Arion Hall

Arion Hall, 11-27 Arion Place

Between Broadway and Beaver Street

Arion Hall, 2011. Credit: Sarah Rosenblatt

Year Built: 1887
Building Type: Institution
Architect: Theobald M. Engelhardt
Builder: Unknown
Original Owner: Arion Singing Society

History and Analysis

Cover of Egon Eisenhauer, Auf Flügeln des Gesanges die Deutschlandreise des Arion von Brooklyn (Brooklyn: F. Wiedner Printing & Publishing Company, 1908).

The Romanesque Revival style brick building at 11-27 Arion Place makes tangible in built form the importance of music and song to the German community. The German Männerchöre, or singing societies, are primarily known today for their sponsorship of huge choral festivals and their significant contributions to the growth of choral singing in the United States. Founded by new waves of German immigrants fleeing political and social upheaval, these groups became a familiar part of the urban cultural landscape by the 1840s.[1] In 1880, there were over 168,000 Germans living in New York, constituting 14 percent of the overall population.[2] By 1920, however, German music had all but disappeared from the popular experience, a casualty of the steady expansion of American popular culture and exacerbated by the experience of World War I.

The Arion Singing Society of Brooklyn, a German choral group based in Brooklyn’s Eastern District, was first organized in 1867.[3] After using temporary rehearsal spaces for many decades, the society purchased the property in 1886 on what was then Wall Street for $18,000, and commissioned prolific Brooklyn architect Theobald M. Engelhard to design and construct a permanent home for $65,000. Engelhardt’s plan called for a three-story structure with a brick and terra cotta façade and a double entrance on the first floor surrounded by double windows. Two rows of six double windows articulate the second and third floors. Originally, the basement contained three bowling alleys, a bathroom, a storage room, and a kitchen. A billiard room, dining room, wine vault, and generous vestibule comprised the ground floor. Two flights of stairs ascended to the second floor, where the spacious lobby and the ballroom were located. Adjoining the ballroom were a sitting room and refreshment room. The singing hall of the society occupied the topmost story, “with the nicest regard to acoustic advantages,” as well as committee rooms, the ladies’ parlor, a dressing room, and several cloakrooms.[4]

In his review of the New York music scene during the first season at Arion Hall, critic Henry Edward Krehbiel described the importance of musical traditions to residents of the city’s German enclaves, “The transplanted German did not forget that custom in the new life opened to him here. In the midst of the bustling noises of the city he manages to hear the song of the Loreley and the murmur of the Rhine, and on the treeless western prairie he can yet find the shadows of the Schwarzwald. It is because of this that every American community containing a few hundred Germans boasts its singing society.”[5]

[6] By 1891, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac could list twenty-seven German singing societies in Brooklyn alone with a membership of thirteen hundred and an active chorus of six hundred.[7]

The Arion Singing Society’s founding conductor, Edward Wich, served until his death until 1886. He was succeeded by Alexander Rihm, who resigned in 1890, after which Arthur Claassen was named musical director. Classeen had been trained at the Conservatory in Weimar and had conducted at prestigious opera houses in Germany before coming to the United States.[8] The Brooklyn group consistently won top accolades in the various singing festivals or Sängerfests, including one that took place in Brooklyn in 1900 at which the Arions won the Minnesänger Prize donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II.[9] The Brooklyn Arions sang at he Expositions in Chicago (1893), St. Louis (1904), and Jamestown (1907). In the summer of 1908 they toured Germany after having entertained President Roosevelt at the White House.[10]

The Arion Singing Society founded a women’s chorus in 1893, a children’s choir school in 1903, and began an orchestra in 1910. Arion Hall was in 1919 when about one hundred members and their sons fought in the First World War, and the building was sold in 1920 with new clubrooms constructed in 1924. One of the last public concerts of the Brooklyn Arions was their performance at a Steuben Day benefit concert in New York on November 27, 1983.[11] The organization’s honorary president, Willie Schoeps, was quoted as lamenting the demise of sizable German-American enclaves in the city from which the club had traditionally recruited its members: “Our old timers came here in search of a better life and, like other immigrant groups, they banded together for their own enjoyment and well-being. . . . But these newcomers usually are more affluent, better educated and seek to get into the American mainstream right away. They seem to prefer a suburban life style, and their ties with the culture and customs of the old country are not nearly so strong.”[12]

Arion-Halle, a Poem by Henry Führer

From Henry Führer, Deutschlandfahrt des Arion von Brooklyn im Sommer 1908 (Brooklyn: F. Weidner Printing & Publishing Co., 1910), page 4:

Bald fasste der Gedanke Keim Bei Männern wie bei Frauen,
Dem deutschen Lied ein trautes Heim
Im fremden Land zu bauen.
Man überlegte hin und her,
Was das wohl könnte kosten
Und welche Gegend passend wär’,
Im Westen oder Osten.
Dort, wo er einst den Ursprung fand,
War nicht Arions Bleiben;
Der Stadttheil war zu unbekannt,
Zu fern vom grossen Treiben.
In diesem Sinn ging spät und früh
Ein Committee auf Reisen
Und hatte bald für seine
Müh’ Auch etwas aufzuweisen.
Flugs einen Bauplatz, schön und gross,
Fand es auf seinen Wegen;
Der passte für den Zweck famos
Und war central gelegen.
In kurzer Zeit kam es zum Kauf,
Dann fing man an zu bauen;
Die Mauern thürmten sich hinauf,
Gar herrlich anzuschauen.
Und wie geplant, so kam das Haus
In Kurzem zur Vollendung;
Es sah recht schmuck und stattlich aus
Und praktisch zur Verwendung.
Gar festlich ward es eingeweiht
Mit höchst solenner Feier,
Ein Denkmal, das für alle Zeit
Den Sängern hoch und theuer.
Sie schauten stolz im Bau sich um
Und Freudenrufe schallten:
„Das ist jetzt unser Eigenthum,
Wir wollen hoch es halten!”
Und die Passiven im Verein,
Sie schmunzeln nun und lachen: ..
Die Hypothek ist zwar nicht klein,
Doch das wird sich schon machen!”
Arion Hall.
Soon, the idea took seedIn men and women,
The German song is a sweet home
To build in the foreign country.
We wondered back and forth
What the cost might well
And which area would be more appropriate’,
In the West or East.
Where he once found the source,
Arion was not staying;
The part of the town was unknown,
Too far from the big doings.
In this sense, was late and early
A Committee on Travel
And soon for his pains
Also some exhibit.
Flight a building site, nice and big,
Found it in his ways;
The splendid fit for the purpose
And was located central.
In a short time it came to buy,
Then they began to build;
The walls thürmten up to
Splendidly to look at.
And as planned, it was the house
In a short time to complete;
It looked very pretty and handsome
And practical to use.
Even it was festively inaugurated
With most solemn celebration,
A monument for all time
The singers and highly expensive.
They looked proud in the construction are
And shouts of joy rang:
“This is now our property,
We want to keep it up! “
And the liabilities of the association,
Now they smile and laugh:..
The mortgage is not small,
But that will make it!”