah (Kiowa and Delaware nations), first performed at La Mama Theater its first piece, Body Indian in 1972. This event signified the beginning of contemporary Native American theater in the United States.
Block : 459 / Lot : 019/ Building Date : 1832-33/1871 alt. / Original Owner : Elisha Peck & Anson G. Phelps (1832-33) ; New York Turn Verein (1871) / Original Use : Residential/Institutional / Original Architect : Unknown (1832-33); Kinkel & Klemt (1871)