Live From Radio City
Syracuse, N.Y. -- In New York City, there is a venue so classic that Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Tony Bennett have all performed on its Great Stage. But it is also so trendy that when the MTV Video Music Awards are held there, rock bands can often be seen performing on its roof. The building of course, is the world-famous Radio City Music Hall, the largest indoor theater in the world.
Radio City Music Hall opened to the public on December 27, 1932. It was the first completed project within the "Radio City" complex created by billionaire industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and it was the dream of Rockefeller and impresario S.L. "Rox" Rothafel.
Radio City Music Hall was a bright beacon in dark days - a celebration of light and life. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Rockefeller held a $91 million, 24-year lease on a piece of midtown Manhattan property properly known as "the speakeasy belt." Plans to gentrify the neighborhood by building a new Metropolitan Opera House on the site were dashed by the failing economy and the business outlook was dim. Nevertheless, Rockefeller made a bold decision that would leave a lasting impact on the city's architectural and cultural landscape. He decided to build an entire complex of buildings on the property—buildings so superior that they would attract commercial tenants even in a depressed city flooded with vacant rental space. The project would express the highest ideals of architecture and design and stand as a symbol of optimism and hope.
In her book, "Radio City Music Hall, A Legend is Reborn," Gail Greet Hannah said, "Radio City was to be a palace of the people. A place of beauty offering high quality entertainment… It was intended to entertain and amuse, but also to elevate and inspire." The objective of the theater was to offer high-quality entertainment at prices "ordinary" people could afford.
Radio City quickly became the favorite first-run theatre for moviemakers and moviegoers alike. Just two weeks after its gala opening, Radio City Music Hall premiered its first film, The Bitter Tea of General Yen. Before long, a first showing at the Music Hall virtually guaranteed a successful run in the theatres around the country. Radio City's huge screen and widely spaced seats make it the ideal movie house. Since 1933 more than 700 movies have opened here. They include the original King Kong; National Velvet, the film that secured Elizabeth Taylor's hold on the silver screen; White Christmas; Mame; Breakfast at Tiffany's; To Kill a Mockingbird, starring former Radio City usher, Gregory Peck; Mary Poppins; 101 Dalmatians; and The Lion King.
The building itself is stunning. One New York theater critic reported, "It has been said of the new Music Hall that it needs no performers." Its marquee is a full city-block long. Its auditorium measures 160 ft from back to stage and the ceiling reaches a height of 84 ft. There are no columns to obstruct views, and three mezzanines provide comfortable seating without looming over the rear orchestra section below. As a result, every seat in Radio City Music Hall is a good seat.
Additionally, all 6,240 seats are comfortable year round thanks to Carrier air conditioning. When Radio City Music Hall was built, Carrier centrifugal refrigeration provided the cooling while Carrier engineering assured complete absence of noise and draft.
The Great Stage is another Radio City attraction. A huge proscenium arch measuring 60 ft high and 100 ft wide borders the Great Stage. It is considered by technical experts to be the most perfectly equipped in the world. It is made up of three sections mounted on hydraulic-powered elevators. The elevator system was so advanced when it was built that the U.S. Navy used identical hydraulics in constructing World War II aircraft carriers. According to Radio City folklore, during the War, government agents guarded the basement to make sure that no enemy spy could steal the Navy’s superior technology.
The Great Stage's shiny gold curtain is the largest in the world. And who could forget the special effects? Original mechanisms still in use today make it possible to send up fountains of water and bring down torrents of rain. Fog and clouds are created by a mechanical system that draws steam directly from a generating plant nearby.
More than 300 million people have visited Radio City Music Hall over the past 70 years, many of them to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The eight-week show has been a sell-out success since its debut in 1933. It is an enchanting combination of old favorites - including "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "The Living Nativity," and new delights. A seven month, $70 million restoration of Radio City was completed in 1999. From the famed marquee to the seats and the ceilings to the carpets, the restoration returned Radio City Music Hall to its famed glory, which would not have been possible without Carrier air conditioning.