The Roseland Ballroom is described by Henry Miller in Tropic Of Capricorn
; it may also have been partly the basis for his Dance Hall
mezzotint. In later letters, he would mention that he saw Flecther Henderson play there.
THE ROSELAND BALLROOM - A BRIEF HISTORY
The Roseland Ballroom was built in 1919 at 1658 Broadway (ref
), near 51st Street. It was the second in a string of three Roselands built by Louis Brecker (the original was in Philadelphia). Brecker envisioned a cheap but respectable dance hall: "home of refined dancing." It became one of America's most famous dance halls, in part due to its booking of upcoming jazz greats such as Fletcher Henderson
and Louis Armstrong, in part due to stunts like female prizefighting bouts and law-breaking dance marathons.
After a couple of decades, it jacked up it's refinement factor in order to become "family entertainment": more decor, less taxi dancers, no jitterbugging, bouncers in tuxedos. In 1956, it moved two blocks into a former ice rink at 239 West 52d Street. The older Roseland was demolished. The newer Roseland still exists
. (here's a history of that location
, though it's not the location Miller had visited).Sources
"Romp At The Met
" (Time Magazine
, Jan. 7, 1957)
" [Roseland's Birthday] (Time Magazine
, Jan. 31, 1944.)
"Romance To Roseland
" (Time Magazine
, June 17, 1929)
THE ROSELAND IN TROPIC OF CAPRICORN
On page 94 of Capricorn (Grove Weidenfeld, paperback, 1987), Miller mentions the Roseland. The visit appears to take place in 1923, just before he met June. His friend MacGregor wants to bring him to the Roseland to meet a dancer named Paula. After killing some time, Henry arrives at the Roseland ticket window (page 104): "I enter as per instructions on velvet toes, checking my hat and urinating a little as a matter of course, then slowly redescending the stairs and sizing up the taxi girls, all diaphanously gowned, powdered, perfumed, looking fresh and alert but probably bored as hell and leg-weary...."
"At the rail which fences off the floor I stand and watch them sailing around" (105). "At the end of the floor there is a sign reading 'No Improper Dancing Allowed.'" (105) Miller then launches into impressionitic prose to describe his experience there, much like his brief dance hall portrait in Dance Hall.
In Miller's mezzotint prose poem called Dance Hall (1925), he mentions signs that say "No Improper Dancing," as he does in Capricorn. Of course, these signs likely existed in most of the dance halls (whether they were heeded or not); this is not proof that he was writing about the Roseland.
THE ROSELAND AS A LANDMARK ON THE MILLER LANDSCAPE
The main purpose of this post is to establish this location in relation to where Miller will later claim to have met June Mansfield. A post on the possibility of this being the Arcadia Ballroom is to follow shortly. In that post, I will make reference to the letters in which Miller mentions seeing Flecther Henderson play at the Roseland.
The period postcard images of the Roseland can be found at Streetswing.
The Henderson poster (from 1928) can be found the the NY Public Library Digital Archive.