Today in History

Today in History: December 27

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 The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, a New York Christmas tradition since 1933, and to the women's precision dance team known as the "Rockettes."

View of balcony from below
International Music Hall, Radio City, New York. Upshot of Balcony III, International Music Hall,
Samuel H. Gottscho, photographer, December 9, 1932.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955

View of stage
International Music Hall, Radio City, New York, New York, House with Curtain Down, from Main Orchestra,
Samuel H. Gottscho, photographer, December 7, 1932.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955

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. [delete link here—moved forward], 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."

View of Rockefeller Center, looking up
Rockefeller Center, Oblique Upshot of Five Buildings, New York, New York
Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer, April 2, 1940.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955

Temperance

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, 1878.
Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music 1870-1885

On December 27, 1900, Carry Nation brought her campaign against alcohol to Wichita, Kansas, when she smashed 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.

Interior of a bar
Fred Sehick Co. Bar, Minneapolis, Minn.,
Between 1895 and 1910.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

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," New Hampshire
Henry H. Pratt, interviewer, ca. 1938-39.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940

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."

Interior of the Palm Garden Bar
Paul Wohlbruck Palm Garden Bar, Dayton, Ohio,
Between 1900 and 1910
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

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."

Cover of sheet music
"The Wife's Lament, a New Temperance Song,"
America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets

Learn more about Carry Nation and the movement to prohibit alcohol in the United States: