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This Day In History, 1932


At the height of the Great Depression, thousands turn out for the opening of Radio City Music Hall, a magnificent Art Deco theater in New York City. Radio City Music Hall was designed as a palace for the people, a place of beauty where ordinary people could see high-quality entertainment. Since its 1932 opening, more than 300 million people have gone to Radio City to enjoy movies, stage shows, concerts, and special events.

Radio City Music Hall was the brainchild of the billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who decided to make the theater the cornerstone of the Rockefeller Complex he was building on a formerly derelict neighborhood in midtown Manhattan. The theater was built in partnership with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and designed by Donald Deskey. The result was an Art Deco masterpiece of elegance and grace constructed out of a diverse variety of materials, including aluminum, gold foil, marble, permatex, glass, and cork. Geometric ornamentation is found throughout the theater, as is Deskey's central theme of the "Progress of Man." The famous Great Stage, measuring 60 feet wide and 100 feet wide, resembles a setting sun. Its sophisticated system of hydraulic-powered elevators allowed spectacular effects in staging, and many of its original mechanisms are still in use today.

In its first four decades, Radio City Music Hall alternated as a first-run movie theater and a site for gala stage shows. More than 700 films have premiered at Radio City Music Hall since 1933. In the late 1970s, the theater changed its format and began staging concerts by popular music artists. The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, which debuted in 1933, draws more than a million people annually. The show features the high-kicking Rockettes, a precision dance troupe that has been a staple at Radio City since the 1930s. Today, Radio City Music Hall remains the largest indoor theater in the world.
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In my youth, I often heard my mother talk about the grand movies she saw on the large screen. But by the time I was old enough to go there, the choice of movies that played had been reduced to the most simple-minded of family fare. When we finally went, it was to see (IIRC) something called "Wilderness Family Robinson." And I was too young and too devout to appreciate anything about the Rockettes.

The theater came close to going out of the business, and in a way it has. The grand movie palaces of the past are gone. While a handful of theaters in NYC boast truly large screens, and a couple actually have silver screens, the theaters I heard so much about will never return. Never will we get to see Scarlett O'Hara's grand entrance on a huge screen.
I don't think I ever went to Radio City Music Hall.

In the movie RADIO DAYS, set in 1943, there is a scene where the family goes to Radio City Music Hall to see a film. All they had to do in 1985 when filming the scene was close the Hall for the day. Apparently the interior looks just the same as it did in the 1940s.

December 2016

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