Stomping at the Savoy, or, The Recovering Attorney Is “Claiming” It!

where feet 1.jpg (65964 bytes)Grace!

where feet 2.jpg (38119 bytes)Don’t we wish!

Smithsonian Amer. Art Museum

The Savoy Ballroom on Lenox AvenueI’d wait in the rain!

If you don’t know about Harlem’s world-famous Savoy Ballroom you’d better ask somebody!  That somebody–The Recovering Attorney.  If you haven’t figured it out by now–I am kinda, sort of having a distant love affair with Harlem, New York.  And for good reason.  The beautiful, historic Hamilton Terrace-Hamilton Heights neighborhoodhttp://www.westharlemcpo.org/history/history.shtml is my  stomping ground!  That’s right Harlem’s–Hamilton Terrace was home for a period of time for this Recovering Attorney. 

I am one of those fortunate Americans who can lay claim to Hamilton Terrace in particular and all of Harlem in general.  Being born in Harlem; along with my birth certificate, I was simultaneously issued by my parents, a passport to all of the  rich cultural and historical ports of call on the island of Manhattan, from the Guggenheim, to Lincoln Center, from the Apollo Theatre, to Bergdorf’s to Grant’s Tomb, Fifth Avenue and Madison, from Broadway musicals and Radio City Music Hall to Bloomies and Bendel’s, Saks, Macy’s; B. Altman’s to the Studio Museum of Harlem to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History, to Greenwich Village to the Upper East Side  to 125th Street and Slyvia’s to Mount Morris Park and Central Park to the  Knicks at the Garden, I consider myself one lucky duck  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_from_Harlem,_New_York.  I truly do.  But alas, my grandparents were the true lucky ducks because though neither one of them could proudly call Harlem their birthplace–they were certainly able to look at their Manhattan”passports” and recall the many nights that they stomped at The Savoy Ballroom.

The Savoy was opened in March of 1926 by Moe Gale (Moses Galewski), Charles Galewski (two brothers and known Harlem gangsters) and a Harlem real estate businessman, Charles Buchanan.  The Savoy was billed and lived up to the name as the world’s most beautiful ballroom.  The ballroom featured a 10,000 square foot dance floor, two bandstands and a retractable stage.  The home of Happy Feet, running the length of an entire city block, 140th and 141st on Lenox Avenue and occupying the 2nd floor of the building, the Savoy quickly became the most popular dance venue in Harlem where many of the jazz dance crazes of the 20s, 30s and 40s originated.  Think the Lindy Hop–need I say more! 

The Savoy could hold up to 4,000 people on any given night and surprising for the era– many of the patrons were white.  A big deal (even in) in the  North of the 1920s.  The Savoy’s founders, when they opened the famous venue, made it their goal to encourage and foster racial harmony on the dance floor.  And what a dance floor it was.  With all of the stomping (dancing), hopping and “Harlem shuffling”,  it was noted that the floor was replaced every three years due to its heavy use!  The  sounds of the vibrations were said to be heard on the street below!  If the  foot stomping wasn’t enough for the hoofers and observers, the Battle of the Bands certainly drew the patrons in—King Oliver, Chick Webb, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington among other jazz and swing greats played the Savoy.   And the likes of Clark Gable and Lana Turner traveled uptown to hear the innovative music and take in the latest dance crazes.

The Savoy has long since closed its doors ( 1958), and a marker has been set in place to pay tribute to the Savoy’s positive impact on Harlem, dance, entertainment and racial harmony in New York City and the nation.   But that marker tells another story for my family: 

My grandmother was born and raised in New Rochelle, New York, a village in New York’s affluent Westchester County and though Harlem was a mere 25-30 miles away from the black cultural mecca of the world, her father, my great-grandfather, being a protective father to his three oldest daughters, forbade his daughters from traveling south to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. 

In spite of her father’s admonishment against the Savoy, my grandmother longed to stomp at the Savoy.  So what did she do?  She and her sisters disobeyed their father, stole out one evening and made their way to Harlem and The Savoy.  Now,  this was the 1930s when “good girls” (and my grandmother and her sisters were indeed good girls) obeyed their fathers!  When my grandmother returned that evening to New Rochelle, she and her sisters met the long  look of disappointment from their father.  And though she was duly “punished” by her parents (she never said what that punishment was!) she said she had no regrets…for that night at the Savoy…there was a young, handsome, ambitious man ( and a great dancer) a native of  Far Rockaway Queens, New York also stomping at The Savoy—my grandfather!

The home of Happy Feet—The Savoy was a very special place.  A place where many an adventurous young person traveled to from all over the city, region and from just around the corner to unwind, recover and reinvent—even if their parents disapproved.  Ha!

COPYRIGHT 2011.  The Recovering Attorney Un-Blog(tm).  All Rights Reserved.  And I will sue.  Ha!

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