45 Warburton Avenue, Yonkers
Opened on April 14, 1884, what was officially known as the Yonkers City Music Hall was “a first-class concert hall,” in the words of one writer of the time. The venue was lavishly decorated, with a parquet floor, a balcony, and open boxes; it hosted Vaudeville shows, concerts, and community events. One of the most well-known gatherings took place on June 10, 1903; a public meeting between John C. Havemeyer, head of the American Sugar Refining Company, and two prominent union leaders and the former Socialist Labor Party candidate for governor of New York.
At the turn of the 20th century, Yonkers was a union stronghold with many of the city’s residents sympathetic to socialist politics. As such, high tensions between organized labor and industry were often manifest.
A prime example of these tensions was a letter from Havemeyer published in the Yonkers Herald on April 30, 1903, one in which he condemned the work of unions, arguing that they “occasion great disturbance and damage” to the interests of capital. “Intelligent, industrious, temperate, and skillful men” who ran businesses, he asserted, should not “share their earnings with or bring them down to the level of men with opposite character and habits.”
A little more than a week later, in responding to a letter in the newspaper critical of his anti-union words, Havemeyer issued an invitation to labor leaders to respond publicly to a series of questions that he would pose prior to the event in front of an audience at the Music Hall. Over the next couple of days, the public correspondence between Havemeyer and those critical of his words continued. On May 11th, the local branch of the American Federation of Labor unanimously voted to accept Havemeyer’s challenge and engage in a public discussion about labor.
In the days that followed the gathering at the Music Hall, several Yonkers newspapers, as well as The New York Times, reported on the proceedings. The Herald described the audience as “distinctly pro-labor in its sympathies” and “imbued with socialistic principles.” With more than 1,200 packed into the venue, many were not able to gain entrance. A large crowd also filled the streets outside of the Music Hall, effectively shutting down Washburn Avenue for the day as other speakers responded to Havemeyer’s questions.
Inside the Music Hall, Mr. J. T. Windell, head of the Yonkers Labor Federation, characterized one of Havemeyer’s questions as “foolish;” the questions asked if the intention of unions was to oppose the accumulation of wealth. “It is far from the intention of any sane man to oppose the accumulation of wealth, but we do intend properly to regulate theft,” Windell responded. “Regulating the man who can pile up a thousand millions is just as necessary as regulating pickpockets and gamblers.” Another respondent, Mr. L. D. Russel from the Commercial Telegraphers Union of America called for the end of child labor, while accusing Andrew Carnegie of exploiting children and suggesting that he deserved to go to hell for his industrial practices. According to The New York Times, the crowd, mostly made up of “workingmen,” “applauded long and loud when the speakers made ‘digs’ at Mr. Havemeyer and at rich men in general.”
Originally constructed as the Washburn Building in 1876 for use as a space for business and community gatherings, the structure was renamed the Warburton Building seven years later. After public demand for a larger and more accessible performance space, the Warburton Hall Association began construction of what became the Yonkers City Music Hall
The Yonkers Music Hall continued to serve as a concert space through 1911, hosting comedy musicals like Five Suffragettes and Blossom Seely, and even an assortment of dog shows. Before it was demolished in 1974, the building served multiple purposes: as a performance space, a Vaudeville theater, and even a movie theater. Today, a parking garage sits on the site.
From the Yonkers (Metro North) train station, a 0.2-mile (4-minute) walk. Look for signage outside the station to “Philipse Manor.” The parking garage that occupies the former site of the Warburton Building and Music Hall is next door.
To learn more:
“Labor Leaders Answer John C. Havemeyer; Big Crowd Listens to Speakers in Yonkers Music Hall.” The New York Times, June 10, 1903.
John Thomas Scharf, History of Westchester County: New York, including Morrisania, Kings Bridge, and West Farms, which have been annexed to New York City. Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co, 1886.
Marilyn Weigold and the Yonkers Historical Society, Yonkers in the Twentieth Century, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014.
Various articles from The Yonkers Herald (April-June 1903).