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if these walls could talk

Founding
If The Town Hall walls could talk they would relate stories about its part in the electrifying cultural history that has made up the fabric of New York City for more than 80 years. Disclosing a tale of a vibrant group of suffragists (The League for Political Education) whose fight for the 19th Amendment led them to build a meeting space to educate people on the important issues of the day. The Hall was designed by renowned architects McKim, Mead & White to reflect the democratic principles of the League. Box seats were eliminated and no seats had an obstructed view giving birth to the term "Not a bad seat in the house." During completion of the building the 19th Amendment was passed (women's right to vote), and on January 12, 1921 The Town Hall opened its doors and took on a double meaning: as a symbol of the victory sought by its founders, and as a spark for a new, more optimistic climate.

Acoustics
The walls would boast about their superb acoustics and the accidental discovery of them on February 12, 1921 during a recital by Spanish violinist Joan Manen. They would talk about the series of concerts later that season by Austrian composer Richard Strauss giving the Hall it’s christening as an ideal space for musical performances. They would tell you along with the acoustics, the sight lines and remarkable intimacy of the auditorium inspired new and experienced artists, and had a positive effect on audience reception. They would report that whatever the instrument, repertoire or reputation, The Town Hall established itself as the place, second to none, for a performer to make a New York debut.  

Free Speech
They would discuss the controversy surrounding free speech (which thrived at the Hall) but not without resistance relating stories about the time Margaret Sanger, birth control advocate, was arrested and carried off the stage (November 13, 1921) for trying to speak about birth control; or about the second anniversary of the execution of Sacco & Vanzetti, which was held at the Hall when officials in Boston denied the use of Fanueil Hall for the event. 

Early Artistic Development
They would let you know while the lecture series and courses on political and non-political subjects were held here, the Hall also established its reputation as an arts' center in the first fifteen years of its existence. They would brag about the fact that Edna St. Vincent Millay in her New York debut read here in 1928, furthering an already established association with poetry. They would notify you that the Hall began producing music and that the next few seasons The Town Hall Endowment Series featured artists including Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ignace Paderwaski, Lily Pons, Fedor Chaliapin, Yehudi Menuhin, and more. 

A Hall for All the People
They would flaunt that fact that Marian Anderson, contralto, made her New York debut here on December 30, 1935, after being denied an operatic career elsewhere because of discrimination against African-Americans. 

“America’s Town Meetings of the Air”
They would be particularly proud of the exhilarating timely series America's Town Meetings of the Air that spanned over twenty years. They would tell you in 1935, George V. Denny, Jr., associate director of the Hall, conceived an idea putting The Town Hall on the map as a national, and then international, symbol of the free exchange of ideas. The idea, America's Town Meetings of the Air was a radio program in which four speakers discussed a predetermined question. The National Broadcasting Company launched the series on Memorial Day 1935. The first Town Meeting, on the subject of the coexistence of communism, fascism, socialism and democracy, hit NBC's Blue Network airwaves. The success of The Town Meeting was attributed to several things: the dynamic format, the audience participation, the chosen topic which was always relevant to world events, the wide range of experts and well-known personalities that participated and the sheer power of radio at that point in history. One radio station and 500,000 listeners grew to 78 stations and 2.5 million listeners in the course of three years, and "The Town Meetings" became so successful it had to go to court on more than one occasion to protect its name and trademarks. The Town Meeting toured the states and twelve cities on three continents. There were numerous awards, including the George Peabody Institute award (the radio equivalent of the Oscar) in 1950 & 1954 

Lecture Series
They would go on to let you know the thriving Town Meetings were not the only subject of interest at the Hall. Other political events took place including First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, defending the New Deal. They would tell you of the political viewpoints that they heard from Buckminster Fuller, Hubert Humphrey to Margaret Chase Smith. The exotic places they witnessed as Travelogues became a major staple of The Town Hall programming. They would try to articulate the various viewpoints on the arts covered in lecture series featuring Carl Sandburg, Orson Welles, Anais Nin, Oscar Hammerstein II and more appearing, or the other topics that were explored by Eve Curie, Jacques-Yves Costeau, Alister Cooke to name a few. 

Name Dropping
They would name drop and list a few of the people that have graced the stage...

Recent Past
In the recent past, the walls have witnessed performances by ...

Children’s Show
The walls would talk about the laughter and enthusiasm of the over one million children who have passed through the doors—many of them experiencing live performance for the first time.

They would tell you of Town Hall's longstanding alliance with TheatreWorks/USA, which brings about 100,000 children per year to the Hall for shows like A Christmas Carol, Freedom Train, Charlotte's Web, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, as well as other children's presenting organizations.

The walls would speak of Town Hall's own Morning Performances that are offered during the day, free of charge to public school students in grades 3 to 8.

Current Series
Today the walls would tell you about The Town Hall's exciting series: The highly acclaimed Not Just Jazz series (now known as the Spring Series) which is an exciting blend of jazz, poetry, film and dance. The walls would let you know that for over a decade the Not Just Jazz series hosted everything from The Art Ensemble of Chicago to the Lounge Lizards, Cassandra Wilson to Meredith Monk, and DanceBrazil to Allen Ginsberg.

The other series that they would tell you are our critically acclaimed about The Broadway by the Year series, Broadway Cabaret Festival, and the newest jewel in our crown our Summer Broadway Festival.

The walls would encourage you to attend an event at the Hall and experience first hand the intimate venue, and fall in love for yourself.

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE TOWN HALL, OR ARCHIVAL INFORMATION


1920 to 1950
pleae visit
The New York Library for Performing Arts,
40 Lincoln Center Plaza, NY, NY
Tel: 212.870.1630,

1950 to 1960
please visit
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library at NYU
70 Washington Square South, NY, NY
Tel: 212.998.2500.