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 above a Rexall Drugs 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.

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. Manhattan Center, Audubon Ballroom, Etc. The Palladium needed capital to survive, so it opened its doors to Classy Whites, Puerto Ricans and Cubans. All people of different Races and Origin. Everyone was accepted. Private Investors joined in and attorneys from Big Law Firms also participated on this Joint Venture for their friends. Lou Walters and Pioneer Legend Promoter Federico Pagani.

Palladium starts featuring Latin music[edit]

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 the Latin Music From Havana Cuba, which was in the entertainment Las Vegas In Cuba. They both approached their longtime friend that was not in the music industry he was their tailor in Brooklyn N.Y. They asked Max Hyman and his wife Ann, an heiress to the Otis Elevator Company fortune, about booking Latin music there and to represent Federico Pagani and to manage the Palladium and Lou Walters would be there to back up his friend. The Palladium with the idea of Federico Pagani The pioneer and legend in the Latin Music brought the Latin music from Havana Cuba to New York City 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 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 which was Federico's Band. He then left to form a band under his own band name in which Federico stated to Tito that he had an outstanding talent for music. Federico stated to him to take the V A loan & Tito went along and accomplished his dream in music. Federico started to help Tito Puente get booked in the Catskills Gross Singer's 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 ( You will always be my dad. Thank you for the memories I Love You "PoP" Federico Pagani was approached by Tito Rodríguez Singer and Orchestra Owner born Pablo Rodriquez. to hear a tune he was very proud of Federico Pagani "Listened to the song "El Mundo De Las Locas," 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 1950s. 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' Unions and the recording industry. Pagani brought the Latin Era To New York City. He opened many doors to Latin & American Musicians and Created the Latin Music Era at The Palladium Ballroom and showed that The American & Latin Music was here to stay. Pagani, had long-time friends, Pancho Cristal, George Goldner, Tony Roma, Xavier Deodato, Clive Davis, Richard Nader. 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,[citation needed] in addition to clubs such as:

In the Bronx[edit]

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

In Manhattan[edit]

Big Three[edit]

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

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-stop. 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 were featured dancers there. Cuban Pete and Millie Donay were one of the best dance teams at the Palladium. They appeared all over the world. Their daughter Denise Gerard still carries on these great Mambo moves that she learned from her world-class parents. Her Mother Millie did the most beautiful body rolls. Tito Puente wrote a song for Cuban Pete that is as famous today as it was when it was first written. 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. Mike Ramos and Freddie Rios did their side by side act never repeating the same steps twice. Funny and exciting were these two men who still dance professionally today. Marilyn Winters danced the entire floor in her one-woman show as did the exciting Carmen Cruz. Either dancing with a partner or alone, she always put on a great show. One of the best couples and most popular was Cuban Pete and Millie Donay. Millie was one of the best and did a solo act that really went over big with the Wednesday night crowds. Mike Terrace with his wife Elita, danced in the Wednesday night shows. They did a combination of Adagio, Ballet, Jazz and Mambo. He was one of the original Palladium Dancers and appeared in West Side Story as Bernardo. He was the prime consultant for the movie, Dirty Dancing. Ernie Ensley and Dottie were one of the featured teams who danced at the Palladium on Wednesday nights. He also had permission to tape the bands. Most Sundays he and his business and dance partner Frances P. Gillespie brought the live music from his reel to reel recordings to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. He also played the music at Side Street, a well known club in the Bronx. 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.


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. The Palladium was in close proximity to the jazz clubs on West 52nd Street, among them Birdland, CuBop City, and the Onyx Club. Various 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:

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 a driving Latin rhythm.[citation needed]

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). Red Garder, Casa Blanca These venues became the places "the scene" went to next. Federico 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" Torin. Jerry Massuchi

Palladium in The Mambo Kings movie[edit]

The dance floor and bandstand of the club were lovingly recreated in The Mambo Kings (1992), a feature film starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas, about the great era of the mambo at the Palladium Ballroom and about the toughest dance promoter who ever was, (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 movie's band, The Mambo Kings Band, also featured Ralph Irizarry, Machito's son Mario Grillo, and others. One of the best books written on the Mambo and its history was called When The Drums Are Dreaming by Josephine Powell. This book replete with historic pictures from her private collection goes through the Mambo from its inception and it is mostly about the life of Tito Puente, who was fond of saying "Salsa is a sauce, Mambo is the Dance". Josephine Powell played an important role in getting Tito Puente a star in Grauman's Chinese Theater. The Hollywood Walk of Fame Star was presented on August 15, 1990. There are several pictures of this momentous event in her book When The Drums Are Dreaming.[4]


  1. ^ Cf. Rondón, p.1
  2. ^ Singer, Roberta L. & Martínez, Elena (Spring 2004). "A South Bronx Latin Music Tale" (PDF). CENTRO Journal. 7 xv1 (1). 
  3. ^ Siegal, Nina (September 8, 2000). "In the Footsteps of Mambo Kings". The New York Times. 
  4. ^

Further reading[edit]

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