Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Channeling with clarity

Might as well get three other Ron Delsener Presents/Clear Channel venues out of the way. Much like the Beacon, these hallowed halls are history-steeped, rendering them worthy of your attendance despite the heavy corporate associations--so long as you're not put off by large crowds, long hours of standing, overzealous entrance security, and ever-escalating ticket prices. But I don't want to expend all that much energy writing about them myself, so please follow the links for further info.

IRVING PLAZA--17 Irving Place at 15th Street. This place has served various purposes throughout its existence, but unfortunately I haven't been able to track down approximate years for its assorted phases. According to this article, the space dates back to 1911, when it was built inside four converted brownstones. At diverse times the auditorium has functioned as a house of burlesque (legend has it Gypsy Rose Lee displayed her a-peel-ing terpsichorean talents here), a Yiddish theater, a boxing arena, and a Polish dance hall (I seem to recall seeing Polish words on its marquee as recently as the late '80s), among other possible operations. Mid-size rock shows in all manner of genres (the club's capacity is about 2,000) have been its main stock-in-trade since the very late '70s. I wish I'd been old enough to frequent the place in the mid-'80s, when it often featured well-attended gigs by garageniks like (the) Lyres, the Chesterfield Kings, the Fuzztones, the Mosquitoes, the Fuzztones, the Fleshtones, and the Pandoras. But I've managed to catch the Buzzcocks, the Bangles, Madness, Special Beat Service (an amalgamation of members of the Specials and the English Beat), the Soft Boys, Young Fresh Fellows, Dick Dale, Wilson Pickett, and plenty others I'm blanking out on. The downstairs lounge has an opium-den quality, but if you're as short in stature as I am you can't spend much time there lest you lose out on good sightlines on the main floor or in the balcony. Click here for a description of the club from a goth's perspective.

HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM, 311 W. 34th Street b/w 8th & 9th Avenues. Part of Manhattan Center Studios, a multipupose event and recording facility in operation since 1986. Housed in the former Manhattan Opera House, which was built by Oscar Hammerstein I in 1906, the site has served at various times as a vaudeville house, concert hall, Masonic temple, film scoring studio, radio studio, big band ballroom, and general event hall. Detailed history and and pics are available here and here. While the cavernous (up to 3,700-capacity) auditorium's decor retains a classic, elegant old-timey look, the space is fully equipped with high-tech audio, video, and lighting, and plays host to many events besides its occasional rock shows. Sad to say I've only been able to enjoy these sumptuous surroundings once, at the Joey Ramone memorial concert on what would have been his 50th birthday, May 19, 2001.

ROSELAND BALLROOM, 239 W. 52nd Street b/w Broadway and 8th Avenue. A.K.A. Roseland Dance City, or just plain Roseland. I haven't been there in ages--probably not since the late '80s. I recall it as possessing plenty of old Times Square's tatty-round-the-edges swank, but it may have been modernized since then if the pics at its website are any indication. According to the Times Square Alliance's website, the first Roseland was in Philadelphia, and owned by Louis Brecker and Frank Yuengling (of the Yuengling Brewery family). Brecker opened Roseland's original New York location at 1658 Broadway near 51st Street in 1919. It remained a major venue for dancing (I believe taxi dancing was offered) and big-band jazz (the likes of Count Basie, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Guy Lombardo, and Frank Betencourt were often on the bill) until the mid-'50s, when its building was demolished to make way for the City Squire Hotel. Roseland reopened at its current address in 1956, in what had been the Gay Blades Ice Skating Rink. It shuffled on for decades, eventually adding disco to its dance card. In 1977, Merchant-Ivory released Roseland, a poignant film focusing on the hall's dancing denizens. Ballroom dancing supposedly still happens there on Thursdays and Sundays, while the rest of the schedule is given over to parties, corporate events, rotating club nights, and big concerts (maximum standing-room capacity is just over 3,000). Yet another goth perspective can be read here.

Update 6/9/2005--I guess taxi dancing truly was one of Roseland's services. I bought a book called Times Square Style: Graphics From the Great White Way yesterday (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004), and on page 71 there's a Roseland business card which makes reference to "200 Hostesses, 25 Hosts in Constant Attendance." I should add that my parents had some of their earliest dates at the original Roseland--but as far as I know Moms was not an employee. Ten cents a dance, pansies and rough guys, tough guys who tear my gown...

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