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113 Jane Street: The Avant-Garde’s Afterlife

  • William B. Harris - Walking Tour

One evening in October 1975, William Harris visited the Persona Café, a combination restaurant and performance space, to see Dion Boucicault’s nineteenth-century melodrama, The Poor of New York. He reported to his readers that Director Camille Lane successful recreated the theatrical mood and style of the era, and that B. Winner, who played a young lady social climber, combined “the proper melodramatic posturing with a Seventies undercurrent, which is both sexual and aggressive.”  It was a pleasant evening, and an ephemeral one. Performance at Jane Street was a bridge between one use of the building and another. The building started as a project of the American Seamen’s Friend Society. Founded in 1828 to assist sailors, in 1907 the organization laid a cornerstone on the corner of West and Janes Streets for the construction of a combination hotel, restaurant, and sailors’ social-service center. Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, widow of financier Russell, donated half the money for the building. The architect, William A. Boring, whose previous work included Ellis Island, created a huge red brick facility trimmed in white limestone carved with nautical motifs and originally topped with a beacon. The building’s aesthetic merits led to status as a New York City landmark. The building also played a role in at least one historic event. In 1912, some of the sailors who survived the Titanic sinking stayed there after their rescue. As the docks moved north to the West Fifties, demand for the building’s services declined. By 1952, it was a cheap residential hotel supplementing its income by renting performance spaces. Probably the most famous performance to take place there was Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The play opened at Westbeth, but during the summer of 1997, the performing company found the Riverview Hotel, the building’s name then, had an unused ballroom. The company reduced the size of the bar, increased the size of the stage, installed 250 seats, and stopped there, letting the ballroom’s shabby looks serve as part of the scenery. This stream of theatrical events at 113 Jane Street was the first step in the building’s revival. In 2009, hotel developers Sean McPherson and Eric Goode opened the building as The Jane, with the ballroom-turned theatre taking on a new life as a bar.