Palladium Ballroom

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For the later downtown club, see Palladium (New York City).
Palladium Ballroom

The Palladium Ballroom was a second-floor dance hall at the corner of 53rd Street and Broadway in New York City, above the Rexall Drugs store, which became famous for its excellent Latin music from 1948 until its closing on May 1, 1966.

Opening of Palladium[edit]

When the Palladium opened as a dance studio and dance hall, it had a racially restrictive policy and did not maintain the level of funding needed to operate it. It had a dance floor that could hold a thousand couples dancing at once but had fallen into decline by 1947.[1]

Most of the Latin bands were scheduled for the matinee session, many of which were used as relief bands for the big society bands of the time. Latin bands for the most part played at nightclubs such as The Conga, The China Doll, The Park Palace, and The Park Plaza, located in Spanish Harlem. The Palladium needed capital to survive, so it opened its doors to blacks, Puerto Ricans and Cubans.

Palladium starts featuring Latin music[edit]

In 1948, dance promoter Federico Pagani approached the new Palladium owners Max Hyman and his wife Helen, an heiress to the Otis Elevator Company fortune, about booking Latin music there. The Palladium was the first to start a Latin matinee in a downtown dance hall on a Sunday and Wednesday. The first booking, on a Sunday afternoon, was reportedly a huge success, quickly prompting the club to fill its schedule with Latin music. Among the top acts to appear at the ballroom were:

  • The band of Arsenio Rodríguez, whose band members included Arsenio's bassist Alfonso "El Panameño" Joseph, one of the most popular bands to perform at the Palladium;
  • Machito (born Frank Grillo) and His Afro-Cubans, already an established New York act, with music arranger and sax player Mario Bauzá, Machito's brother-in-law, and Graciela, Machito's sister, on vocals;
  • Tito Puente. Promoter Federico Pagani gave him his big break. Puente organized and played with the Picadilly Boys orchestra. He then left to form a band under his own name. Federico started to help Tito Puente get booked in the Catskills at a place called El Patio and booked him at the Palladium to help him achieve his dream and he did. Tito always said to Federico Pagani "Pop, you are the best there is in music. Thank you for the memories.";[citation needed]
  • The orchestra of singer Tito Rodríguez (born Pablo Rodríquez). Listen to the song "El Mundo De Las Locas"/"Faggotts World", recorded in the 1950s, a fast jazz tune that will blow your mind, as well as to the late album "Palladium Memories" (with both Tito Rodríguez and Max Hyman on the cover), recorded in the 1970s. Rodríguez was also booked by Federico Pagani at the Palladium and attained fame in the process.

Federico Pagani was a very powerful dance promoter and empresario; he was well known to the American music audience, musicians' union and the recording industry. Pagani brought the Latin era to New York City. He opened many doors to Latin musicians and created the Latin music era at The Palladium Ballroom and showed that Latin music was here to stay. He was responsible for bringing many stars from Havana, Cuba and a number of upcoming bands, for example:

New York Latin clubs[edit]

Soon enough, Hispanic New Yorkers would be very proud of a highly visible night spot of their own in the heart of midtown, in addition to clubs such as:

In Manhattan[edit]

  • Audubon Ballroom, 165th Street between Audubon Avenue and Broadway, Washington Heights;
  • Riverside Plaza, 95th Street at Riverside Drive;
  • Palladium Ballroom, 53rd Street and Broadway;
  • Birdland, 52nd Street and Broadway;
  • Latin Quarter, 53rd Street at 7th Avenue;
  • El Club Caborrojeño, far north on Broadway at 145th Street, West Harlem;
  • Broadway Casino, in Washington Heights;
  • Broadway 96, 96th Street and Broadway;
  • El Cubanacán, 114th Street and Lenox Avenue, Central Harlem;
  • Park Palace and Park Plaza, upstairs and downstairs in the same catering hall on 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, Spanish Harlem;
  • Gloria Palace, on 86th Street and Third Avenue;
  • Chateau Havana-Madrid Club, at 1650 Broadway (51st Street).

In the Bronx[edit]

  • Tropicana (915 Westchester Avenue and 163rd Street);[2][3]
  • Tropicana (Homewood Avenue and Southern Boulevard);
  • Hunt's Point Palace, later known as the Bronx Music Palace (Southern Boulevard and 163rd Street);
  • La Campana (149th Street and Third Avenue);
  • Carlos Ortíz's (Boxing champion) Club Tropicoro (on Longwood Avenue);

The Big Three[edit]

In 1948, the Palladium gained in stature because of the so-called Big Three, brought in by Federico Pagani. These were:

  • Machito, featuring his brother-in-law Mario Bauzá as music arranger and Machito's sister Gracelia on vocals;
  • Tito Puente;
  • Tito Rodríguez.

The Big Three grew tremendously in popularity on the strength of their bookings at the Palladium. These bands were turning out mambo hit after mambo hit. Following are a few of the hits that were popular:

  • Machito with "Asia Minor" and "Babarabatiri";
  • Puente with "Picadillo" and "Ran Kan Kan";
  • Rodríguez with "Mambo Mona" (an early version of "Mama Güela") and "Joe Lustig Mambo".

In those days there were no DJs who filled spots between band sets. The music was non-step. It was a sight to see with the Big Three trying to outdo one another. Machito would play one set, then Puente would step in not missing a beat, and Rodríguez would blend right in, so you couldn't tell when one dropped off and the other began.

Mambo craze[edit]

The year 1948 started the mambo craze that eventually spread across the United States. It began at the Palladium Ballroom. At the height of its popularity, the Palladium attracted Hollywood and Broadway stars, especially on Wednesday nights, which included a free dance lesson. Dance instructors such as "Killer Joe" Piro — who briefly served as master of ceremonies at the Palladium when Federico Pagani was not available — Augie and Margo, Cuban Pete and Millie, and Carmen Marie Padilla (later the poet Carmen M. Pursifull), would offer mass dance lessons for the huge crowds. Clubgoers of the era reported seeing Marlon Brando, George Hamilton, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Huntz Hall of The Bowery Boys, and others at the ballroom.

The popularity of Dámaso Pérez Prado's Mambo No. 5 (1952) was taking everyone by storm.

Popular dances and dancers at the Palladium[edit]

The Palladium was known not only for its music but for the exceptionally high quality and innovation of its dancers, fueled by weekly dance competitions and Pie Contest along with a Female Best Leg Contest. Ability to dance, not class or color, was the social currency inside the club. The Palladium's top star-performers, Augie and Margo Rodríguez, took the mambo to unimaginable heights. Another popular act featured was the group called The Mambo and Cha-Cha-Aces, with Andy, Mike and Tina.

The Palladium also became a showcase for many new dance rhythms such as the chachachá, the merengue and the pachanga. These became just as popular with the masses as the mambo.

Contests[edit]

Wednesday was Showcase Night. They held different contests, from pie-eating to skirt-raising and Best Legs showdowns and mambo dancing eliminations.

Jazz musicians, celebrities and Latin bands[edit]

The Palladium became the place to be seen at. Different jazz musicians and some celebrities would sit in and play with the Latin bands. Others watched and enjoyed the show. Among those who went to the ballroom are the following:

The Palladium was in close proximity to the jazz clubs on West 52nd Street, among them Birdland, the Onyx Club and CuBop City. Jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who lived in the New York City area during the heyday of the Palladium Ballroom, composed a piece during the 1970s called "Palladium" while a member of the seminal jazz-fusion group Weather Report. The song appears on their Heavy Weather album and features, among other delights, a driving Latin rhythm.

Mambo losing popularity[edit]

By the early 1960s, tastes had shifted somewhat and it was clear a new sound was on the horizon. Suggested listening:

The Palladium closed its doors in the spring of 1966. Dancers' and music fans' enthusiasm for the music was not diminished. The Village Gate in Greenwich Village opened its doors to Latin Night on Mondays and Wednesdays. Federico Pagani started Latin Nights with the well-regarded radio host Symphony Sid Torin ("Jumping with Symphony Sid") and Joe Gaines, the host of "S/S Side Kick". Then Federico Pagani started doing the same at Tony Roma's El Corso (close to the Gloria Palace) on 86th Street and Third Avenue, Barney Googles, and the Cheetah nightclub (53rd Street and Eighth Avenue). These venues became the places "the scene" went to next.

Palladium in Mambo Kings movie[edit]

The dance floor and bandstand of the Palladium was lovingly recreated in the feature film Mambo Kings, starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas, about the great era of the mambo at the Palladium Ballroom and about the toughest dance promoter that ever was (Federico Pagani), in which Roscoe Lee Brown played the part of promoter Fernando Pérez; he would listen to what you had to offer in music. The character of Fernando Pérez could make you or break you and was very serious and honest in telling you if you had a chance to make it or not. Tito Puente played himself and Desi Arnaz, Jr. played Desi Arnaz, Sr. The movie's band, the Mambo Kings Band, also featured Ralph Irizarry, Machito's son Mario Grillo, and others.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cf. Rondón, p.1
  2. ^ Singer, Roberta L.; Martínez, Elena, "A South Bronx Latin Music Tale", CENTRO Journal, 7 Volume xv1 Number 1, Spring 2004
  3. ^ Siegal, Nina, "In the Footsteps of Mambo Kings", The New York Times, September 8, 2000

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 40°45′48″N 73°58′58″W / 40.76333°N 73.98278°W / 40.76333; -73.98278