THE HISTORY OF THE ROSELAND BALLROOM
*Only a very few of the dancing locations that started out before the 1930's large enough to engage an orchestra of eight or more musicians still survive. Roseland is one of them.
*Louis Brecker, a Wharton Business College graduate, enjoyed dancing. After seeing the Castles dance at New York's Grand Central Palace, Brecker dreamed of possessing his own facility. He partnered with Frank Yuengling, a Philadelphia brewer who invested $20,000, to open the first Roseland Ballroom at 12th and Chestnut in Philadelphia in 1918. The venture returned investment within six months.
*While organizing the venture, a business friend told Brecker to give the facility a name from nature providing a chance to work it into the decorations as a theme. Roses have been the pervading motif at Roseland ever since--on walls, napkins,railings, etc...
*Philadelphia's inhibiting "blue laws" caused Brecker and Yuengling to move to New York. There, they selected the second floor of a dirty brown five story building, 51st Street at Broadway.
*Hundreds of people were waiting in line for the 8p.m. Grand Opening on December 31, 1919. The appearance of Billie Burke, Flo Ziegfield and Will Rogers, 200 pretty hostesses and the promise of good music and dancing were a magnet for the event. Receipts for the night totaled $18,000.
*In the 1920's and 30's, 150 to 200 hostesses were available most nights to any sober and orderly male partner willing to pay the charges (11 cents per three-minute dance in 1942). Among the more famous hostesses was Ruby Keeler, who reportedly met her husband-to-be, Al Jolson, at Roseland. The hostesses disappeared by the early 50's as their place was taken by a plentiful supply of unattached women.
*Roseland's management maintained an ultra-respectable place of "refined dancing". Hostesses were encouraged to wear evening dresses that were cut no lower than the top of the sternum in front and the uppermost lumbar vertebrae in back. They were forbidden to chew gum, drink alcoholic beverages or to leave the premises with patrons.
*Well-known dancers appearing on the Roseland dance floor included Rudolph Valentino, James Cagney, George Raft, Mrs. Arthur Murray, Joan Crawford, Betty Grable, Ray Bolger, Anne Miller, June Havoc, Bill Robinson and Adele and Fred Astaire.
*Well-known orchestras and bands that have played at Roseland include Sam Lanin, Fletcher Henderson, Rudy Vallee (biggest draw), Ben Bernie, Ozzie Nelson, Russ Morgan, Harry James, Jan Garber, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Glen Gray, Mal Hallett, Glenn Miller, Jean Goldkette to Bob January and Don Glasser. Music has always been continuous, first a Latin band, then a standard music band.
*In addition to ballroom dancing, Roseland has been the scene of many promotional events--dance contests, dance marathons, yo-yo contests, female prize fights and weddings. One bizarre wedding came off when Brecker offered $200, the facility and the staff to any couple willing to demonstrate their love by getting married there. At midnight, February 29, 1924 Robert Wagner and Katherine Bott came down the aisle to a syncopated version af Lohengrin's "Wedding March". 2, 985 paid spectators ($1.10 a piece) watched as twenty bridesmaids and grooms shimmied down the aisle ahead of the nuptialeds doing a modified cake-walk. Twenty flower girls spun as they danced the can-can in a night to be remembered. Last reports in 1957 indicated that Robert and Katherine were still happily married.
*On December 27, 1956, Brecker moved the facility to the renovated Gay Blades Ice Skating Rink on 52nd Street just west of Broadway. In the middle 1980's it was again completely refurbished.
*After the death of Louis Brecker, Roseland stayed in the family, operated by his daughter, Nancy Brecker Leeds. Except for the addition of disco in the late 1970's, she operated in the manner of her father. In August of 1981, Mrs.Leeds sold Roseland Ballroom to Albert Ginsberg who plans to continue it as long as profitable.
*Ginsberg shortened the playing time of each band to thirty minutes before it alternated with the other. At times he has brought back hostesses, charging a dollar dance. (Hosts were added for the woman dancers.) Hostesses (and hosts) are no longer employees of the establishment.
*By 1987 over
60 million persons were estimated to have visited Roseland since its founding.
Strategic promotion in the media and appearance in a number of movies have
made Roseland known to the world to the point of earning and carrying the
title, "World's Greatest Ballroom".
Portions of above information were excerpted from the book Ballroom Echoes by Lon A. Gault
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