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441 West 26th: Hudson Theatre Guild and the Many Neighbors in One Neighborhood

  • William B. Harris - Walking Tour

William Harris joined other New York City theatre critics at the Hudson Guild Theatre at 441 West 26th Street in early January 1979 to report on the New York premier of Tennessee Williams’ latest play, the two-scene, one-act A Lovely Sunday for Crève Couer. Author of such instant classics as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on Hot Tin Roof, Williams led a turbulent personal life, and Crève-Couer was a chance to see if he still had his old spark. Critics disagreed on Williams’ writing, but there was general agreement that Shirley Knight, who played the main character, Dorothea, was marvelous. Harris’s contribution was to interview Knight and to capture her more modest assessment. “I’m acting the part. I haven’t become the person yet.” Knight might not have had a chance to develop the character; Crève-Couer closed in February. This may have had less to do with the play than with the demand for the space, which was part of a busy community agency. The Hudson Guild had its inspiration in Hull House, Jane Addams’ Chicago “settlement house,” where American-born, college-educated youth literally settled in urban, immigrant, industrial neighborhoods, where they used their studies to identify and meet neighborhood needs. In March 1895, New Yorker John Lovejoy Elliott applied Addams’ model to Chelsea, which within fifty years had gone from a well-to-do enclave to a neighborhood for the working poor of the docks on the west and the garment factories on the east. Elliott rented rooms on West 25th Street, for children’s activities. In 1897, Elliott legally incorporated the Hudson Guild. On October 13, 1907, the Hudson Guild broke ground for its first building, at 436 West 27th Street. The building offered services that varied over time with neighborhood needs. Theatre began in the 1920s, theatre. In 1947, Hudson Guild opened affordable housing developments named for John Elliott and the Chelsea neighborhood; the New York City Housing Authority now oversees them. In 1965, the Guild demolished its 1907 building and moved to 441 West 26th Street, to a building with a small basement theatre. By then, Chelsea was transitioning from empty factories to artists’ studios and then to luxury housing, and from empty docks to recreational opportunities along the Hudson River. Hudson Guild then became a bulwark to continue to meet the needs of the neighborhood’s longtime working class residents amidst the jump to luxury housing and a focus on cultural and recreational opportunities.