Does Roseland Ballroom's Demise End the Era of the Manhattan Megaclub?

Categories: Longform

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Thunder Kick Photos/Splash News/Newscom
The Bacardi Rebels party at the Roseland Ballroom in June 2013.
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As ABBA's "The Way Old Friends Do" fades out, the house lights slowly come up on a few hundred men (and a smattering of women) who remain on the dance floor. It is 6:30 p.m. on March 23. The 20-hour marathon that was the 35th Black Party is history.

So is Roseland Ballroom.

After Lady Gaga completes her sold-out run of shows -- what she calls "a 10-day funeral" -- on April 7, the owner of the cavernous old building, which stretches from 52nd to 53rd streets between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, hopes to replace it with an apartment tower.

Stephen Pevner, who heads the Saint at Large, which produces the Black Party, wanted this year's theme, "A Ruined Paradise," to evoke "a ruined temple in the jungles of East India" but also Roseland itself, which he calls "a temple of dance [whose] aura of grandness evokes a style of New York that doesn't exist anymore."

Ever since word of Roseland's fate leaked in October, many people have denounced the venue's owner, Larry Ginsberg, as just another greedy landlord putting profits ahead of preservation. What they don't know is that Ginsberg had been keeping the increasingly decrepit dancehall on life support for years.

Roseland is the last undeveloped property owned by Algin Management, the privately held company Larry and his two sisters inherited from their father. Algin has built and now manages several thousand rental units in Manhattan and Queens. Pevner tells the Voice that the rest of the family would have been happy to be relieved of Roseland, but that Larry "loved hanging on to this last bit of his portfolio. It was fun for him." In the 1990s, after a $1 million rigging upgrade, Roseland hosted top acts that included Nirvana, BeyoncŽ, Madonna, and the Rolling Stones. Superstar DJs like Victor Calderone, Tiësto, and the late Peter Rauhofer kept the joint jumping past sunrise.

It had become obvious, however, that Algin would either have to spend a huge amount to make the extensive structural repairs necessary to bring the building up to code or face heavy fines from the New York City Department of Buildings. Jason McCarthy, the longtime manager of the Black Party, recalls a night when he dodged chunks of plaster raining from the ceiling.

In September, Pevner was informed that Algin intended to close the club in early March. "This is something we've been living with every year," the Saint at Large's Mike Peyton tells the Voice. "This didn't just come out of the blue. We've always known that any year could have been the last year." Algin did not respond to requests for comment, but the company has purchased the air rights to two Broadway theaters, virtually ensuring that a new building will tower over the neighbors

Pevner scouted other venues, but the Black Party not only needs a dance floor large enough to accommodate thousands of people, but also an entire weekend to install its own soundsystem and light rigs. The Saint at Large, which has held the party at Roseland for a quarter century, had a two-year option extending through 2015. "I told my lawyer to write a letter to address that we employ a staff full-time to work on this," Pevner says, "and if you're going to renege, here's the settlement." Pevner insisted that Ginsberg keep the club open at least through the third weekend in March, the one nearest the vernal equinox, which the party celebrates. According to Pevner, "They didn't want to end with the Black Party." So Ginsberg ended up with a win-win: Gaga gets reams of publicity and the club goes out in a blaze of glory.

Still, serious dance enthusiasts will always remember the club more for its unobstructed quarter-acre dance floor than as a midsize concert venue. Everything about Roseland was outsize, right down to its 14 coat-check windows.

More than anything, Roseland's closing marks the most painful sign to date that New York City's big rooms have become an endangered species. That a luxury residential space will likely replace it confirms the main culprit: an insatiable appetite for upscale housing that has transformed Manhattan, from the financial district to Harlem and beyond -- what Fordham professor Mark Caldwell, author of New York Night: The Mystique and Its History, has called "galloping gentrification."

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