In the theatrical parlance of the day, the place was a Jonah, a hoodoo. Manager Adolph Philipp was able to lift the jinx but only temporarily.
Built at Astor Place, on property belonging to Sailors’ Snug Harbor, the building had been the Church of St. Ann’s, originally Protestant Episcopal and later Roman Catholic. The structure was sold to A. T. Stewart and Company in 1871 for factory use. At the end of the decade, Jacob Aberle converted the space to a theatre, opening with an evening of variety on September 8th, 1879. It also served as a showcase for the questionable acting talents of his daughter Lena. The place enjoying a dubious reputation.
The New York Times, January 8, 1882:
“Aberle’s Theatre, on Eighth street, in the opinion of the Chief [Battalion Chief Bresnan, of the Fire Department], is a rookery that should be closed until it is so far rebuilt as to be in some measure safe. It is, in his opinion, a proper subject of inspection for the health and judicial departments, as it is one of the filthiest places in the City, the galleries being as he expressed it, ‘as dirty as the streets.'”
After being dark for several months, John Thompson took over management, first naming the theatre Grand Central, a variety house opening on November 5, 1883. It became John Thompson’s Eighth Avenue Theatre with the play Ingomar on June 2, 1884 . Despite attempts at legitimacy, the place still enjoyed a certain air of unsavoriness.
New York Times, February 23, 1885:
“Capt. John J. Brogan, of the Fifteenth Precinct, made a descent early yesterday morning on John Thompson’s theatre and hotel, Nos. 145 and 147 Eighth street, and surprised about 120 persons of both sexes, who were taking part in or spectators of a degrading exhibition of the can-can.”
One production of note was Othello, presented on June 30, 1884 by the Astor Place Combination, “a company of colored actors.” Closed for a year, the theatre was finally leased, from the Stewart heirs, by John F. Poole.
The New York Times, September 4, 1886:
“The whilom church in Eighth street, near Broadway, which was degraded into a variety theatre, has undergone another transformation, and Monday night will take its place among the first-class theatres in New York under the management of John F. Poole and under the name
Poole expressed his “queer theory about the empty seats” to the New York Times, March 19, 1887. He had just found out that the contractor, who remodeled the interior, had employed non-union laborers. Designed for the working people of the neighborhood, the theatre now
“suffered from a silent boycott” by local audiences. Poole closed on September 1, 1888.
The theatre reopened briefly as a Yiddish house with King Solomon on September 21, 1888. A series of unsuccessful German productions followed at the beginning of 1889. In November of that year, it became The Comedy Theatre followed by Kennedy’s Comedy Theatre in April 1890.
After having been closed for some time, the house, newly painted and redecorated, now known as The Germania Theatre, threw opened its door on September 14, 1894 with Adolph Phillipp as manager.
New York Herald, April 6, 1902:
“Under Mr. Phillipp’s management the theatre has enjoyed much prosperity and some of his plays have had notable long runs.”
The theatre finally became a successful venue catering to the taste of German audiences. However the hoodoo, the Jonah still waited in the wings.
New York Herald, April 6, 1902:
“Another theatrical landmark is to go by the board. This time it is the Germania Theatre, in Eighth street, which is to come down for rapid transit improvements.”
Adolf Phillipp made arrangements for a new place on East Fourteenth Street, closing the Germania in 1903. The former church demolished a year later.
Postcard the collection of Theatre Talks LLC