Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall is an entertainment venue located in New York City's Rockefeller Center. Its nickname is the Showplace of the Nation, and it was for a time the leading tourist destination in the city. Its interior was declared a city landmark in 1978.


History

The 12-acre (49,000 m²) complex in midtown Manhattan known as Rockefeller Center was developed between 1929 and 1940 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., on land leased from Columbia University. The Radio City Music Hall was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone and interior designer Donald Deskey in the Art Deco style.


Its originally planned name was International Music Hall. The names "Radio City" and "Radio City Music Hall" derive from one of the complex's first tenants, the Radio Corporation of America. Radio City Music Hall was a project of Rockefeller; Samuel Roxy Rothafel, who previously opened the Roxy Theatre in 1927; and RCA chairman David Sarnoff. RCA had developed numerous studios for NBC at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, just to the south of the Music Hall, and the radio-TV complex that lent the Music Hall its name is still known as the NBC Radio City Studios.


The Music Hall opened to the public on December 27, 1932 with a lavish stage show featuring Ray Bolger and Martha Graham. The opening was meant to be a return to high-class variety entertainment. The new format was not a success. The program was very long and individual acts were lost in the cavernous hall. On January 11, 1933, the Music Hall converted to the then familiar format of a feature film with a spectacular stage show perfected by Rothafel at the Roxy Theatre in new York City. The first film was shown on the giant screen was Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen starring Barbara Stanwyck and the Music Hall became the premiere showcase for films from the RKO-Radio Studio. The film plus stage spectacle format continued at the Music Hall until 1979 with four complete performances presented every day.


By the 1970s, changes in film distribution made it difficult for Radio City to secure exclusive bookings of many films; furthermore, the theater preferred to show only G-rated movies, which further limited their film choices as the decade wore on. Regular film showings at Radio City ended in 1979. Plans were made to convert the theater into office space, but a combination of preservation and commercial interests resulted in the preservation of Radio City and in 1980, after a renovation, it reopened to the public.


Radio City Music Hall is currently leased to and managed by Madison Square Garden, Inc. Movie premieres and feature runs have occasionally taken place there such as the Harry Potter film series, but the focus of the theater throughout the year is now on concerts and live stage shows. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular continues to be an important annual event (see below). The Music Hall has presented most of the leading pop and rock performers of the last 30 years as well as televised events including the Grammy Awards, the Tony Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, and the NFL Draft.


Design

Radio City has 5,931 seats for spectators, and additional seating can be placed on the pit elevator during events that do not require that space bringing the seating capacity to over 6,000; it became the largest movie theater in the world at the time of its opening.


Designed by Edward Durell Stone, the interior of the theater with its austere Art Deco lines represented a break with the traditional ornate rococo ornament associated with movie palaces at the time. The radiating arches of the proscenium united the large auditorium, allowing a sense of intimacy as well as grandeur. The interior decor was created by designer Donald Deskey. Deskey's geometric Art Deco designs incorporate glass, aluminum, chrome, and leather in the ornament for the theater's wall coverings, carpet, light fixtures, and furniture. His work borrowed heavily from the European Modern aesthetic style, of which he was the foremost exponent in the United States.


The Great Stage, designed by Peter Clark, measures 66.5 feet (20 m) deep and 144 feet (44 m) wide, and resembles a setting sun. Its system of elevators was so advanced that the U.S. Navy incorporated identical hydraulics in constructing World War II aircraft carriers; according to Radio City lore, during the war, government agents guarded the basement to assure the Navy's technological advantage. This elevator system was also designed by Peter Clark, and was built by Otis Elevators.


Organ

The Music Hall's "Mighty Wurlitzer" pipe organ is the largest theater pipe organ built for a movie theater. Identical consoles with four manuals (keyboards) are installed on both sides of the Great Stage. Each console operates independently, with the one on the audience's left being the primary one of the two. The organ's 4,410 pipes are installed in chambers on either side of the proscenium's arch. Installed in 1932, the instrument was the largest produced by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company of North Tonawanda, New York; it was built as a serious concert instrument rather than to accompany silent movies, capable of playing many styles of music including classical organ literature. A total rebuild of the historic organ was completed in time for the theater's restoration in 1999. A smaller Wurlitzer organ was installed in the theater's radio studios, but was put into storage when the studio was converted into office space.


Other Art

The public areas of the Music Hall feature the work of many depression era artists. The large mural in the grand foyer is entitled "Fountain of Youth" and was painted by Ezra Winter. The murals on the wall of the grand lounge are collectively known as the "Phantasmagoria of the Theater" by Louis Bouche. Three female nudes cast in aluminum were commissioned for the music hall, however Roxy Rothafel thought that they were inappropriate for a family venue. The Rockefellers loved the sculptures the only one that was displayed on opening night was "Goose Girl" by Robert Laurent, which is currently on the first mezzanine. Since opening night the other two sculptures have been put on display at the music hall, "Eve" by Gwen Lux is currently displayed in the southwest corner of the grand foyer, and "Spirit of the Dance" by William Zorach is currently on displayed in the Grand lounge. Each of the Public restrooms have adjoining lounges that display various works of art. Stewart Davis, Witold Gordon, and Donald Deskey all have art displayed in these lounges. Georgia O'Keeffe was asked to paint a mural for the second mezzanine lady's lounge, however she never completed the mural. The reason for her withdrawal is subject to debate.


Christmas show

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is an annual holiday stage musical produced by MSG Entertainment, which operates the Music Hall. A New York Christmas tradition since 1933, it features the women's precision dance team known as The Rockettes. Additional companies of Rockettes also tour every holiday season, bringing the show to theaters around the country.


Image gallery

  • Auditorium and stage

  • Auditorium and balconies

  • Grand Foyer

  • VIP room ("The Roxy Suite")

  • The Rockettes

  • Marquee (January 2008)

  • Lobby sculpture

  • Hydraulics pit beneath the Great Stage

  • Underside of the Great Stage

  • Radio City (at bottom-left of image), circa 1956

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