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In defiant answer to the Crash of 1929, New York City reinvented itself in a great architectural and creative explosion. Artists of all kinds had a hand in redefining New York’s spirit and skyline. Spend a day exploring how music, theater, art, and architecture played a critical role during the city’s lean years.
Broadway shook off the blues in shows by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hart, and movie-goers found escape in the lavish musicals of Busby Berkeley. Legitimate theater was at its producing peak, premiering now-classic works by Eugene O’Neill, Robert Sherwood, Clifford Odets, and other noted writers. The music of Harlem spread across the nation over the airwaves. Artists, musicians, and writers flourished in the bohemian hothouse of Greenwich Village.
In rapid succession, the Museum of Modern Art, Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and Radio City Music Hall became symbols of the on-the-rise metropolis. Parkways and commanding bridges created new portals to the city.
Charismatic mayor Fiorello LaGuardia gave hope and heart to the city, and the urban visions of architect Robert Moses tied the boroughs together. The 1939 World’s Fair climaxed the decade, as a shining vision of the World of Tomorrow rose from a one-time ash pit in Queens and crowned New York City’s spectacular rebirth.
With a cast that ranges from the Gershwins to John D. Rockefeller to Toscannini, popular Smithsonian presenters (and native New Yorkers) Saul Lilienstein and George Scheper team up to bring a seminal decade to life in film, recordings, visuals, and insightful commentary.
9:30 to 10:45 a.m. New York and the Crash: The Big Hangover
The Depression took a tremendous toll on New York, as on the rest of the country, but forces unique to the city powered the process of recovery. The Empire State Building; the photos of Lewis Hine; songs for hard times from Tin Pan Alley; Fiorello La Guardia and the genesis of the New Deal.
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Uptown, Downtown: Harlem’s Soul and the Village’s Bohemian Spirit
Harlem and Greenwich Village, twin dynamos of Manhattan culture in the ’20s, struggle to adapt to the Depression. Swing in black and white: the music of Duke Ellington, Count, Basie, and Benny Goodman. Avant-garde arts and the WPA’s new social realism flourish.
12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Lunch
Participants provide lunch on their own
1:30 to 2:45 p.m. Show Biz: Chorus Lines and Bread Lines
Popular entertainment provides a refuge as well as a reflection of the era. Broadway musical theater masters; film extravaganzas of Busby Berkeley; the groundbreaking Porgy and Bess; the Federal Theater Project’s experiments and the legendary The Cradle Will Rock.
3 to 4:15 p.m. Comeback: Rebuilding a City in Culture and Concrete
New York’s new vibrancy is reflected throughout the city. Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall; the Metropolitan Opera and superstars Flagstad and Melchior; Toscannini leads the New York Philharmonic; Robert Moses, the city’s master urban planner; the World’s Fair.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Drive, SW
Metro: Smithsonian Mall Exit (Blue/Orange)