Antebellum Brooklyn was somewhat famously lacking in theatrical venues, especially when compared with New York. This was not entirely unintentional. The Bowery was close enough, and a taciturn pride characterized many Brooklynites who considered their multi-function meeting halls more than suitable for lectures, musical programs, events, and theatricals.
The central venue in the 1840s was Gothic Hall, on the east side of Adams between Nassau and Concord. Built as the Second Presbyterian Church in 1829, the two-story structure was converted to secular use shortly thereafter, but was generally thought to be incommodious for more refined events and programs. After slipping to second-class status with the building of Montague Hall and later the Brooklyn Museum (which plainly existed more for its expansive theater than for its modest upstairs museum rooms), Gothic Hall developed something of a rough reputation, what with its rowdy fireman’s balls and Irish Benevolent Society receptions. Still, it was remembered fondly as a popular and festive resort when fire claimed its timbers in 1882 and it was torn down a year later.
The Brooklyn Museum, west side of Fulton at Orange Street, 1860s
Montague Hall was built in 1845 as the first establishment devoted exclusively to Brooklyn’s social, ceremonial, and artistic life. Its rooms described as “splendid” by an admiring press, the Federal style structure incorporated signature elements of the emerging Greek Revival movement in its “temple front” pediment and center six lintels. The result was decidedly elegant: reserved enough for Brooklyn, but showy enough to excite attending audiences; just the right combination to command both attention and respect on City Hall Square.
Lest anyone think the city’s penchant for reserve (at least as compared with New York) was a reflection of any truly puritan sensibilities, it should be noted that for a certain class of citizen who would in later years be referred to as the “old sports” of early Brooklyn, Montague Hall’s most treasured appointments were its saloon and billiard rooms.
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