What an Electrifying Past: 19-25 St. Marks Place
One of the many wonderful things about the East Village is the fascinating layers of history that convey the evolution of the neighborhood. The buildings at 19-23 St. Mark’s Place are an excellent example of how the East Village has changed over time from a wealthy merchants neighborhood, to a landing spot for immigrants, to the launch pad for numerous counterculture and artistic movements. Where else would one find a building which had been townhouses for wealthy families, a ballroom, a gangster hangout, a Polish wedding chapel, and a performance venue with the Velvet Underground as the house band?
The buildings at 19-23 St. Marks Place have been altered over the years diluting the handsome architecture of
the original designs. They were built as three separate rowhouses in the early 1830s by real estate developer Thomas E. Davis who constructed many of the homes on this block of St. Marks Place. This undated photo at left gives a sense of how impressive the buildings were. We can also see the buildings’ resemblance to two New York City Landmarks in the same block, the Hamilton Holly House at 4 St. Marks Place (a federal house which GVSHP helped get landmarked in 2003) and the Daniel Le Roy House at 20 St. Marks Place, below at right. These early buildings are truly a rarity and unfortunately many are often targets for development. Most recently an earlier building at 135 Bowery was stripped of its landmark status by the City Council.
Reflecting the changing demographics of the neighborhood in 1870, the buildings at 19 and 21 St. Marks Place were acquired by the Arion Society, a German music club, one of many that emerged in the East Village as it developed into Kleindeustchland, or Little Germany. When the Arion Society moved uptown in 1887 all three buildings were purchased by George Erhet and combined into community halls and ballrooms as Arlington Hall. Arlington Hall hosted everyone from Theodore Roosevelt, when he was a NYC Police Commissioner, to William Randolph Hearst. One of its most infamous incidents occurred on January 6, 1914 when there was a mob shootout between Jewish mobsters led by Benjamin “Dope Benny” Fein and Italian gangster Jack Sirocco’s crew. To learn more about some of the East Village’s mob history check out our other posts, here and here.
In 1920 the buildings were acquired by the Polish National Home or Polski Dom Narodowy, a community meeting hall and restaurant. The building began to transform again as the Beat Generation took root in the Village in the 1950s and 1960s. A performance space was opened in part of the basement that became a dance venue known as The Dom that attracted mostly black patrons. In an odd twist of “upstairs/downstairs” a short time later in 1966 Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey rented the upstairs space to open a psychedelic performance venue known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable with The Velvet Underground as the house band.
Under new management it reopened as the Electric Circus, a chic bohemian nightclub that drew more than 3,000 people to its opening night, according to contemporary coverage in The Village Voice. As evidence of its “boho chicness,” the interior pictured below, was designed to resemble a 1960s version of a Bedouin tent.
So what happened to the Electric Circus? One could say it fell victim to the increasingly radicalized activity centered in the East Village in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In March 1970 a bomb was set off in the middle of the dance floor, injuring dozens. Though unconfirmed the bombing was attributed the Black Panther Party. The club never regained its chic reputation and closed in 1971.
In the 1980s and 1990s the building was the All Craft Center, an addiction treatment and housing facility run by local interfaith minister Joyce Hartwell. A 1998 article from the New York Times recounted Hartwell’s unrealized plans to add a large tower to the facility in the adjoining rear lot. Not only were Hartwell’s plans unrealized, due to the group’s financial difficulties in 2000 the building was sold to a developer.
The developer dramatically altered the building, pictured above prior to construction. The interior was gutted, a new façade was built, two floors were added and the basement through second floors were converted to retail use. While the history of the building is fascinating its unfortunate alteration underscores the value of landmark designation as a means to protect the architectural and cultural history of the East Village. At GVSHP we view the East Village historic districts proposed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission as an important first step towards protecting the areas historic fabric.
11 responses to “What an Electrifying Past: 19-25 St. Marks Place”
I was part of a CETA program in 1978 called the All Craft Foundation that was in the old Electric Circus on St Marks Place. I just did a Google search looking for information about it, and except for one reference to a female electrician apprentice, there is no mention of the All Craft FOUNDATION, just the All Craft CENTER at the site. The All Craft Foundation at the All Craft Center was a CETA training program to help get women into non traditional jobs. They taught four things – Carpentry, Plumbing, Cabinet Making and Electrical. I have seen some reference to the Lady Carpenter program, but not to the four pronged program that I participated in for four months during 1978. I am afraid that anyone I tell (a resume, perhaps?) that I was part of the All Craft Foundation on St Marks Place will think that I was part of the drug addiction and alcohol rehabilitation that took place there. That is the only thing that seems to be mentioned in articles online – the addiction center. When I was there, I think AA met in the basement, and that was all. I don’t remember the names of the people running the program when I was in it, and was hoping to find some information online about the program, even if just to reminisce about it. Rev. Joyce Hartwell is the only name I see mentioned, and I don’t know if that person had anything to do with the program I was in. Couldn’t you write something about the All Craft Foundation, what it did, who was involved, etc? I gained a lot from that program. I did not go into any of the professions they trained us for there, but I did go on to join the Army, from which I am now retired, and the skills I learned at All Craft greatly helped me while in. I still have a cabinet that we made in class there, so when I look at it I recall my teachers and classmates, and wonder what happened to them all. Thank you very much! Diane Tominaga All Craft alumni
I went to All Craft center under Joyce Hartwell. 1981. I was never aware of ANY “addiction treatment and housing facility”. Perhaps that came after my departure. I was certified in 4 trades, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and cabinet making classes. There was a nursery downstairs, where I left my children each day.
It has been my sense of strength all these years. I can always fall back on my skills, learned here, for survival.
I also remember with the “Electric Circus”, with the Dom, downstairs below it. I often attended the Dom, with my siblings, 1973. Those were good times!
I also had the pleasure, and privilege of knowing, learning, building, and creating under the umbrella of The Lady Carpenter. My only addiction was my desire to build a better life using the skills I learned at All-Craft Center.
Joyce’s dream made me dream bigger! I will forever be grateful to her, and the women of All-Craft Center. I was in the graduating class of June 5 1987! We celebrated our new beginning with the theme song: “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now”. I’ll never forget any of my peers, and instructors.
God Bless, and keep us all.
I would like to supply information.
hi joyce. I was there during the 90’s. I attribute my 28 years clean to All-Craft. It was a safe place for people in recovery to hang out and fellowship. I remember making 5 or 6 NA meetings a day there, when i first got clean! The 3 o’clock meeting,Midnight Miracles on Friday and Saturday nights were my favorites. The card games, the club upstairs, not a drink in the place. I Met alot of friends there…”people who are not using , and found a new way of life” Thanks for the memories.
Hi joyce I was in the drug and alcohol program as well I also was with the women in the ceta program your program helped me alot very grateful for that building and the amazing people I met there. You may not remember me Kenneth laudano. You also helped me get out of jail from Nassau county ny.
St.Marks saved a lot of lives for those of us in Recovery from Drugs and Alcohol. It had 12 step meetings around the clock.
I owe my 30 years Sober to Saint Marks Place.