Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Most Lavish Ballroom in the Nation

Several Views of the Grand Ballroom of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel.

The Grand Ballroom

In 1910 the Bellevue-Stratford welcomed a new addition, the Grand Ballroom. An exquisite interior space complete with 1,000 gold-leaf chairs, and a magnificent French herringbone parquet floor. The room itself was an immense cavernous interior with a tiered balcony of gilt plaster-boxes with wrought-iron and gilt-finish balcony rails. The bas-relief depicting cherubs adorning medallions and garlands and floral swags. The tall columns were crowned with ionic-style capitals in gilt-finish with pale gold marble facing while alternating pilasters in-between showcased beautiful bas-relief of instruments and music pages and filigree in gilt-finish over plaster. The ceilings were richly paneled with ornamental crown-moldings and decorations with light gilding.

The great coved ceiling was replete with ornate and opulent bas-relief in the Beaux-Arts fashion with cherubs and medallions with garlands amidst novelty Beaux-Arts cluster lighting in corners, strategic places and even below the plaster tiers of the balconies. The room was given a natural touch by ten tall windows on the west face of the Hotel with stained-glass transoms. Promenades ran along both sides on each of the two floors and there were also marble-stair exits and entrances that connected to the beautiful Ballroom.
The entrances originally featured glass with wooden paneling, and the west face curved on both ends giving the room character. A novelty and practicality of the time was the movable stage installed in this room with rich heavy drapery in red, and gilt decorations bordering the crescendo of the stage itself. A cyclorama (made popular in the 18th century in Germany) on the back wall always depicting fountains and gardens with statuary giving the space an almost outside feel and touch...

Many a society and government affair were held in this historic belle of the ballrooms. Debutante's meeting their future husbands would shake hands and dance the night away to the strains of a live orchestra. Champagne glasses would clink as laughter wafted its way through the tall columns and pilasters. The Assembly Ball which was held every single year was moved here when the Hotel opened and ever since has been held at the Bellevue-Stratford even after the 1980's almost had this historic chambre defaced! Philadelphia's High Society, the gentlemen in their tailored dinner jackets and bow ties and the ladies in their bouffant hair-styles with sparkling livery and jewels has left a definite mark on the Grand Dame...

In the 1950's the detailed plaster boxes were gutted and replaced by a simple decorative stainless-steel railing.
The "offensive" and "anachronistic" details of the columns and pilasters were heavily subdued and even painted over to keep with changing tastes and attitudes. Still, Philadelphia partied till the dawn in the Ballroom. The original decorative ceiling painted over, fabrics covering her once pristine marble columns... A contemporary wall inserted that today blocks the original curve of the northern face of the Ballroom... So much has changed.The beautiful windows once giving a view of the Bellevue Court now walled up and not even visible. Once entrances now faceless doors, peeling acrylic paint coats on age-old plaster bas-relief and details. Ripped fabrics on the walls, bent light sconces and fixtures, so much detail decaying before us all!!!

The Richard I. Rubin Co, who then owned the Hotel (1976-present) almost destroyed this historic space when contemplating plans for retail and a massive department store (Boyd's) Historical preservationists pleaded with the owners and it was saved, but unfortunately not given back its glory! Its rightful glory!

A FAR CRY from the historic beauty that was once "The Most Lavish Ballroom in the Nation!!!"

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