Happy Birthday… Music Hall Turns 125

2009 is drawing to a close and the countdown to a special new year begins. 2010 will mark the Music Hall’s 125th anniversary, as well as the 30th anniversary of its rescue from the wrecking ball.

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins presents a $100,000 state grant to Stephen Ballas, Music Hall Board President, Björn Olsson, Executive Director, and Karina E. Ringeisen, Theatre Manager. Photo : Maureen FlemingThe Music Hall was built in 1885 by William Wallace, a wealthy chocolate manufacturer, who had the dream of building a cultural center in the heart of Tarrytown during its “Golden Age.” Early performers included Antonín Dvorák, Rafael Jossefy, and Mae West, and among the participants of the lavish flower shows and balls were notable families such as the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. The Music Hall introduced moving pictures in 1901 and became a full-time movie theater in the 1930s. It then closed in 1976, largely due to the popularity of malls, multiplexes, and television, and soon thereafter it was proposed to the Village of Tarrytown that the theater be torn down and paved over for use as a parking lot.

This would have been the end of the story had it not been for The Friends of the Mozartina, the non-profit organization that purchased the theater on Valentine’s Day in 1980. The rescue was a risky one, for not only was the theater located in what many considered a depressed area, but it was also not operational due to a leaking roof, frozen heating pipes, insufficient electrical power, and other problems. The purchase and renovations were made possible through a mortgage arranged by Stephen Byelick, Vice-President of The Bank of New York, and Berthold Ringeisen, a Founding Board Member who, convinced the theater was important for the Village, put his home and life savings up as collateral. As there was no money available for a staff, the theater was completely operated by volunteers for twenty-three years, and Berthold and his wife, Helen, did most of the work themselves while continuing to work at their full-time jobs as a college language professor and a piano teacher respectively. They dedicated their lives to a building they did not even own. The 80s and 90s were a struggle and there were instances when the Ringeisens almost lost everything.

The Music Hall circa 1900 with its original towerThe Friends placed the Music Hall on the National Register for Historic Places in 1980 and the theater today is one of only 6 percent of theaters in the United States built before 1900. With a full-time staff, over thirty freelance employees, and two hundred volunteers, the Music Hall has emerged as a cultural destination, attracting well over 80,000 people and 30,000 children every year from all over the tri-state area. It is one of the busiest theaters in the region, offering the best in music, theater, dance and film while annually subsidizing local non-profit arts organizations with $50,000 to $80,000 of donated space and contributing over $1 million dollars to the local economy through visitor-related spending.

As ticket sales alone do not cover the costs associated with operating an historic theater, recent public support secured by Congresswoman Nita Lowey, New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, The Westchester County Board of Legislators, and The New York State Council on the Arts, along with donations from The Thursday Club, The Junior League of Westchester-on-Hudson, JP Morgan Chase, M&T Bank, Lucy R. Waletzky, MD, and others, have been instrumental in bringing the Music Hall closer to its full potential. In addition to programming and operating the theater, the staff has been closely working with architects and consultants, and plans for the Music Hall’s overall restoration project are well under way.

Evergreene Architectural Arts discovers an original Art Nouveau pattern underneath the existing paint in the Music Hall lobby as the theater makes plans for its restoration.Stay tuned as the Music Hall celebrates its 125th year! It will be jam-packed with performances by such artists as The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the The Blind Boys of Alabama, Levon Helm, Marianne Faithfull, David Bromberg and Jorma Kaukonen, John Mayall, Inti-Illimani from Chile and Francesca Gagnon of Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria, The Wailin’ Jennys, Bernie Williams, Roger McGuinn and John Sebastian, and many more, as well as several special events. Visit www.tarrytownmusichall.org for updates, see you at the Music Hall!

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