Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Arcadia Ballroom Theory

This entry is essentially a lengthy footnote to my recent post about Wilson’s Dancing Studio. While convinced that Wilson’s is the location in which Henry met June, I was initially intrigued by the possibility that it was actually the Arcadia Dance Hall /Ballroom. The following is a series of speculations about this theory, which I’d considered while trying to establish primary source evidence to support the Wilson’s theory.

[1]Film locations list for The Henry Miller Odyssey.
[2] Tropic Of Capricorn, p. 208 – ("Amarillo")
[3] HM letter to Harold Clurman [July 18, 1975]. – PBA Galleries: Personal Archives of Henry Miller – Part I: Item 36.
[4] HM letter to Robin Commagere [Feb. 8, 1976]. - PBA Galleries: Personal Archives of Henry Miller – Part I: Item 39.
[5] “Manuscript Notes on Plexus (1947) -- 'Scheme'" Published in Henry Miller on Writing (Edited by Thomas H Moore, 1964).


1. A list of locations relevant to his life in New York was recently posted on Ebay [1] . Written in his hand, this 8-page list [one page is shown at left] was meant as reference for the producers of The Henry Miller Odyssey. The images posted on Ebay are small but mostly legible. While I see no mention of Wilson’s (which you would think was important to him), there is this instead:
“Arcadia Dance Hall (June). The one opposite with (?) Fletcher Henderson's band."

This seems to imply that the hall is significant for relating to June. While June worked in many bars, clubs and cabarets, I’m pretty sure that she is said to have worked in only one dance hall.
b) It’s possible that the question mark on this list is meant to be applied to the word “June,” (due to its proximity to the word) meaning that it’s possible Miller wondered if this was in fact the place he met her, which could suggest that he’d forgotten.
c) Fletcher Henderson used to play The Roseland Ballroom (see my posting on Roseland).

This photograph of the Arcadia Ballroom was taken in 1933. Source: NY Public Library Digital collection.

2. In his free-form notes handwritten in preparation for the writing of Plexus [2] , Miller wrote: “Arcadia Dance Hall – girl from Texas.”

In context, this mention exists within a list of events that occurred after he met June.
b) I could not identify the “girl from Texas” in Plexus or any part of the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy. The closest "girl" incident I could find in the timeline of notes is the story of the Cherokee dancer at Remo’s (in the Village, where June also worked for a time) who miscarried then killed herself. But this does not confirm she's from Texas, nor explain a connection to the Arcadia, which was off of Times Square, not in Greenwich Village.

3. In a letter written in 1975 [3] , Miller wrote the following:
“At that time my wife June was an understudy for Winifred Lenihan's Joan of Arc. I met her in a dance hall (Greek) opposite The Roseland.”

This is the most explicit thing I’ve ever read in which Miller clearly states where he met June; whether it is accurate or not is another thing. The Roseland was around Broadway & 51st, the Arcadia at 52nd/53rd, and Wilson’s Dancing Studio at Broadway & 46th. I should mention, that the Roseland changed location in 1956, to Broadway & 52nd. Miller's letter [3] was written in 1975, so he may have been refering to the location of the Roseland at that time (which would place it "opposite" the Arcadia).
b) Regarding the ref to “Greek”: While the unnamed dance hall described in Sexus is managed by a Greek man, the very word “arcadia” is Greek, unlike the name “Wilson’s.”

1. Amarillo Dance Hall. In Tropic Of Capricorn [2] , Miller tells his tale of meeting June. He calls this location the Amarillo Dance Hall. First, there's the fact that both Amarillo and Arcadia begin with the letter "A." Second, there's the curious coincidence that Miller connected Aracadia with the "girl from Texas" and the fact that Amarillo is a city in Texas.

2. The following is probably just flat-out incorrect, but I'll mention it anyway: in the description for PBA item #39 [4] , the listings writer paraphrases Miller's letter by saying: "He goes on about the orgasmic experience of jazz, hearing Fletcher Henderson at the Roseland Dance Hall in New York (where he met June)." This confirms that Miller used to listen to Henderson at the Roseland, but this is the only place I've ever seen it suggested that Miller met June there as well. Perhaps the original quote was mis-read and actually said he met June "near" Roseland ????

Several images of the Arcadia can be discovered if you zoom and pan into the images tagged as "51st and Broadway" at the NY Public Library Digital Archive.


If Miller met June in the summer of 1923, then this next piece of information will put an end to the theory (ok, my theory ... my self-debunked theory) that Henry met June at the Arcadia Ballroom: The Arcadia Ballroom did not open until October 1924! The New York Times from October 2, 1924, (p.26) reports on the opening of "Broadway's Newest Dance Hall." (here's an internet reference to its origins; the actual article is at left). The Arcadia Ballroom became equal to The Roseland in fame as a dance hall and jazz hall, and sponsored many dances for servicemen during WWII. It later became the Riviera Terrace (ref) then, in 1966, The Cheetah.

So, all Aracdia theories seem off. HOWEVER: before the Arcadia Ballroom was renovated and re-opened as Arcadia, it existed as The Blue Bird. This was another dance hall, managed by one Jack Fiegel (as reported in NY Times, Dec. 12, 1922, p. 7: "Public Dance Hall Owners Organize.").

Henry met June at The Blue Bird? Any takers? Not me, I'm sticking with Wilson's. But do you see where I had cause to investigate? Had Henry actually forgotten the name of the place?


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12:56 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A zillion thanks. I have been searching for information on the Arcadia because my parents met there in February/March, 1934. My heart is racing. You have given me a great, great gift. Good luck in your work.

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Blogger Unknown said...

After my parents and I came to America from a Displaced Persons camp, my father got a second job as a bartender at the Arcadia Ballroom. I've been trying for years to find images and references to it but they were sparse. Thank you so much for your research.

Jane Kagan Vitiello

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