Roseland Ballroom to Close

By Robert Ecksel on October 21, 2013
Roseland Ballroom to Close
The venerable Roseland Ballroom is about to meet its fate in the form of a wrecking ball.


Boxing’s relationship to the public, and in turn the public’s relationship to boxing, has changed dramatically over the decades. When fights first appeared on TV in the 1950s, it increased the sport’s visibility but shuttered the fight clubs where local talent was nurtured. That trend was exacerbated when Las Vegas became the venue of choice and New York City, the former Mecca of Boxing, became little more than a boxing backwater, victim to the big money roiling the desert.

The gyms remained open, at least for awhile. The old Gleason’s, Times Square Gym, and Gramercy Gym kept hope alive, but eventually they too took a hit and either closed or adapted to changing times.

One venue that encapsulated the scent of boxing in old New York was Roseland Ballroom on West 52nd Street and Broadway. It had grown funky if not decrepit, but it was genuine, an undesignated landmark of times gone by, a place where ghosts of the past mingled with ghosts of the present, and no one seemed any the wiser.

And now, according to Billboard.com, the once venerable Roseland Ballroom is about to meet its fate in the form of a wrecking ball.

Roseland first opened in 1919 and played host to talents as diverse as Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Madonna and Beyoncé. The sound system sucked and it always felt as if the roof was about to cave in, but that was part of its charm. Roseland hadn’t been renovated, revamped, refined. It hadn’t been tamed. It unabashedly was what it was.

Roller-skating, ice-skating, bingo and boxing also graced the hallowed hall. During the Great Depression, dance marathons, also known as “bunion derbies” and “corn and callous carnivals,” were a regular occurrence.

I have been to Roseland many times during the last thirty years. Usually it was for the fights, but sometimes I’d wander over there out of idle curiosity. I remember going to a singles dance, during a time when I was single and danced, figuring it would be as redolent of the past as I was likely to find in the modern era. Scores of Miss Lonelyhearts and World War II widows were being serenaded by men with slicked-back hair and pencil-thin moustaches, wearing hound’s tooth blazers and white shoes. It wasn’t my world, but it was unmistakably a world, and that unsavory world, that sepia world, may be gone, but it is not forgotten.

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  1. Clarence George 11:54am, 10/21/2013

    Mike:  The restaurant was supposed to close its doors for good at the beginning of the year, but was saved.  It closed temporarily a couple of months ago for this refurbishing business.  I don’t know what it looks like, but when I was last there (for the Golovkin-Macklin presser), I was assured that its appearance would be largely preserved.  I’m skeptical.  I don’t even care for the mural they put up a few years ago.  Two of my favorites were a small photo of a booze-bloated Brendan Behan and a sepia-toned, autographed photo of Jimmy Cagney.

    By the way, I knew—ha!—that we could count on Irish to pick up on Ruth Etting, portrayed by Doris Day in “Love Me or Leave Me,” with Cagney as “The Gimp” Snyder.

  2. Mike Schmidt 11:34am, 10/21/2013

    C. G- Gallagher’s refurbished!!! That is okay but when I walk in the door that picture of Sean O’Grady had better be on the wall close to the coat check and looking all the way to the back Max Baer celebrating his Championship win photo best be on the wall or I am walking right back out. Sir Robert that last paragraph is just a nasty tribute to only the lonely- a beautifully described picture of a picture not so beautiful- hey did I just do an Eckselism thing or somtin like it!!! Hee hee good for me!!

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:20am, 10/21/2013

    This article is short and sweet…... as sweet as the obviously pre-code photo of Ruth Etting’s pulchritude….heck yea!

  4. Bob Canobbio 06:38am, 10/21/2013

    I too have been to Roseland many times attending (and working) boxing shows.  I was always amazed by the display in the lobby that listed the hundreds of “singles” who met at Roseland’s dances and eventually went on to marry.  Lots of great nights (and memories) were had at Roseland- not only by fighters, but by individuals looking for companionship.

  5. Clarence George 04:05am, 10/21/2013

    Awful news, but a lovely eulogy, Robert. 

    Roseland is right across the street from Gallagher’s, which itself has recently undergone a refurbishing (I haven’t had the guts to see what horrors have been perpetrated).  Well, we’ll see what takes its place.  Probably an American Girl store, where the motto is “Follow Your Inner Star.”  Bloody ‘ell!

  6. Bob 03:51am, 10/21/2013

    Sad but nice tribute to another piece of New York history. Hope it doesn’t become a Duane Reade.

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