For the past week, I’ve been going into Manhattan via the Triboro, and each time I drive down 125th Street, I’ve wondered about the sign on the building at 26 E 125th Street for the Trowel & Square Ballroom.
It’s such a great period sign, with red lettering that looks as though it dates to the 1960s. And I like the smaller sign to the left noting it as being “Available for all social functions,” which feels equally dated.
But what was the Trowel & Square Ballroom, and why was it called that? Does it still exist, or was it replaced by the Salvation Army that now occupies the first floor? And if so, is there anything left? Last Saturday, I noticed signs in the window announcing the store’s closing and realized that if I was going to check it out, this would probably be my last chance.
The ground floor certainly has the size to have once been a dance hall, with enormous ceilings and stretching all the way to the rear of the building.
But just stepping through the door, you can feel a real sense of age to the place, with detailed tin ceilings, a mezzanine balcony, ancient hardwood floors, and a row of castiron columns…
…all leading back to a sort-of grand staircase:
The balcony wraps around 3/4ths of the room…
…with columns literally bursting up through the floors:
Here, another column protrudes through the tin-backed staircase:
A detail of the capital:
Each column is studded about midway up:
A variety of tin designs cover the ceiling:
At the rear of the balcony space is a large open area with a slanted roof:
A bit of wall detailing:
But what I like best are the floors, which are wonderfully worn with age:
A squat little radiator at the front:
A hidden No Smoking sign:
But was this once a ballroom, or dance hall of some kind once? The only history I could find was that in 1938, the building was sold to Killian & Ryan to be used as an auction gallery and furniture showroom, which might explain the design. Then again, the balconies seem a little too tight to serve much purpose for store displays.
At some point, part of the building became the MW Alpha Masonic Lodge, which explains the “Trowel & Square” name. Today, the ballroom advertised for rent is on the second floor of the space…
…with the Masonic Hall on the third floor (a number of Masonic sites list this as a bogus chapter, whatever that means).
But I’m surprised they’d put such a big sign out front for just the smaller second floor space. It almost seems more likely that the first floor was the original ballroom, only to later be rented out as a commercial space. I asked several people in the store along with the building’s janitor, but no one seemed to know.
The building is for sale (only $6.5 million) and the Salvation Army has lost its lease, and I wouldn’t be surprised if all of this is gutted in a year or two.
Maybe the answers are lost to history, but I’d love to know if these floors were worn down by customers coming to look at clothes and furniture, or revelers dancing the night away. If you have any information, please share!
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