Monday, November 24, 2014

Ballet and Masons: New York City Center

New York City   Center,   a wonderful concert venue  in the heart of Manhattan on West 55 between 6 and 7 Avenue,    was built in  1923 as a meeting hall for the members of  the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine,  commonly known as Shriners. 
According to  Shriners web site,  "Shriners International is a fraternity based on fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth with nearly 200 temples (chapters) in seven countries and thousands of clubs around the world. "
 I saw shriners for the first time in 2006 on their parade when I was on vacation in Virginia beach. I was surprised to see  hundreds of men dressed in the red funny hats on a tiny cars.  It was the first time in my life when I met Masons.


In 1870, several thousand of the 900,000 residents of Manhattan were Masons.  Many of these Masons used  to  lunch at a special table  at the  restaurant at  Sixth Avenue.  Two of the table regulars,  a prominent surgeon   Walter   Fleming   and  a well known actor  William   Florence  thought that  the world’s oldest fraternity – Masonry was   too focused on ritual. These guys wanted a fraternity that stressed fun and fellowship.


Florence came up with the idea for a Near Eastern-themed party after attending a party thrown by an Arabian diplomat in France.  Fleming added the structure, sketching  the   name,   rituals and rules.  Together, Fleming and Florence designed the fraternity’s emblem   and determined that the red fez with the black tassel would be the group’s official headgear.



The fez derived its name from the place where it was first manufactured , the   city of Fe in  Morocco.  
In  1922, the New York Shriners purchased a lot  on West 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  Harry P. Knowles, a Mason and a Shriner, designed the Moorish-style buildings, but he died early and  the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell realized Knowles' designs.
 The 2,750-seat auditorium had a level main floor and two steeply-sloped balconies. In the basement there was one of the largest ballrooms in New York City. At the north side of the lot and opening onto 56th Street was a   12-story building that contained offices and three lodge rooms for use by the 12,000 members of the temple.


The Mosque of Mecca Temple opened on December 29, 1924.  For the next several years, Mecca Temple was rented for a variety of dramatic and musical performances, lectures and meetings.
In 1937 the temple defaulted on its mortgage payments and in 1942 the city claimed the building for $622,000 in back taxes.  Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia saved the building  and   developed the idea for the City Center for Music and Drama, a New York home for the best of theater, music, and dance.
Today there are approximately 350,000 Shrine Masons ( only men!) belonging to 191 chapters in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and the Republic of Panama.  In order to become a Shriner, a man must first be a Master Mason -all Shriners are Masons, but not all Masons are Shriners.   Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt   and Harry S. Truman , actor Clark Gable and the second men on the moon Edwin Aldrin,  the Founder of the FBI John Edgar Hoover and the last king of Hawaii were shriners.
The City Center today  is  Manhattan’s premier  arts center.  Leonard Bernstein conducted the New York City Symphony in   after-work concerts in New York City Center .   The New York City Ballet and New York City Opera were both born at this theater.   In 1987  Mr. Baryshnikov and Mr. Nureyev appeared on the same program as  Maya Plicetskaya  in this theater. The renowned choreographer  Boris  Eifman  marked the  marked  the 35th anniversary  of his Ballet of St. Petersburg with the U.S. premiere of  " Rodin" in 2012 in New York City Center.
 In 2011, City Center was reopened  after a  started a $75 million renovation. The mosaic walls, arabesque ceilings and the original box-office lobby were restored.
In May 2015   New York City Center presents the American premiere of the new ballet  "Tender is the night"  from Boris Eifman  based on the adaptation of novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.   Tickets are on sale now- so you have a chance to see an beautiful  ballet in a beautiful  theater!