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 

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