The Wonder And History Of Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall

Photo: Radio City Music Hall Exterior – Brian Kachejian ©2016

There are some traditions in New York City that both native New Yorkers and tourists from all around the world both annually participate in. For the most part, native New Yorkers and tourists usually have opposing agendas. Tourists who come to New York City for the first time are always focused on seeing places like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square and the World Trade Center.

Most native New Yorkers, especially those who live in New York City ignore those places except to pay tribute at the World Trade Center to many lost loved ones. However, during the holidays it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Whether you’re from Long Island, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, New Jersey, Texas, California, Japan, France, or any place else in the world, there is one destination that we all share the same affinity for enjoying every year around the holidays. That destination is in the heart of Manhattan where Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, and Radio City Music Hall deliver the most incredible holiday experience on the planet. Radio City Music Hall is actually part of the Rockefeller Center complex, but most people in the modern-day associate Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Plaza as two separate locations with their own iconic identities.

Accessing Saint Patrick’s Cathedral or Rockefeller Plaza where the legendary Christmas Tree stands is easy and free. Well, maybe not that easy, the crowds are insane during the holidays. But for most of us, the view of the Christmas Tree and the beautiful decorations surrounding Rockefeller Center make up for the hustle and bustle of the crowds. However, the one place that you need to buy a ticket for usually well in advance is Radio City Music Hall. No matter where you are from in this world, the opportunity to see a holiday show at Radio City Music Hall should be a goal for everyone. I grew up in New York City and have lived in the New York area my entire life. I never get sick of attending the Christmas shows every year at Radio City Music Hall. They are breathtaking, wonderfully produced, mesmerizing, and in their own words “spectacular.”

Radio City Music Hall

Photo: Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show – Brian Kachejian©2016

Radio City Music Hall Seating Capacity

While the annual Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular has become the main attraction of the theater drawing fifty percent of the hall’s yearly visitors, the theater itself is what makes Radio City Music Hall the grandest theatre in the world. It must be noted that Radio City Music Hall is a theater, not an arena. The fact that a theater such as Radio City Music Hall contains close to six thousand seats in a theater setting is striking. No other theater in the world can seat as many people for a performance.

The Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall seats 2,804, the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow seats 2,153, the Concert Hall in Australia’s Sydney Opera House seats a little over two thousand, and New York’s other legendary hall – Lincoln Center seats 2700. Perhaps the only other theater in the world that can be compared to Radio City Music Hall would be the Royal Albert Hall in London which now seats about five and half thousand people. However, at one time, the majestic Royal Theater did hold over ten thousand people.

Out of the 5,900 seats in the Radio City Music Hall theater, 3,500 are set in the orchestra section. There are three mezzanine sections in the theater that hover above the orchestra seating section. For many, the preferred seats of choice in the theater are the lower mezzanine in the first couple of rows. The seats themselves define the superiority of the Radio City Music Hall experience. Each seat in the theatre is plush and comfortable with plenty of legroom. There is even ample space underneath the seats to place any sort of bags or coats.

Radio City Music Hall Measurements

The incredible seating capacity at Radio City Music Hall is not the only attribute of the theater that makes Radio City Music Hall so special. The sheer size of Radio Music City Hall’s theater is astonishing. The ceiling measures eighty four feet high. From the back of the theater to the front of the stage measures one hundred and sixty feet. If you’re sitting in the back row of the orchestra, bring binoculars because you are far from the stage. The width of the Music Hall from side to side runs over one hundred feet. To sit in the middle orchestra section while being surrounded by thousands of people with all eyes fixated on the Grand Stage is a mesmerizing human experience.

The Radio City Music Hall Stage

As Greek theatre evolved in the Classical Period, elaborate structures were built to frame the theatrical stage. Jaw-dropping prosceniums were built to entice the theater-going experience while celebrating and paying tribute to Greek civilization. This was done before the concept of stage curtains was introduced into the theater. The structures that housed the main stage became known as the prosceniums. The Radio City Music Hall Theater was built with a spectacular proscenium arch that stands sixty feet high and 100 feet wide. The stage itself is so large it could fit an entire Official NBA basketball court.

In 2004, Radio City Music Hall hosted a WNBA basketball game when Madison Square Garden was unavailable for their home team the New York Liberty.  Madison Square Garden actually transported its entire basketball court to the Radio City Music Stage. Even with an entire WNBA basketball court sitting on the stage, there was still enough room for player benches and extra space so players did not fall off the stage if they ran out of bounds. An official NBA court measures 94 by 50 feet. The Radio City Music Hall stage measures 140 by 83 feet. That’s a big stage!

The utilization of the Radio City Music Hall stage for professional basketball games was not the first time the stage had been used for a sporting event. Only four years earlier on January 15 2000, Radio Music City Hall presented a Championship Boxing match between Roy Jones Jr. and David Telesco.

The sheer size of the Radio City Hall Music stage is not the only wonder of the Grand Stage. The stage is divided into three sections. There is also a fourth section that houses the orchestra section for musicians. Each section sits on hydraulic-powered elevators. The dividing of the stage into sections powered by historic innovative technology allows for quick set changes and elaborate special effects and presentations. The employment of a turntable floor within the stage sections also helps stage performances that have dazzled and captivated audiences for years. Below the stage sits a massive hydraulic system that powers all the mechanical stage movements.

Radio City Music Hall

Photo: Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show – Brian Kachejian ©2016

Radio City Music Hall Lobbies

When one steps inside Radio City Music Hall for the first time, they are greeted by a series of hallways and rooms engulfed in the world of Art Deco design. When Radio City Music Hall was being built, there was a competition put in place to choose the Hall’s interior designer. That competition was won by a man from Minnesota named Donald Sidney Deskey. The famed industrial designer set in motion the design process by hiring specialists in their own fields of design.

Deskey hired a pair of renowned textile designers named Ruth Reeves and Marguerita Mergentime. The two designed the carpets and fabrics that lined the foyers and halls of Radio City Music Hall. The fabric pulsated with the images of musicians, musical elements and the colors of red, brown, gold, and black. The Music Hall’s ceramic fixtures were designed by Henry Varnum Poor. The bronze plaques of Vaudeville characters located in the lobby were designed by Rene Chambellan. Desky designed an interior that was filled with not just a Grand Foyer but also multiple lounges and smoking rooms. This was to be a destination to enjoy not just a show, but the entire theatrical complex itself.

The architecture of Radio City Music Hall was designed by Edward Durell Stone. Many of the ideas behind the strategies of Radio City Music Hall’s theatrical presentations were fueled by the ideas of a successful theater operator named Samuel Roxy Rothafel.

The wonder and history of Radio City Music Hall were a product of so many visionaries once the project began. From its brass ticket booths, brass-railed staircases, charming chandeliers, beautiful carpets, statues, and more it was a labor of love balanced between building the grandest theatre in the world while laying a foundation of originality and welcome that would cater to all. Nonetheless, none of that would have been possible without the help of a man known in New York City as John D. Rockefeller.

Radio City Music Hall: History

The Great Depression of the 1930s fueled many changes in American society. It eventually led to a new American President installing a system of public projects meant to increase jobs and spark the economy. President Roosevelt’s New Deal program proved to be successful in beginning to steer the nation out of the Depression. Although, many historians will argue that it was the advent of World War II that ended the Great Depression. Nonetheless, before the nation choose Franklin D. Roosevelt over the incumbent Herbert Hoover to rescue itself, there were American Businessmen looking to create projects that would increase their fortunes while also contributing to society, which in turn would increase their fortunes. Not all businessmen were successful in their attempts to save their fortunes. Some saw the risk of venturing forward into a new business as suicidal.

John D Rockefeller had recently leased a large parcel of land in midtown Manhattan. His plans were to develop that land and build a new Metropolitan Opera House on the site. John D. Rockefeller had paid ninety-four million dollars for a twenty four year lease on the property in Manhattan. The plans to build the new Metropolitan Opera House were soon scraped as many of Rockefeller’s partners dropped out. While John D. Rockefeller watched his fellow businessmen run away scared, he did what all legendary Captains of Industry did; he looked for new partners.

With plans to build the new Metropolitan Opera House shelved and dealing with the loss of investors, John D. Rockefeller came up with a new plan. His idea was to build a media complex that would attract people of all incomes. On that property would be a series of theaters. To build the complex John D. Rockefeller found a new partner that just been formed ten years earlier. That partner would be known as the Radio Corporation of America. The Radio Corporation of America had been a subsidiary of General Electric.

John D. Rockefeller’s partnership with the Radio Corporation of America was a brilliant move because General Electric was an extremely powerful company and the Radio Corporation of America also known as RCA was heavily invested in becoming a powerhouse leader in the developing field of broadcast media. It was a company that was not only a pioneer in being the first broadcast network as NBC, but also a company that built all the equipment to send and receive the broadcasts.

The naming of Radio City Music Hall came out of the partnership between John D. Rockefeller and the Radio Corporation of America. There was a slight variation in the naming of the hall because Radio City Music Hall sounded a lot better than Radio Corporation Music Hall.

Radio City Music Hall opened its doors on December 27, 1932. S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel utilized the same vaudeville type spectacle that he had produced at his Roxy Theater. Within a year, Radio City Music Hall became a movie house that premiered the biggest films of its time. The films would be presented with stage shows and a performance by a group of female dancers called the Rockettes. Soon, the Rockettes would become such a featured attraction, some felt they had become bigger than the hall itself. The Rockettes were originally brought over to Radio City Music Hall from the Roxy Music Hall by S.L. “Roxy” Rothafel. They were an instant hit and have been the most popular attraction at Radio City Music Hall ever since.

Over the years, Radio Music Hall has faced many financial issues. It came close to being closed a few times. In 1978, there was actually a closing date. However, the Empire State Development Corporation stepped in to lease the building and build office space above the music hall to help turn a profit. Eventually, the plans to build office space were scrapped and Rockefeller Center decided to renovate Radio City Music Hall. In 1979, the Hall reopened. The addition of first-run rock and roll concerts and the hosting of multiple big-time award shows like The Grammys, The Oscars, The Tonys, the MTV Awards and NFL draft proved to help the Hall turn a profit.

In 1997, New York’s Cablevision which would become the Madison Square Garden Company took control of Radio City Music Hall. The strength of the Madison Square Garden Company helped secures the future of Radio City Music Hall. Over the last twenty years, New York City has become one of the top tourist cities in the world with close to fourteen million international visitors a year. Combined with the city’s tourism industry and the surrounding area’s immense population, it seems as though the music will keep playing at Radio City Music Hall for many years to come.

Radio City Music Hall

Photo: Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show – Brian Kachejian ©2023

Radio City Music Hall

Photo: Radio City Music Hall Exterior – Brian Kachejian ©2023

Sources:

Francisco, Charles. The Radio City Music Hall: An Affectionate History of the World’s Greatest Theater. New York: Dutton, 1979.

Eisenstadt, P. E. (2005). The encyclopedia of New York State/ editor in chief, Peter Eisenstadt ; managing editor, Laura-Eve Moss ; foreword by Carole F. Huxley. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. p.503

To purchase tickets to see a show at Radio City Music Hall just click on the Radio City Music Hall Tickets link below

Purchase Radio City Music Hall Tickets

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