Nearly 100 years ago, a dance club opened in Harlem with a then-novel business model: rejecting racial discrimination. The iconic Savoy Ballroom gave birth to some of the most vivacious dances of the time and showcased a who's who of jazz greats.
It also broke new ground. White-owned but managed by a Black man, the Savoy was one of the first racially integrated public places in the US, allowing it to attract a wide range of customers at a time when segregation was still the norm across the country. Dubbed "the world's finest ballroom," the venue proved so popular that it had to turn away 2,000 patrons on opening night.
The club is long gone now, but Google on Wednesday launched an interactive Doodle to celebrate this day in 2002 when a plaque was installed to mark the location of the ballroom's entrance on Lenox Avenue between 104th and 141st streets. Instead of challenging your fancy footwork, the Doodle tests your fleet finger work on the keyboard while you're serenaded by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
Opened in 1926, the Savoy featured a 10,000-square-foot dance floor that was a city block long and could accommodate 4,000 people. Every year, more than 700,000 people visited the club annually, passing through a lobby that featured a large, cut glass chandelier and marble staircase. Men were required to wear a coat and tie -- one of the house rules enforced by tuxedoed bouncers who were former boxers and basketball players.
The ballroom's two bandstands allowed continuous live music all night from such future jazz greats as Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk, just to name a few. The twin bandstands also played host to the club's famous battles of the bands, including one between the bands of Chick Webb and Benny Goodman when both were at the height of their popularity.
Webb's 1934 Big Band and jazz standard Stompin' at the Savoy was written in honor of the ballroom.
Nicknamed the "home of happy feet," the Savoy also originated and developed a long succession of dances, including the Lindy Hop, the Flying Charleston, the Stomp, the Big Apple and the Jitterbug Jive, among many others.
The ballroom closed in 1958, after a little more than 30 years in business. It was demolished the next year, but its memories and legacy live on.