In 1909, the Houston Hippodrome, a Yiddish vaudeville house and movie theater, opened on this site in a former church (and former boxing venue). The Hippodrome was the site of a fatal panic in 1913, in which two moviegoers were trampled to death and many others injured amid a frenzied crowd trying to flee the theater after a boy in the balcony yelled "Fire!" when a small blaze, promptly extinguished, broke out in the projection booth. Madness quickly overtook the audience, whom the New-York Tribune described as being largely composed of "Italians, Russians and other excitable persons." The paper went on report:
Men were the first to gain the aisles, sweeping women and children to one side in their headlong rush for safety. In their hysterical haste they stumbled and fell down the steps, only to be fallen upon by those in the rear, who shouted wildly for help. In a moment the stairways were blocked with fighting, tearing men and women.In the aftermath of this incident, the city passed legislation introducing new safety regulations for theaters. The Hippodrome was renovated accordingly and continued to operate under different names for a few more years. Some sources I've found say the building was demolished in 1917 and replaced by the Sunshine Theater, while others say it was left standing and converted into the Sunshine that same year.
Seeing the majority of those in the balcony making for the main entrance, the rest of the audience started for the side exits. They did not wait for these doors to be opened by the special officers on guard, but butted their way toward them, almost ripping the doors from their hinges. When they reached the fire escape landing they fell to their knees and were caught in the crush behind them. . . .
The shrieks of the men, women and children buried underneath in the mass of humanity could be heard for blocks around. It was feared that most of those, numbering almost five hundred, piled up in the heap had been killed.
Five minutes after the accident happened Battalion Chief John Kelly, with Truck Company 9, and Engine Company 25 arrived. Kelly got his men to push the crowd back. This, however, was impossible. Then he ordered his men to jump over the crowd and throw them back. This was effective. In ten minutes Kelly managed to get most of the panicstricken persons back into the theatre. Then the work of removing the dead and injured began.
Parked outside the Dutch Girl Cleaners at 1082 Park Avenue, a.k.a. "Sicily in terra cotta"
I saw several buildings on Park Avenue today with similar lights; the idea is that a doorman will turn on the bulb when a resident of his building needs a cab at night. (The security camera above the light is unrelated to the taxi-signaling efforts.)
According to a 2003 NY Times article entitled "Futile Beacons of a Bygone Age":
Hundreds of these little lights can still be found in the city's upscale neighborhoods. . . .
An informal poll of more than a dozen doormen on the Upper East and West Sides suggests that the system has long stopped working.
"They just drive on by," said a doorman at a building on 79th Street near York Avenue. "We only do it to make the residents happy." . . .
Andrew Alpern, the author of "Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan: An Illustrated History," suggests that these urban fireflies date to the 1940's, or more specifically World War II. As men went off to war, a dearth of doormen ensued.
"Without a doorman to hail the cab for you," Mr. Alpern said, "they may have started putting in these lights so that the elevator man could flip on the taxi light. And that would be the extent of his trying to get a cab for you."
As the text inscribed above the doorway indicates, the first incarnation of this Upper East Side church was built around 1767 down on Beekman Street. That structure served the congregation until 1856, with the exception of several years during the Revolutionary War when the British used it briefly as a prison and then turned it into a hospital. The second Brick Church opened in 1858 on Fifth Avenue and 37th Street, and the present building was dedicated here at Park Avenue and 91st Street in 1940.
Tucked away in a little indentation in the facade is a stone that reads "PVB Livingsto 1767". It is apparently a replica of a foundation stone from the original church building; Peter Van Brugh Livingston was an elder of the congregation who, according to the church, "was instrumental in securing" a perpetual lease for the site on Beekman Street, which a 1909 NY Times article described as "about the finest piece of property the city owned . . . that very choice bit of real estate bounded to-day by Nassau and Beekman Streets and Park Row". (Full disclosure: the Times's headquarters occupied the same site for almost half a century after the church left in 1856.) A history of the church published in 1909, whose release prompted the aforementioned Times article, offers a different opinion, however, saying that "the property in question had in 1765 comparatively little value. . . . [The land] was on the extreme northern edge of the city."