Radio City Music Hall is one of New York’s most treasured landmarks; a beautiful, gleaming masterpiece of Art Deco design, home to the world famous Rockettes and sold out concerts all year long. It is also however, home to one of my favourite secret places in all of Manhattan, for hidden away above the stage, not open to the general public, is an immaculately preserved, sumptuous Art Deco apartment.
Such is Radio City Music Hall’s standing in American popular culture, it is known colloquially as ‘the show place of the nation’. It opened in 1932 primarily as an ornate movie palace, and architect Edward Durrell Stone and designer Donald Deskey spared no expense in creating one of the most lavish and elegant entertainment venues imaginable.
From the iconic neon signs dominating the corner of West 50th Street and the Avenue of the Americas, to the vast breath-taking murals decorating the lobbies, to the sweeping, gilded staircases, much of Radio City’s charm is in magically transporting audiences back to the 1930s. And in the 1930s, no one thrilled audiences quite like Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel.
When he was hired to bring his golden touch to Radio City, Roxy Rothafel was already responsible for one of Manhattan’s glitziest movie theatres– his Roxy in Times Square was rightly known as ‘the cathedral of motion pictures’.
Rothafel pioneered the use of live orchestral music to accompany movies, but his lasting legacy was in creating a highly synchronized dancing troupe to perform alongside the latest film releases, the world famous Rockettes.
Radio City legend has it that to reward Roxy for his creation, Edward Durrell Stone and Donald Deskey made him a private apartment, secreted away deep inside the storied concert hall.
Today, Roxy’s apartment is off limits to the general public attending a show, but is used occasionally for entertaining prestigious guests, and opening night parties and the like. Walking into the elegant confines of the apartment is like stepping back in time, to the height of Manhattan high society just before World War Two.
The first thing one notices is the height of the ceiling; at twenty feet high, it should catch the eye, entirely covered in shimmering gold leaf.
The dark mahogany furniture was built with the sleek lines of Art Deco style, whilst the rich cherry walls inlaid with low bookshelves provide a sumptuous but comfortable atmosphere.
It was designed with a bedroom on a raised floor, a kitchen and a dining room complete with a perfectly domed ceiling – made to enhance the acoustics of conversation during dinner. The guest book is still on display, showing that once people like Alfred Hitchcock, Samuel Goldwyn and Olivia de Havilland came here to be entertained by Roxy Rothafel.
After the theatre impresario died, the apartment was sealed up and largely forgotten, a perfectly preserved relic from one of the cities golden eras, until it recently began to be used for the occasional swish event.
No one lives there now, but the largely untouched apartment remains one of Manhattan’s most elegant secrets, made all the more mysterious from being closeted away deep inside one of the cities most famous landmarks.