March 12, 1926
*On this date in 1926, the Savoy Ballroom opened in Harlem, New York. Called the
“Home of Happy Feet,” it was Harlem’s first and greatest Swig Era dance palace.
It was opened by Moe Gale (Moses Galewski), Charles Galewski, and Harlem real-
estate businessman Charles Buchanan, who functioned as the ballroom’s manager. The
Savoy was billed as the world’s most beautiful ballroom; it occupied the second floor of a
building that extended along the whole block between 140th and 141st streets, and
featured a large dance floor (200 feet by 50 feet), two bandstands, and a retractable
stage. Except on special occasions, the ballroom engaged two bands, which played
alternate sets, and this policy led to it’s becoming a famous venue for battles of bands.
It swiftly became the most popular dance venue in Harlem, and many of the jazz dance
crazes of the 1920s and 1930s originated there. The ballroom was the center for the
development of lindyhopping. Dancers such as Leon James, Leroy Jones, Shirley
“Snowball” Jordan and couples George “Shorty” Snowden and “Big Bea” and Sketch
Jones with “Little Bea” created perfect patterns on the floor such as the “Itch” and the “Big
Apple.” During its thirty-two year existence, the Savoy represented a remarkably
successful example of an interracial cultural meeting place, and embodiment of wide
scale acceptance of Black urban culture by whites in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
The Savoy enjoyed a long and glittering career that lasted well into the 1950s, before a
decline in its fortunes set in. The Savoy was torn down in 1958 to make way for a housing
Jazz: A History of the New York Scene
Samuel Charters and Leonard Kunstadt
(Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1962) p.73