Benjamin Baker’s 1848 farce A Glance at New York, which I wrote about earlier this week, concludes in Vauxhall Gardens, a “pleasure garden” situated on Lafayette between 4th and 8th. Wikipedia has a decent entry on it, drawing for the most part from Mark Caldwell’s New York Night (2005) and Mary Henderson’s classic The City and the Theatre (rev. ed. 2004).
According to the article, the pleasure garden — named after the famous London entertainment spot — was originally opened by Samuel Fraunces, proprietor of Fraunces Tavern, a version of which remains on lower Pearl Street in the financial district. His Vauxhall existed in present-day TriBeCa, at the intersection of Greenwich and Chambers, where my daughters’ old elementary school, P.S. 234, now stands. It later moved to Broome Street, between Broadway and Bowery (which is where I happen to live), and then relocated to Lafayette between 4th and 8th (pictured above in 1803), where it remained until 1859. Until the middle of the 1850s its facilities included an outdoor theater and restaurants. It would have been this location represented in Glance‘s final scene.
Several things strike me as interesting about the gardens’ final location. First, it would have been adjacent the Astor Place Opera House, scene of New York’s most infamous theater riots in 1849, only a year after Glance premiered. (The land the gardens were on also belonged to Astor.) Second, its location — with Broadway on one side and Bowery on the other — placed it smack in between the centers of upper-class fashion and working-class life. Vauxhall also would have separated the Bowery culture from the Olympic Theater, on Broadway (though a little lower, between Howard and Grand), where Glance opened. (See my prior post for a contemporary protest against the impact the play had on the theater’s audience makeup.)
According to the Wikipedia article, again citing Henderson and Caldwell, the gardens drew patrons from both elite and working-class neighborhoods until around 1850, when the Bowery folks won out for the park’s remaining decade. This would make Benjamin Baker’s choice of the spot for the conclusion of his play a rather interesting symbolic geography: a place where classes mingled, but one increasingly coming under working-class influence. And it does seem as if Mose and Lize are more at home at Vauxhall than are the play’s upper-class characters. Harry, one of the wealthier characters, acknowledges to his new girlfriend Jane that she has “condescen[ded]” to “honoring this place with [her] presence.” By contrast, Mose, with his “outr