Saturday, March 22, 2014

Some Early Twentieth Century Dance Halls

Let's take a postcard tour of some early twentieth century dance halls.

1909 Dance Hall, Olympic Park, Irvington, NJ

I love that there are people in this photo to give you a sense of scale. The women are wearing hats, presumably because they are spending time outdoors at the amusement park as well as dancing. There is probably no place to check the hats.

This dance hall shows up in a lot of postcards. I assume this is one of the earlier ones. See how open the beams in the ceiling are. The hall looks pretty rustic here compared to later photos. I love the Chinese lanterns. I don't know if they contain electric lights or candles.
1910 Rhodes on the Pawtuxet,  Pawtuxet RI
This is the same hall. The beams are now painted white, and there are more architectural details (spindles, columns and arches) around the edge.
1910 Rhodes on the Pawtuxet,  Pawtuxet RI

This is the same hall and the same photograph, just colored differently. Isn't it interesting how the coloring the swags of bunting changes the look? Both photos show that the lights are electric. There is sunlight coming in through the arches and the electric lights are on at the same time. The first colorist minimizes the sunlight.

1915 Dance Pavillion, Rhodes on the Pawtuxet,  Pawtuxet RI

Now the ceiling is filled in with lattice work. There are electric fans as well as electric lights. Now we can see  there is a gallery running around the edges of the room. I can't tell if it was there before. I believe this photo was taken from a spot under the gallery, and that the solid looking section in the top right is the floor of the gallery.

1923 Casino, Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, Pawtuxet, RI

I can't quite tell if this is the same photo. The photographer seems to have moved a few steps out from under the gallery, or else the bottom of the gallery in the upper right has been overlaid with lattice.

1916 White City,  Worcester MA
This dance hall was in an amusement area near Worcester. It was named after the White City of the 1893 World's Fair and advertised early on as the Land of Fifty Thousand Electric Lights. Like many amusement parks of the time, it was built at the end of a trolley line, to encourage weekend ridership

1915 Canobie Lake Park, Salem,  NH

I'm fond of this one because Canobie Lake Park is still functioning, about 30-45 minutes from Boston. The interior photo shows the glossy waxed floor and lots of small electric lights wrapped around the ceiling beams. It doesn't have exterior walls or little pens for the non-dancers to stand in. Canobie Lake Park was built in 1902, at the end of the Massachusetts Northeast Street Railway Company's trolley line.

1920 Coney Island, NY

I can't tell if this is a hand colored photograph or a drawing. The dance hall looks huge, doesn't it? It follows the plan of several we've already seen, with the second floor gallery, but there is another level of windows over the gallery, making it look three stories high.The postcard is captioned "Palace of Joy, Dancing Hall and Skating Rink. I've seen the double use of dance halls and roller skating rinks before.

1927 Albers Castle Hall, St. Louis, MO

You may have noticed that the pictures I am looking at have a New England/East Coast bias. This one is from St. Louis. I chose it because it looked more substantially built than the others and somehow classier. It turns out to be a fascinating subject. Here is a photo of how the hall appears today:

Eeek! Let's go back to it's glory days. It was built on the site of an earlier dance academy. It was huge, taking up almost the entire block. It was on a streetcar stop, necessary for getting young working people to the dance hall. When it was built in 1908, it was called "Cave Hall," but the name was changed to "Castle Hall" in 1922, presumably to honor/cash in on the classy reputation of Vernon and Irene Castle. You can see in the postcard that it had a gallery along one side, but windows and mirrors along the other. It's ceiling was finished with a solid surface rather than exposed beams or lattice. Both the mirrors and the finished ceiling were details that distanced it from the cheap and commercial "pleasure palace" aspect of modern dance halls and reminded onlookers of the respectable dance academies of the past.

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