What was NYC Like 100 Years Ago? Notable Events from New York City in 1923

It’s natural to be focused on the future at the start of the year, but as a history buff, I can’t help but be curious about the past, specifically the distant past of 100 years ago. So after an afternoon of time traveling via the New York Times archives and the small collection of NYC history books I have in my personal library, here are some of the highlights I found regarding life in New York City in 1923.

In 1923, NYC added several places to the built environment that we still treasure today. Future landmarks such as the Imperial Theatre, the Pershing Square Building, and the Bowery Savings Bank Building were completed. Down in Coney Island, New Yorkers were strolling across a section of Riegelmann Boardwalk for the first time, and up in the Bronx, you could spend a night recouping at the newly completed Concourse Plaza Hotel after witnessing a rousing game of baseball at just-built Yankee Stadium.

The original Yankee Stadium in 2002. Photo credit: Severin St. Martin

Speaking of the Yankees, 1923 was a big year for the Bronx Bombers. Not only did this year mark the completion of their first stadium, where they beat the Boston Red Sox 4-1 in the inaugural match, but they also went on to win the World Series agains the New York Giants, the very team who was the cause of the building of Yankee Stadium. (Backstory: the Yankees and the Giants used to share a stadium at the Polo Grounds, but by 1920, the Giants were jealous of how much larger the crowds were for the Yankees than were for them, so they booted the Yanks from upper Manhattan, prompting the Yankees to build their own stadium.) The massive (for the time) stadium would gain nicknames such as “The Cathedral of Baseball” and “The House that Ruth Built,” a reference to Yankees star player Babe Ruth.

News clipping of Alma Cummings. Image credit: Rutgers University Libraries

In other sports news, in March 1923, NYC’s Audubon Ballroom was host to the nation’s first dance marathon. A 32-year-old woman named Alma Cummings won after 27 hours of dancing, setting the first world record. In the process, she wore out six dancing partners and put holes in her shoes. This event set the stage, or rather the dance floor, for what eventually become a dark, somewhat cruel, American pastime.

The Cotton Club in 1923. Photo credit: Jim via Flickr

Attending jazz clubs was another pastime on the rise in 1923 New York City and the Cotton Club opened in Harlem that year to capitalize on the demand. From its location to its plantation and jungle decor to its black performers, the Cotton Club exploited blackness for a whites-only audience. But the famous club was instrumental in getting exposure for a long list of black entertainers such as Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong.

The childhood home of Theodore Roosevelt also opened to the public in 1923. The townhouse that the New York-born president lived in from his birth in 1858 until 1872 was replicated to how little Teedie would have remembered it. Hundreds of people packed the narrow Gramercy street to view items like young Theodore’s medicine ball and Indian clubs upon the museum’s October 1923 opening.

Other events that captivated New Yorkers in 1923 included Harry Houdini’s escape from a straight jacket while dangling in the air by his ankles 40 feet above ground. NYC was one of several stops the 50-year-old Houdini made on his first cross-country tour since 1915.

1923 was quite a year for New York City. Are there any other notable events from New York City in 1923 that I didn’t mention? Share it in the comment section. 

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