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- For the later Downtown Club, see Palladium (New York City)
The Palladium Ballroom was a second-floor dance hall above a drug store at the corner of 53rd Street and Broadway in New York City. It became famous for its Latin music from 1948 until its closing on May 1, 1966.
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 had a dance floor that could hold a thousand couples but had fallen into decline by 1947. Most of the Latin bands were scheduled for the matinee session. Many were used as relief bands for the big society bands. Latin bands played at nightclubs such as The Conga, The China Doll, The Park Palace, and The Park Plaza in Spanish Harlem.
The Palladium needed capital to survive, so it opened its doors to whites, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans, and people of different races and origin; everyone was accepted. Private investors joined and attorneys from big law firms participated in this joint venture for their friends, including Lou Walters and Federico Pagani.
Palladium starts featuring Latin music
In 1948, dance promoter Federico Pagani approached his longtime friend Lou Walters, owner of the Latin Quarter, and stated that he wanted to open a nightclub across the street from the Latin Quarter and bring Latin music from Havana. They asked Max Hyman and his wife Ann, an heiress to the Otis Elevator Company fortune, about booking Latin music and representing Federico Pagani to manage the Palladium. Pagani was the first to start the Latin matinee in a downtown dance hall on a Sunday and Wednesday. The first booking, on that Sunday afternoon, was 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, 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; and Tito Puente. He was responsible for bringing many stars from Havana, such as Orquesta Aragón, Desi Arnaz, César Concepción, Celia Cruz, Xavier Cugat, José Curbelo, José Fajardo, Marcelino Guerra, La Lupe, Sonora Matancera, Joseíto Mateo, Noro Morales, Benny Moré, Tommy Olivencia, Pérez Prado, Ismael Rivera, Daniel Santos, Miguelito Valdés, and Vicentico Valdés.
New York Latin clubs
In the Bronx
- Carlos Ortíz's (Boxing champion) Club Tropicoro (on Longwood Avenue)
- Hunt's Point Palace, later known as the Bronx Music Palace (Southern Boulevard and 163rd Street)
- La Campana (149th Street and Third Avenue)
- Tropicana (915 Westchester Avenue and 163rd Street)
- Tropicana (Homewood Avenue and Southern Boulevard)
- Audubon Ballroom, 165th Street between Audubon Avenue and Broadway, Washington Heights
- Birdland, 52nd Street and Broadway
- Broadway 96, 96th Street and Broadway
- Broadway Casino, in Washington Heights
- Chateau Havana-Madrid Club, at 1650 Broadway (51st Street)
- El Club Caborrojeño, far north on Broadway at 145th Street, West Harlem
- El Cubanacán, 114th Street and Lenox Avenue, Central Harlem
- Gloria Palace, on 86th Street and Third Avenue
- Latin Quarter, 53rd Street at 7th Avenue
- Palladium Ballroom, 53rd Street and Broadway
- Park Palace and Park Plaza, upstairs and downstairs in the same catering hall on 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, Spanish Harlem
- Riverside Plaza, 95th Street at Riverside Drive
In 1948, the Palladium Ballroom gained in stature because of the Big Three acts: Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, and Machito. The Big Three grew in popularity on the strength of their bookings at the Palladium. These bands were turning out mambo hit after mambo hit such as "Asia Minor" and "Babarabatiri", "Picadillo" and "Ran Kan Kan", nad "Mambo Mona". The popularity of Dámaso Pérez Prado's Mambo No. 5 (1952) was taking everyone by storm.
Popular dancers and dances
The Palladium was known not only for its music but for the its dancers, fueled by weekly dance competitions and pie contests 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 The Mambo and Cha-Cha-Aces with Andy, Mike and Tina. Mike Ramos and Freddie Rios did their side by side act. Marilyn Winters danced the entire floor in her one-woman show, as did Carmen Cruz. The Palladium became a showcase for the chachachá, merengue, and the pachanga. These became as popular with the masses as the Mambo.
The year 1948 started the mambo craze that 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 were featured dancers there. Cuban Pete and Millie Donay appeared all over the world. Tito Puente wrote a song for Cuban Pete. Carmen Marie Padilla would offer mass dance lessons for the huge crowds.
Jazz musicians, celebrities and Latin bands
The Palladium was next jazz clubs on West 52nd Street such as Birdland, CuBop City, and the Onyx Club. Jazz musicians and some celebrities would sit in and play with the Latin bands. Others watched and enjoyed the show. Examples of notables who went to the ballroom include Count Basie, Marlon Brando, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, Sammy Davis Jr., Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, Jerry Lewis, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, George Shearing, Cal Tjader, and Pedro Vargas. 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 a driving Latin rhythm.
Mambo losing popularity
By the early 1960s, tastes had shifted and it was clear a new sound was on the horizon. 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 radio host Symphony Sid Torin and Joe Gaines. Pagani started doing the same at Tony Roma's El Corso on 86th Street and Third Avenue, Barney Googles, and the Cheetah nightclub. These venues became the places "the scene" went to next. Pagani also was responsible for his input on the movie filming Nuestra Cosa (Our Latin Thing ) at the Cheetah and The Red Garder with Symphony Sid.
Palladium in The Mambo Kings movie
The dance floor and bandstand of the club were recreated in The Mambo Kings (1992), a film starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas about the era of the mambo at the Palladium Ballroom and about Federico Pagani. Roscoe Lee Brown played the part of promoter Fernando Pérez, who would listen to what one had to offer in music, could make or break candidates, and was very serious and honest in telling them whether or not they had a chance to make it. Tito Puente played himself, and Desi Arnaz Jr. played Desi Arnaz Sr. The Mambo Kings Band featured Ralph Irizarry, Machito's son Mario Grillo, and others.
- Conzo, Joe (October 9, 2004). "The Palladium Ballroom, home of the mambo and cha-cha". Times Herald-Record.
- García, David F. (Spring 2004). "Contesting that Damned Mambo: Arsenio Rodríguez, Authenticity, and the People of El Barrio and The Bronx in the 1950s" (PDF). Centro Journal. XVI (1): 154–175. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-13.
- García, David F. (2006). Arsenio Rodríguez and the transnational flows of Latin popular music. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 9781592133864. Cf. p. 64 and various (see book index).
- Hutchinson, Sydney (2004). "Mambo On 2: The birth of a new form of dance in New York City". Centro Journal. 16 (2): 109–137.
- "Mambonicks: The Palladium & its Dancers ( Hour 1, Chapter 5". Latin Music USA. Public Broadcasting Service: WGBH. October 2009.
- Rondón, César Miguel & Aparicio, Frances R. (Translator) & White, Jackie (with) (2008). The Book of Salsa: A Chronicle of Urban Music from the Caribbean to New York City. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-5859-2. Cf. pp. 1–6 and various (see book index)