Radio City Music Hall: The Showplace of the Nation

On 1260 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan is The Showplace of the Nation, Radio City Music Hall. This building was the first of the Rockefeller Center Complex. Built in 1932, the 9 million dollar investment came from a joint venture of 8 million Rockefeller dollars and 1 million Roosevelt Work Program Administration dollars. In today’s terms this venture would have cost 150 million dollars.

This 6,000 seat theater has 5,000 lights, and its original 1932 curtain weighing 4,000 pounds. It was the brain child of designer Roxy Rothefel, an American theatrical entrepreneur. Opened December 27, 1932, Irving Berlin, Amelia Earhart, and Charles Lindbergh, were a few of the celebrities at the premiere.

In 1999, this designated historic landmark underwent a 70 million dollar restoration. The renovation was done to upgrade the technical and mechanical sections of the theater, however, engineers found these components sound. Therefore, the original 1932 mechanisms remain.

The stage is the size of an entire New York City block and made of metal. Stage sections are movable and can raise as high as 13 feet. The hydraulic elevator can lift 81 tons. During World War II engineers studied the mechanism and implemented some of its components in their aircraft carriers. Because of this during World War II the hydraulic elevator was guarded by the military.


Those who have performed at the theater is a listing of musical royalty such as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Maria Carey, Lionel Richie, Beyonce, and Jay Z to name a few. Bette Midler holds the record of 30 sold out performances. Besides musical talent the stage has also lent itself to the award shows such as the Tony’s, Grammy’s, as well as the WBNA basketball games, and, of course, the annual Christmas show with its elaborate pageantry. The Hall welcomes 2 million visitors a year.

Entering the theater lobby The Fountain of Youth mural graces the far end of the foyer. This mural made in a tennis court was shipped to the Hall in pieces for direct wall application. The art deco piece graces the majestic stairwell. Designer Rothefel based some of the Music Hall’s designs on cruise ship decor and one can witness that in this grand stairwell.

At the end of the lobby another majestic staircase leads to the original 1932 bathrooms. This lower level area was painted black in an effort to block or reduce voices. The sculpture, Spirit of the Dance, a controversial nude statute, guards the bathroom lounges.

Inside the ladies lounge murals describing the history of cosmetics adorn the sitting area. Original pedal push hand dryers and pedestal sinks from 1932 remain as well as a sitting area for primping.

The mens lounge also has a phenomenal mural.

Outside of the actual men’s room toilets.

Directly across from the bathroom is a mural, Fantasimo Goria, which rests above the concession stand.

Next on our visit was the stage area and dressing rooms for talent and this includes the live animals of the Christmas show. Since camels are large animals they are housed on stage level and walk from their dressing room to stage. The same animals return annually to perform and live in an Upstate New York Farm when they are not working. During show season each morning these animals are exercised on the streets of the City to the delight of many.

Elephant walking up the stairs. Only in New York..

While on the subject of animals.. At one point an elephant was brought to perform at the theater. Because elephants fear structures without underpinning the elephant took the stairs. This photo is a piece of Radio City Music Hall history.

A private apartment was built for designer, Roxy Rokefel, and this apartment also holds original furnishings from 1932. Sadly, Roxy never saw the actual completion of the theater, however, some say they have seen him in spirit as he roams the upper balcony.

This dance has been done since 1932.

All that said… let’s talk Rockettes!

This famous dancing group began in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri. Roxy Rokefel brought them to his New York City theater and transitioned them to Radio City Music Hall officially naming them the Rockettes.

The original 1932 costume shop still remains with the budget for costumes that year $1200. In 2000, a Swarvoski crystal costume cost $10,000 for one and with 80 rockettes – well, I’ll let you do the math.

The height requirement for a Rockette is between 5’6″ and 5’10 1/2″. Annually, the Rockettes audition for their spot with job longevity for troupe members usually 10 to 15 years and one gal in her 20th year. ‘

Auditions are a 2 day process held in April and up to 600 audition, however, some years there are no openings. During the audition 3 dancers dance together where they tap, kick and do a routine. Retaining dance step information is key during these auditions as in the course of a show there are up to 900 dance coordinates.

If interested, (and we had a gal on the tour who was), an intensive summer program is conducted for 6 days to prep for the Rockette audition. During this program the participants actually learn part of the show.

On stage the tallest Rockette is placed center with tall, medium tall, and medium height gals surrounding the center position. During the Christmas show season there are 6 performances daily. Rehearsals begin months before with 300 hours prior to performance of 6 hours per day, 6 days a week. As showtime gets closer rehearsals are Monday through Saturday, 1pm-10pm.

The Rockettes have dressing rooms proximate to the stage as their fastest costume change is 80 seconds. If someone takes a tumble another Rockette must be suited up in 30 seconds to complete the show. For each show there are 36 kickers and 4 swing kickers just in case. And you thought they were just a pretty face!

All this info was relayed by an actual Rockette. Note picture. I am on the right. Chuckle….

Rumor has it — Radio City is considering reviving their Easter Show…

One thought on “Radio City Music Hall: The Showplace of the Nation

  1. Hi- Can you tell me what years the elephants were at RC? My Mom was a Rockette and told me about the difficulties of riding on an elevator with an elephant and the smell! She was small and was always on top of the elephant on stage. She was also on the very end of the long line during the famous line spins and told me how hard it was to keep up as the tall girls were in the middle barely moving. I am guessing this was in the 30’s. Thank you


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