The working class Irish neighborhood of old and new law tenements immediately west of the theater district in Manhattan was once one of the toughest areas in the City where the Irish street gangs, bootleggers, gamblers and mobsters held sway. However, it is today home to major law, accounting and advertising firms, off-broadway theaters and trendy bars and restaurants as well as upscale apartment buildings in which actors and young professionals reside.
Nevertheless, many do not realize that the political leadership of the area has remained the same for the last 100 years. For the past 50 years, the Democratic party district leader of the area has been the legendary Jimmy McManus, fourth generation of the McMani of Tammany Hall, whose McManus Midtown Democratic Club is the oldest continuously functioning Democratic Club in New York City, and has controlled the area politically since 1892 when Jim’s great grand uncle defeated Tammany leader George Washington Plunkitt. Another notable figure the tour will discuss is Frances Perkins. Perkins, a social worker in Hell’s Kitchen who later became FDR’s Labor Secretary and creator of Social Security, got her start in New York politics in 1910 by a chance meeting with Thomas J. McManus.
A unique tour on Sunday March 23 from 1-4 pm with historian James Kaplan will discuss the political history of the area, including its evolution from the days when the gentleman mobster Owney Madden (believed to be the inspiration for Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby) ran the liquor distribution in the City during Prohibition (as well as the Cotton Club in Harlem and leading prize fighters) to the days in the 1950’s of turf wars between Irish and Puerto Rican gangs (the inspiration for West Side Story), to the ultimately successful struggle in the 1970’s by the community in alliance with the Catholic Church to save the area and the adjacent theater district from the proliferation of pimps, prostitutes and pornographic purveyors.
The tour will also discuss the close and symbiotic relationship of the Hell”s Kitchen community with the theater district, and how Off Broadway theater companies and playwrights such as Wendy Wasserstein helped revitalize the Broadway theater. It will also discuss the influence of such groups as the “West Side Kids” whose alumni include the area’s representatives in both Congress and the New York State assembly, as well as political consultants who managed the successful reelection campaigns of President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin.
It will end with a visit to one of the neighborhood’s local bars, Mickey Spillane’s.
Tickets are $12.50. The tour will begin at St Patrick’s Cathedral, 5th Avenue and E 50th St, New York, NY on Sunday, March 23, at 1 pm (it will end about 4 pm). RSVP online here.