Owned by "Gangster" Moe Paddonwho some say was just a front for Chicago's Al Capone and managed by Charles Buchanon. Opened its doors on December 14th, 1926 and closed in 1958. The Savoy was a two story ballroom which ...
spanned the whole block of 140th. street to 141st. street on
Lenox Avenue in (Uptown) Harlem, New York . The Savoy's marquee (as seen above) extended out over the side walk and had a fabulous marble stairway leading into the Ballroom.
The Savoy was pink on the inside and had a good size foyer as you entered the building, was very well ventilated (Air-conditioning not yet invented), and had modern furniture of the times and mirrored walls. The ballroom itself was huge, had two bandstands, colored spotlights, and a dance floor that was rectangular in shape (nicknamed the track) and was over 10,000 square ft. of spring loaded, wooden dance floor. The floor had to be replaced every three years due to the tremendous use it went thru.
Originally, the bar only served soft drinks, Beer and Wine, no hard liquor was served in the early years at the Savoy. The soda fountain bar served up Ice Cream drinks and dishes such as Banana Splits, Sundaes and Floats. Over 150 employees would work the Savoy during a week and the owner would make well over $250.000 a year during it's heyday. The Bouncers at the Savoy would be dressed in Tuxedo's and make about $100.00 a night. There were many fights at the Savoy, Males and Females, but was considerably less than most of the other Ballrooms (including the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan) due to the excellent work of the bouncers at the Savoy.
The Savoy could and very often would hold up to 4,000 people with about 15% of the people being white. Depending on who the band was, the ballroom would more than double its capacity. When Benny Goodman played the Savoy and did battle with Chick Webb, it was reported that there was approximately 25,000 people waiting to get into the ballroom (Webb won). The Orchestra's were paid $1,200 a week to play the Savoy. Unfortunately today there is no trace of the ballroom ever being in that location but there is work being done to have a plaque laid in its place.
The club was only open to the public five nights a week, with two days were reserved for private Parties/Functions. The normal cover charge was between $0.30 cents to $0.85 cents in the early 1930's. During the depression the cover was lower and the Savoy would setup free Holiday dinners for the homeless or poor folks in the area for free.
You could become a member of the Savoy by purchasing a membership of certain Savoy dance clubs called the Lindy Hop Club, the 400 Club, or the Old Timers Club and receive a discounted admission. There were always employed dance hostesses around that would dance with you or be available for private lessons. You did not have to be 21 to gain entrance to the ballroom although most parents would not let you go. At midnight the place was just starting to jump and was open till 3 a.m. (So as the folks catching a play or whatever could still come dancing after.)
The Savoy was known as the "Home Of Happy Feet" and had the best Lindy Hop dancers in the Nation with the Lindy Hop being said to originate at the Savoy. The best of these dancers would hang out together in the N/E corner of the Savoy, known as "Cats Corner." The Savoy was allowing interracial dancing of Blacks and Whites, and was widely done, which was really frowned upon by both races at the time at other night spots, and if they did allow it, but not at the Savoy. Some Clubs such as
the Roseland Ballroom had a mixed race nights (Sundays) but originally would put a rope down the middle of the floor, Blacks on one side and whites on the other on their mixed nights. The Savoy hardly had any problems with fights or trouble makers due to racial issues, everyone was there to dance and or watch.
The roots of the Lindy Hop was the Breakaway and the Breakaway was the main dance of choice in the late 1920's early 30's at the Savoy whose main exponent was "Shorty George" Snowden. Shorty was to name the Breakaway the Lindy Hop, but a slower, smoother version would soon take over the popularity being called "Savoy Style Lindy," (which has roots in today's West Coast Swing. ) Dean Collins and Hubert (whitey) White and the Whites Hopping Maniacs (a.k.a. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers) would help promote this smoother form of Lindy as we know it today thru motion pictures.
There were different types of entertainment at the Savoy such as the famous "Battle Of The Bands" pitting one band against the other, usually Chick Webb's band would compete against another famous band while the dancers would pick the winners. This usually brought the biggest crowds. Ella Fitzgerald won a singing contest up the street from the Savoy and was dancing at the Savoy when someone told Chick Webb about her, he auditioned her and signed her to his band. After his death, Fitzgerald continued Webb's band.
Dance Contest's were also popular at the Savoy Ballroom and the contests were generally held on Wednesdays with prizes going up to third place. First place was around $40.00 in the early days and a chance to perform a solo dance exhibition at the Savoy. The Harvest Moon Ball held it's prelims for the Swing division at the Savoy Ballroom, then later at the Savoy Manor. In the 1950's there were many Mambo dance contests held at the Savoy as well as Jitterbug.
Other dances such as the Suzy-Q , Big Apple, Charleston, Shim-Sham and Truckin' were performed at the Savoy. Other local clubs in Harlem were the Renaissance, Small's Paradise, Connie's Inn, Original Cotton Club, Dixie Ballroom, and the Alhambra.
The Savoy's License was temporarily revoked and its staff of dance hostesses at the Savoy was discontinued in 1943 wth te license being re-instated but not the hostesses. in 1959 the The Savoy Ballroom building was tore down and replaced by the Delano Village. There is now a plaque just north of where the Savoy Ballroom once stood.
There were other Savoy's, not all were like the famous Harlem Savoy, however only one was connected to the Harlem Savoy. Hubert "Whitey" White around 1945 opened his own Savoy Ballroom in Oswego, New York with the assistance of Savoy's own Charles Buchanon. London, England had the Savoy Hotel in the 1920's which featured many American bands and dancers and hosted a Radio Show each week. Chicago had a Savoy Ballroom in which opened in November, 1927, having Louis Armstrong and Carroll Dickinson play there. Barron Wilkins (Exclusive Club fame) opened the Little Savoy in Midtown, New York in the early 1900's. Boston, MA. had a Savoy in the 1940's, Los Angeles had a night club and the Savoy Hotel, located on 601 west 6th. Street, and there was even a Savoy Ballroom in Bakersfield, California in the late 1940's.