Sunday, July 7, 2013

Two Mid-Nineteenth Century Ballrooms

Mechanics Hall, Worcester Massachusetts.

The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers are planning a ball in Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA and I'm really looking forward to dancing there! If you're not familiar with Massachusetts, or if you're a near-sighted Bostonian, you may not realize that Worcester is a great nineteenth century city with amazing architecture and institutions.

Mechanics Hall was built in 1856 by the industrial leaders of the city. It's Great Hall is absolutely spectacular, with a sprung floor and impressive acoustics. It was a must for presidential debates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the time it was built, it was estimated to hold 4,500 people (allowing 2 1/5 square feet per man) and it was recorded to have held 3,000 for a memorial service for assassinated president William McKinley in 1902. More conservatives estimates from the recent days of fire regulations say that the great hall seats 1615 as a theater (including 575 balcony seats) or 600 at banquet tables. The great hall measures 80 ft. x 105 ft.

Mechanics Hall in Worcester

"The third floor is devoted wholly to the great hall, and its appurtenances.The hall will measure 128 feet by 80, and 40 feet in height; allowing each man 2 1-5 square feet, this hall will contain standing room for four thousand five hundred men; at the eastern end is the speakers' platform, 40 feet by 20;
at the western end are two large ante rooms, and over them the galleries, which also extend along each side of the entire hall; the galleries on the side are 9 feet in width; there are six staircases leading out of the hall to the floors below; the finish and decorations of the interior are not yet completed; but are to be panel work overhead with columns and arches at the sides.

It will be thoroughly lighted and ventilated, and will no doubt be one of the most beautiful halls in the country. The style of architecture of the building is the Corinthian, and the appearance of the whole will challenge the admiration of all. Elbridge Boyden is architect; H. N. Tower, superintendent; Tilley Raymond,carpenter."  (Henry Jenkins Howland, The heart of the commonwealth, or, Worcester as it is. Worcester, MA:Printed and published by Henry J. Howland, 1856 p. 66)

Buckingham Palace Ballroom as it appeared in 1856.

Now that I've been admiring Mechanics Hall, I notice it has similarities with the ball room at Buckingham Palace. The ball room was added to the palace in 1856. It also has a paneled ceiling and is built on a similar scale to Mechanics Hall. You can see from the painting of the opening ball that there was no balcony, but that there were seats around the edges. This ballroom measures 60 ft. x 118 ft, a little more rectangular, but basically the same dimensions at Mechanics Hall. It is 44 ft. high, where Mechanics Hall is 40 ft high. The exuberant mid-nineteenth century decorating scheme of the palace ballroom has been toned down over the years.

Both halls were built to show grandeur and importance and both were built with dancing in mind. It's fun to compare the democratic American with the royal British versions.

Buckingham Palace Ballroom in the present day.

Buckingham Palace Ballroom set for a banquet.

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