On December 27, 1932, Radio City Music Hall opened its doors to a packed house of 6,000 people. Billed as “The Showplace of a Nation,” Radio City Music Hall enamored the audience with over 500 performers on its opening night. Some notables included dancer/choreographer Martha Graham, vaudeville actor/film star Ray Bolger, the newly formed Rockettes and a performance by a military band.
Unfortunately, the programming lasted much longer than expected, causing half the audience to exit midway through the event. Subsequent events and programs were fine-tuned and changed. In 1933, Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) pictures began to sponsor and premier films on a regular basis. Over the years, entertainment would extend to symphony orchestras, stage productions and beginning in the 1970’s, rock and pop concerts.
At 60 feet wide and 100 feet deep, the Great Stage of Radio City Music Hall has supported thousands of performers over a span of nearly eighty years (which includes the golden age of radio). Built during the height of the Great Depression, John D. Rockefeller managed to turn a potential folly into an icon. Rockefeller had a dream. He was determined to build something that would uplift and celebrate the human spirit during a time of immense hardship and tragedy.
Beginning in 1929, Rockefeller decided to convert some dilapidated Manhattan property into a one of a kind building complex. He was convinced that he could transform the former “speakeasy” district into prime real estate. In his mind, this transformation would attract tenants willing to pay top dollar; however, more than the money, the complex, he believed would stand as a model and an inspiration to the country.
Radio City Music Hall stands as a testimony to the perfection and elegance of the art deco form. Interior designer, Donald Deskey chose to emphasize that beauty and grandeur could be achieved without gaudy excess. Deskey’s intent was to play tribute to the achievements of humankind. His theme, “The Progress of Man” is prominent on the exterior, as well as interior of the building. Deskey also used a variety of mediums, to create a visual concept of separate spaces within the structure. In addition, he used the latest engineering technology available during his time to create a hydraulic stage structure that could be lowered and elevated in sections.
In 1999, the Hall underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and restoration to bring it back to its original splendor. Today, the hall continues to show a few new films, but it is best known for its concerts and events. The spectacular Christmas extravaganza begun in 1933 continues to attract thousands of visitors each year.