Saturday, April 27, 2013

Castle House is Opened

Vernon and Irene Castle

Here is the New York Times reporting on the opening of Castle House.
The article is heavy with indicators of wealth (limousines, fashionable, private house, personal direction, everybody seemed to know everybody else) and respectability (afternoon, tea and lemonade.) Did you notice that Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs, hostess of the famous White Ball at Rosecliff, was one of the patronesses? Minstrel Orchestra means that the orchestra consisted of black musicians. James Reese Europe's orchestra was rather fabulous,as we can still hear in their recordings, but in those days they were not noticed by society. 

Society Crowd Dances Tango as
Minstrel Orchestra Plays.

There was a large and fashionable attendance yesterday afternoon at the opening of Castle House, in East Forty-sixth Street, opposite the entrance to the Ritz-Carlton, where society is to enjoy modern dancing every afternoon from 4 to 6:30 o'clock as they would in a private house. The dancing will be under the personal direction of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle.

Miss Elsie de Wolfe and Miss Elizabeth Marbury are interested in the project, which has transformed the building formerly occupied by Mrs. Osborn's dressmaking establishment into a new centre for dancing, and they were much gratified yesterday at the turnout of people prominent in the social world. Mrs. John Corbin and Mrs. R. L. McDuffle, with Miss Marbury, are the superintendents.

Among the patronesses are Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish,  Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs, Mrs. W. Bourke Cockran, Mrs. W. G. Rockefeller, :Mrs. Anthony J. Drexel, Jr.,  Miss de Wolfe, Mrs. Amos Pinchot, and Mrs. T. J. Oakley Rhinelander. 

By the time the doors were ·thrown open there was a long line of limousines waiting outside. The visitors passed through the hall, with its trickling marble fountain, and up the wide staircase to the first ballroom,  which became so crowded in a few minutes that the orchestra had to be  transferred to the adjoining ballroom, which was ample to accommodate all.

Tea and lemonade were served on the balcony overlooking both of the ballrooms,  where Mr. and Mrs. Castle were busily engaged all afternoon dancing with the patrons under the pink-shaded electroliers. A minstrel orchestra furnished the syncopated music, and the tango, one-step, and hesitation waltz seemed most in favor. Altogether it was very much like a private function. Everybody  seemed to know everybody else, and those who did not care to dance, who were in the minority, sat on the rows of chairs, or sipped at their tea. Many young people were present.

Mrs. James B. Eustis, Mrs. Lee Thomas,  Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas, Mrs. T. J. Oakley Rhinelander, Baron and Broness de Meyer,  Mrs. Hollis Hunnewell, Mrs. Hamilton Wilkes Cary. Mrs. S. Stanwood, Menken,  Mrs. Stephen H. Brown,  Miss Joan Whitridge, Miss Rives, Miss Jeannette Gilder,  Mrs. Anthony J. Drexel. Jr., Mrs. James H. Kidder. Mrs. Frederick Y. Dalziel, Mrs. Dave H. Coddington, Mrs. Frank Sturgis, Lawrence Perkins,  Mrs. Fairfax S. Landstreet, and James L. Breese, Jr., I were among those seen during the afternoon.

Published: December 16, 1913
Copyright © The New York Times

Europe's Society Orchestra

Exterior and Interior of Castle House

"Suggestions" from Modern Dancing 1914

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Castle House

James Reese Europe published some of his compositions under the name of Castle House.

In the early twentieth century, social dancing had a bad reputation. There was an entire cottage industry of authors writing about how the modern dances would lead to the downfall of civilization, the sex-slavery of innocent daughters and an eternity in hell. Arguing for the other side, Elisabeth Marbury described the modern dances as a return to eighteenth century elegance. The truth was undoubtedly somewhere in between, with ordinary people having a great time dancing to popular music.

Below are Elisabeth Marbury's own words about how she started Castle House. Like the Castles themselves, it had a short-lived popularity, but a huge influence on popular dance. Tea Dances were a key feature of Castle House. Daytime dancing seemed so innocent (and upper class - working people couldn't take the afternoon off to go dancing.) It sidestepped the issue of serving alcohol and did not encourage young people to stay out late. Performing at Tea Dances also left the Castles free in the evenings to perform on stage.          

My next adventure was with the Castles. I had sensed the approach of the dancing madness. I saw the fat years ahead!
The Castles were in Chicago when they agreed to appear under my management. My desire to direct them came about in a most accidental way.
I happened to be lunching in the Ritz when looking across the street I noticed that the large double house which had been at one time reconstructed for a fashionable dressmaker stood idle.
The thought of making it into a smart dancing Centre flashed upon my mind and simultaneously the personalities of Vernon and Irene Castle, whom I had already seen in Paris as an attraction in a restaurant.
I visualized the trade mark "Castle House" provided I could persuade this couple to leave Chicago where they were earning about four hundred dollars a week which in contrast to their first wretched stipend overseas, seemed to them munificent. While with me during the first season their worst earnings averaged two thousand per week, hence they never regretted their decision to accept the proposition which I had wired.
It took me a very little while to rearrange the building so that we could open it with daily teas at which the Castles always danced.
I selected able assistants and instructors, for the morning hours were given over to classes which Mrs. Hubbell directed.
I arranged with Jim Europe, the great conductor of jazz, so that I had him furnish the music.
The construction of the house was absolutely impractical for the purpose in hand, yet it was the best expedient to be found.
Time was essential as the craze might die out. The cream had to be quickly skimmed from the pail. We opened with a list of the most prominent women as patronesses. Mrs. John Corbin presided at the tea table.
The success of the undertaking was pronounced from the very outset. The place was jammed and the floor space inadequate, 

The interior of Castle House was decorated by Marbury's partner, Elsie de Wolfe, who pioneered the twentieth century profession of interior decorator. De Wolfe favored delicate furniture, light colors and uncluttered rooms. I haven't found photos of Castle House, but here are two photos of rooms at the Colony Club in New York, which were decorated by de Wolfe.

Trellis Room at The Colony Club by Elsie de Wolfe 1913

Room at the Colony Club decorated by Elsie de Wolfe 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Elisabeth Marbury looks back at the Castles

Vernon and Irene Castle

The Castles were news items in themselves. Her photographs were lovely, and there were so many of them taken that there was never any difficulty in finding fresh space for their appearance.

Irene Castle's charm was extraordinary. Her body was lithe and graceful, her swanlike neck suggested the highest distinction, her features and coloring were beautiful. Her limbs, ankles and feet were perfect. No imitator of Irene Castle, and there were many, came within her class. She was unique in gifts and stood alone in attraction.

Vernon Castle, however, had the talent as a dancer. His wife was always his perfect partner, but it was he who set the pace, it was he who inspired the rhythm, it was he who invented the steps. 

Together they made a wonderful team, and although there have been hundreds of couples who, following after them, have achieved a certain fame and notoriety in ball-room exhibition dancing, the Castles were never equalled, let alone excelled, neither have they ever been replaced.

(Elisabeth Marbury, My Crystal Ball; Reminiscences. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1932, chapter 48.)