Tammany Society Hall
The Tammany Society Hall was opened in 1929 as centre of operations for the notorious political organisation of the same name. From the 1850s to the late 1920s the Tammany Society decided who would govern New York City through an impenetrable network of corruption and bribery. The society’s prominence in New York’s affairs was relatively uninterrupted until the 1930s, when reform mayor Fiorello la Guardia together with Franklin Roosevelt cracked down on reducing the influence of its members. Although crippled, the organisation remained in existence until it was finally ended by Mayor John Lindsay in the 1960s. In 2013 the Tammany Hall building became a landmark site.
Backstory and Context
The Society of Saint Tammany, also known as the Columbian Order, was a political and charitable association established in New York in 1789. It was founded by Revolutionary War veteran William Mooney, and named after a friend of William Penn and Delaware chieftain, Tamanend. Although it started as a society of patriots pursuing charitable causes, ten years later the organisation turned to anti-Federalist political agendas under the direction of Aaron Burr. It was subsequently used to support the elections of Burr and Thomas Jefferson in 1800. From that point on, the Tammany Society became notorious for exchanging votes to manage New York’s political direction. For example, the society acquired an overwhelmingly Irish demographic from 1817, with which they were able to ensure that even more immigrants from their homeland in Europe were admitted to the country. The society managed to get a member, Fernando Wood, elected mayor of the city in 1855, and from that point on practically dominated the most important positions in New York’s political scene. An attempt was made in 1868 by the president of the society, William Marcy Tweed, to spread its influence across the country, yet this plan floundered through the efforts of a competing reform attorney, Samuel Tilden.
In 1927 the Tammany Society left their headquarters from East 14th Street, and commissioned local architects Charles Meyers and Thompson, Holmes, & Converse to construct a new hall on Union Square. Two years later the building was complete. It was built in a Colonial Revival style inspired by the original Federal Hall, in which George Washington took his initial oath of office. The three and a half story structure was of red brick and with a limestone and granite trim. A medallion of Chief Tamanend adorns the facade. Inside, spaces were provided for commercial retailers, offices for the Democratic County Committee, and a public meeting hall. In 1943 ownership of the building transferred from the diminished Tammany Society to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union until 1984, when it became the Union Square Theater. From 1994 it operated as the New York Film Academy. There are plans to refurbish the building in the future, to provide space for offices and retailers.