Why the Roseland Ballroom Had to Stop Dancing

Tonight is the last preformance at the iconic New York concert venue the Roseland Ballroom

Roseland The Zender Agenda

Tonight, Lady Gaga will perform a final concert at the Roseland Ballroom. The venue's been a New York institution since it opened its doors to the city in 1919, and has reinvented itself more than once to keep up with changing fashions. You can imagine that a pop star known for her extreme fashion wouldn’t have always been welcome at a place that banned the twist in 1961 because the dance was “lacking in grace.” But the once-segregated dance hall, which featured performances from Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, transformed over time into a venue for concerts and boxing matches

But even as the acts metamorphosed, the building, originally a skating rink, has aged, and according to the Village Voice, the financial burden got to be too much for the owners. The Voice:

It had become obvious, however, that Algin [the owners] would either have to spend a huge amount to make the extensive structural repairs necessary to bring the building up to code or face heavy fines from the New York City Department of Buildings. Jason McCarthy, the longtime manager of the Black Party, recalls a night when he dodged chunks of plaster raining from the ceiling.

In the Ballroom’s heyday, in the 1920s, it was located one block away from the current location and featured jazz music and dancing. It was able to elude (or attempt to elude) some of the strict dancing laws of the day, which forbade dance marathons. For example, says the New York Times, in 1923:

A planned six-day dance marathon begins at 12:01 a.m. on April 24. To avoid breaking laws that banned competitions lasting more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period, Brecker chartered the Josephine, a 60-foot sloop. As reported in The New Yorker in its June 27, 1942, issue, around dawn, 18 marathoners “danced out of Roseland, boarded a van, and, gyrating all the way,” were taken to the Josephine and then sailed three miles to the sea and out of the code’s jurisdiction. Later in the day, Mr. Brecker sent a telegram to The Brooklyn Times reporting that the boat was to return to shore after the dancers became seasick. “Would be inhumane to continue. May result in permanent physical injury and possible mental disability,” the telegram read.

The Roseland kept dancing well into the 1970s, when founder Louis Brecker died, and ownership of the ballroom passed to his daughter, who sold it in 1981. After that, the venue started hosting bands like Metallica, The Rolling Stones and Madonna, and became a venue for boxing matches that drew celebrities to ring-side seats.

This isn’t the first time that the Roseland Ballroom has been slated to close. The Daily News reported on a potential closing in a gossip column back in 2000. But this time it appears that the rumors are true. Unlike Webster Hall, a similar venue located downtown, the Roseland doesn’t have landmark status, which could have kept the building open. There is no concrete word yet on what the space’s next act will be.

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