There’s a grand old brick building at 74 East 4th Street in the East Village, midblock between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Since 1967 home to La Mama Experimental Theatre, the building went up in 1873 and was designed by architect August H. Blankenstein for the German professional orchestral musicians’ social and benevolent association, Aschenbrödel Verein, and was originally known as Aschenbrödel Hall (the name comes from the organization’s first president, August Asche; “Aschenbrödel” is also a ballet by Johann Strauss based on the “Cinderella” fairytale). The East Village was known as Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany, in the late 1800s and into the 20th Century, because of its many German immigrants. The General Slocum steamboat tragedy, June 15, 1904, cost Little Germany the lives of over 1000 residents as they were en route to one of the many recreational spots on the north shore of Long Island. After that, many of the East Village’s German residents dispersed to places such as Yorktown on the Upper East Side and elsewhere. Traces of Little Germany can still be found in the area, and this building is one such relic.
What has always fascinated me about the place is the three fellows whose busts appear above the lengthy casement windows on the 2nd floor. Most prominent, in the center, is a bewigged representation of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 –1791), flanked by Felix Mendelssohn, (1809 –1847) and of course, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)–a classical music hit parade.
Nearby is the Ottendorfer Library-German Dispensary on 2nd Avenue between East 8th and 9th Street, one of the country’s first lending libraries, and a physician’s office depicting busts both mythical and historical figures in the field of medicine. The East Village is quite busty, indeed.
Though the Hall is landmarked, there is a proposal to restore the building to former grandeur. However the busts would be less prominent: see the proposal here.
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