City Hall was the site of a speakeasy. Belle Livingstone, night club hostess and owner, is the source of this startling information.
Jazz Age Mayor “Jimmy” Walker
The speakeasy probably appeared at city hall when James J. Walker was mayor ( 1926 to 1932.) He was rarely at City Hall. His favorite hangout was Central Park Casino, near W. 66th. He was there so often it was considered a second City Hall.
Before Prohibition, Walker served in the state legislature. There he opposed the 18th Amendment. Then he sought to exempt beer from Prohibition. The Supreme Court overturned this effort. Then he supported the repeal of Mullan-Gage. That state law required local and state police to enforce Prohibition.
This law was repealed in 1923. This insured that Prohibition never took hold in New York City. Basically, local police intervened in Prohibition enforcement only if another crime was being committed at the same time. Naturally, the federal government did not like this situation. (Not unlike today in the case of “Sanctuary Cities” of local refusal to enforce a federal law.)
Background on Walker
James Roon, his maternal grandfather, was a saloon-keeper in Greenwich Village at the turn of the century. Walker’s immigrant Irish father was a successful Tammany politician. Walker was born in Greenwich Village and lived there during his time as mayor. Gracie Mansion was not yet the mayor’s official residence.
Walker accurately perceived Prohibition as a heavy-handed reform to destroy the power of Tammany Hall, the city’s powerful Democratic political machine. Prohibition destroyed the saloons where the Democratic Party recruited and organized. Walker was a product of the “machine” in his election to the legislature and to city office.
While Walker was mayor, the state legislature conducted an investigation into corruption in city government. As a result, Walker was eventually forced out of office.
The Best and Worst of Prohibition
Walker was a singular example of the best and worst of Prohibition. Best because he was right in his view that Prohibition was wrong-headed. Worst because his administration was corrupt.