The Troy Street Observer

Did Wallflowers Grow at Horticultural Hall?

Wallflowers are generally spotted along the sidelines at dances, but were wallflowers ever spotted at staid Horticultural Hall? The answer is, rarely.

In the peak years of the big band/dance scene, Horticultural Hall had a prime location across the street from Symphony Hall, and a 5,000-square-foot ballroom. It seems inevitable that big bands would find their way into that space, but I can find only one instance when one actually did so.

For whatever reason, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society wasn’t interested in renting its ballroom, but somehow Charlie Shribman convinced the Society to rent it to him for this night. And so the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra played, and presumably the Society collected its rent, and there were no stories of disturbances in the papers to indicate the night ended badly. But there were no more shows. Perhaps the horticulturists thought that the African rhythms might harm the New England flora.

I dubbed the area around Mass Ave and Huntington the Ballroom District, because anyone wanting to dance in the thirties and forties exited the subway at the Symphony stop to do it. On April 23, 1943, there were bands at the Roseland-State Ballroom on Mass Ave and Burbank, the Raymor/Play-Mor twin ballrooms at 263 Huntington Ave, the Arcadia Ballroom upstairs at 254 Huntington, the Ritz Plaza’s Crystal Ballroom at 218 Huntington, and the Uptown Ballroom at 239 Huntington. There might have been dance bands nearby at Convention Hall at 56 St. Botolph Street or in  the smaller rental halls in the Mechanics Hall at 111 Huntington Ave.  The Ballroom District was thriving even without the Horticultural Hall’s room.

Here we are 70 years later, and Horticulture Hall is owned by the Christian Science Church. The Horticultural Society itself decamped to the suburbs years ago. Convention Hall is now condos, the Raymor/Play-Mor building is office space, and the Arcadia is a storage area for the Huntington Theatre. The rest have been torn down, replaced by newer buildings.

I don’t think we’ll see wallflowers at Horticultural Hall ever again, but they were out on this night 70 years ago, shyly enjoying Jimmie Lunceford’s music. This short video shows that great band explaining that “Rhythm Is Our Business.”

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