Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ballrooms and Roof Gardens...a 20th century love affair

Wisconsin had more ballrooms than any other state. From 1900 to 1960, our dance floors saw every trend and turn in American music and became a major destination for all the major touring orchestras,singers and in the end, rock and roll bands. Pictured below is violinist Charles Elgar, leader of several popular dance bands in the 1920s. The personel in the picture are most likely the same as that of the band that he led at the Wisconsin Roof Gardens in Milwaukee from 1925 to 1927. The Roof Gardens was a popular ballroom at the height of the jazz age and well beyond. It was located on the seventh floor of the Carpenter building at 536 Wisconsin Avenue.
"With many beautiful ornaments, its tasteful decorations and so many dreams coming true there, the Wisconsin Roof gained its nickname of "Aladdin's Palace."
Out of the 31,000 square feet available to the ballroom usage, 18,035 square feet were reserved for the dance floor. Its size made it the largest one in the state. Around the hardwood floor ran a promenade separated from it by latticework. A featured attraction of the promenade was a fancy lounge called Peacock Alley, which was beautifully decorated and furnished with large plate French mirrors, overstuffed divans, soft chairs, and a large piano."

The dance floor was well served by a beautiful 130-foot bar - a masterpiece of indirect lighting. During the Swing Era it often saw up to 10,000 people walk through it's doors on weekend nights. It reached it's apogee during World War II and saw swift decline in the post war years, finally closing it's doors - a victim of television, half-baked modernization and urban flight - in 1958. A sad end to one of the greatest ballrooms ever to grace "The Ballroom State."

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