Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall opened to the public on December 27, 1932. Located in New York City’s Rockefeller Center, this fabulous Art Deco theater is home to The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, a New York Christmas tradition since 1933, and to the women’s precision dance team known as the Rockettes.

International Music Hall, Radio City, New York. Upshot Balcony III. Samuel H. Gottscho, photographer, Dec. 9, 1932. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection. Prints & Photographs Division
International Music Hall, Radio City, New York. House with Curtain Down, from Main Orchestra. Samuel H. Gottscho, photographer, Dec. 7, 1932. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

John D. Rockefeller Jr. engaged New York theater and radio impresario Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel (1881-1936) to plan the theater. Designed by Donald Deskey (1894- 1989), the interior of the theater incorporates glass, aluminum, chrome, and geometric ornamentation. Deskey rejected the Rococo embellishment generally used for theaters at that time in favor of a contemporary Art Deco style.

The ceiling over the Great Stage resembles a setting sun. The immense theater was built to seat nearly 6,000 people. The stage contained built-in elevators to raise and lower scenery as well as the orchestra. Programming was a mix of films and live stage shows.

The twelve-acre complex in Midtown Manhattan known as Rockefeller Center was developed between 1929 and 1940 by John D. Rockefeller Jr., on land leased from Columbia University. Rockefeller initially planned an opera house on the site, but changed his mind after the stock market crash of 1929. One of the complex’s first tenants was The Radio Corporation of America (RCA), hence the names “Radio City” and “Radio City Music Hall.”

Rockefeller Center, Oblique Upshot of Five Buildings. [New York]. Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer, Apr. 2, 1940. Gottscho-Schleisner Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

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On December 27, 1900, Carrie Nation brought her campaign against alcohol to Wichita, Kansas, when she smashed up the bar at the elegant Carey Hotel. Earlier that year, Nation had abandoned the nonviolent agitation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in favor of direct action that she called “hatchetation.” Since the Kansas Constitution prohibited alcohol, Nation argued that destroying saloons was an acceptable means of battling the state’s flourishing liquor trade.

Strike For The Cause Of Temp’rance, Wield In Your Mightiest Blow…

Strike for the Cause of Temperance,” Words by A.W. Carr, music by W. F. Heath; Boston: White, Smith & Co., 1878. Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1870 to 1885. Music Division

Fred Schieck Co. Bar, Minneapolis, Minn. [Between 1895 and 1910]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Born in Kentucky in 1846, Carry Amelia Moore accompanied her family to Missouri in the 1850s. Her first husband, a physician, died of alcohol-related illness early in their marriage, leaving her to support herself, her young daughter, and her mother-in-law. Carry earned a teaching certificate and taught primary school for four years, before losing her position. At this point, according to her autobiography, she prayed that she would find a suitable husband. In 1877, she met and married David Nation–in just six weeks.

Arriving in Kansas in the 1890s, she became active in mainstream temperance organizations. The failure of Kansas authorities to enforce the ban on alcohol initially rallied some support for Nation’s attacks. However, her extreme methods and unladylike behavior ultimately distanced Nation from state and national temperance societies.

Eventually, state fairs and medicine show tours became Nation’s pulpit and source of financial security. Dressed in stark black and white, she promulgated her equally unambiguous views against liquor, tobacco, fraternal orders, and excessive fashion. Freeman Willis of New Hampshire encountered her on the state fair circuit. He later recalled the incident for a WPA interviewer:

The Belknap County Fair at Laconia was a great time for Dr. Greene. He had Carrie Nation…yes, hatchet and all…out there, once, for advertising. He spent a pile of money on advertising. And while Carrie was there the town was hers…as much of it as Dr. Greene’s money could buy.

An Old Yankee Innkeeper; His Story. Freeman Willis, interviewee; Henry H. Pratt, author; New Hampshire, 1938-39. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Yet, Nation’s celebrity was based more on her notoriety as a hatchet-wielding saloon buster than for an appreciation of her cause. Willis recounts that he saw Nation a second time at the Buffalo State Fair. There, she complained, “they don’t believe…a lot of them don’t…that I’m the real Carrie Nation. They think I’m a fake…dressed up to imitate Carrie. I wish you’d tell them I am the real Carrie.”

Paul Wohlbruck Palm Garden Bar, Dayton, Ohio. [Between 1900 and 1910]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century reformers supported the prohibition of alcohol. Suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton often urged adoption of temperance legislation. Lacking legal rights to their property, their wages, and even their children, women’s lives in the nineteenth century were easily devastated if the men they depended on “took to drink.”

The Wife’s Lament, a New Temperance Song…” Archibald Scott, words: New York: H. De Marsan, publisher. America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

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