“Crossing Delancey”*

*Crossing Delancey is a 1988 American romantic comedy film starring Amy Irving and Peter Riegert. It is directed by Joan Micklin Silver and was based on a play by Susan Sandler, who also wrote the screenplay.

From: Penelope Fitzgerald: Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984) Chapter Nineteen – Delancey Street:

“…Only in March, the cold, wet March of 1922, did she find…the upper two floors of 86 Delancey Street, between Camden Town and Regent’s Park…it could pass as a “good address”, and it had the advantage of being high up and airy. Looking down from the windows, you could get a glimpse of children playing and sometimes a Punch and Judy in the street below. Opposite there was a convent with green-painted shutters which reminded Charlotte a little of France…

Delancey Street is farther to the north of London than Bloomsbury, and gradually the Mews began to see more of friends in Hampstead…”

From: Streets of Camden Town (Camden History Society, 2003):

“Route 5 – Mornington Crescent to Parkway

…Linger at the junction with Delancey Street. This northern end was originally Stanhope Street (Caroline Fitzroy, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Grafton, married William Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Harrington in 1746). It was combined in 1867 with Warren Street (at the High Street end) to form Delancey Street, named after James Delancey Esq. of Marylebone, to whom, in 1795, the Fitzroys granted a number of fields between the High Street and Regent’s Park…”

From the website Edith’s Streets – Delancey Street:

3-7 The Forge Arts venue. This was the Swiss/French restaurant, the Delancy Café now gone but was a girls school. It opened in 2009 as a music venue for world music, poetry and spoken word. The building has won awards and has solar panels, natural ventilation systems and a living wall.

11 Camden Coffee Shop there since the 1950s run by George Constinantou since 1978 when he took over from his uncle. Coffee roasting is all done on the premises using a machine from the 1960s and one from 1912.

15 Delancy Studios, a development by Camden Council. 1981 by Camden Architects Dept.  On the site of a plasterworks

18 The Delancey. This is now flats

1618 (Tate website: In Delancey Street, a former public hall turned ‘billiards lounge’ became a roller-skating rink in 1903, capitalising on the popular craze of the day, and then in 1908 the Fan cinema. Further picture houses opened soon after.) Camden Snooker Club. This was a 19th century public hall, in use as a roller skating rink in 1903. It opened as the Dara Cinema in 1908. It had a wooden pay-box at the street entrance, which survived until recently. There was no foyer and street doors led straight into the auditorium which was at one level and parallel to Delancy Street.  It also had a sliding roof to allow ventilation in hot weather. It was re-named Fan Cinema, lost its licence in 1917 and closed. In 1919 it reopened as a billiard hall and this continued until the 1960’s when it became Dara Bingo Club. By the early-1990’s it was the Camden Snooker Club., It closed in 2011, and was demolished in 2012.

27 Skola. English language school

(The poet Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin lived at number 54 Delancey Street, Camden Town, with their three children, in a three-room basement flat from about October 1951 until their departure for a lecture tour in America in January 1952. Their landlady was Thomas’s friend and patron Margaret Taylor, wife of the historian A J P Taylor. Margaret provided a Romany caravan in the back garden so that Thomas could write away from the clamour of children.)

68a Stanhope Yard. Milkwood Studios. The former purpose built headquarters of the Monty Python comedies, named as homage to Dylan Thomas who lived in the same terrace. It was later used by Videosonics – who housed various cinema screening events and editing facilities for production & film companies. In the 1920-30s it was used by Delancey Tool & Engineering Works, Ltd., who had produced the Delancey wood polishing machine. It is also said to have been livery stables but in the late 19th it appears to have been an artist’s studios.”

From: AN AUDIENCE GUIDE by Martin Andrucki, Charles A. Dana Professor of Theater, Bates College:

“…The play’s title–*Crossing Delancey—also tells us something important about the relationship of the setting to the drama’s main action.  This is a play named after a particular street in New York.  Delancey St. is a major thoroughfare running through a Manhattan neighborhood known as The Lower East Side, an area where hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants to America settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  

For decades, life in the Lower East Side preserved the religious and cultural traditions of Jews from Poland and the Russian Empire: the liturgical life of the synagogues, the ethnic food, the Yiddish language, and the traditional mores surrounding courtship and marriage.  By 1985, when this play was first produced, this world had largely disappeared, surviving as a distant tribal memory for the vast majority of New York’s Jews.  Thus, to cross Delancey street heading south—into the old neighborhood—was to enter into an immigrant world belonging to the past.

On the other hand, to cross Delancey northbound in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s was to move into a different cultural zone: uptown Manhattan.  This was the heart of the “American” here-and-now, a secular universe shaped by the “liberated” values of the universities and the media, values eagerly embraced by young Jews escaping the parochial and culturally claustrophobic environment of the Lower East Side.  People like Izzy’s parents…

…So, Sam observes, “This isn’t your style.”  But he also observes that “you can change your style.”  And then he tells the story of another friend, Harry Shipman, an importer of fancy foods, whose life was altered when he acquired a new hat.  “One day, he’s crossing Delancey, a big wind comes—poof—it’s gone.”  So Sam gave him five dollars to buy a new hat from another friend, Finkel, which Harry does.  And lo, he comes back from the hat store “a new man,” wearing a “grey felt Stetson” instead of the insignificant little cap that blew away.  “The next day he makes an engagement.”  And why?  Because the new hat allowed the girl to see Harry’s eyes.  At this point, Sam “bends down close and stares into [Izzy’s] eyes.  IZZY tries to look away, but feels herself drawn into the warm, bright, steady gaze.”  These may not be the smoky blue eyes of Tyler Moss, but they are actually looking at her.

So this little parable, which gives the play its title, also establishes the fact that “crossing Delancey” can transform your life, as can, perhaps, a warm and steady gaze…”

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