Places that Matter

Park Plaza and Park Palace

Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Dance hall dubbed the "birthplace of New York Latin dance music"
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Today people come here to worship, but beginning in the 1920s New Yorkers came to Park Plaza to dance, arriving from all over the city to rhumba, mambo, and cha-cha-cha. As Jewish and Italian East Harlem slowly gave way to Puerto Rican El Barrio, the Palace was reborn as the "birthplace of New York Latin dance music." The main, high-ceilinged hall on the second floor held 1500 people.

 

The Park Palace, downstairs, was a smaller space; perfect for community social events that at times required formal attire. Playing the Park Plaza helped launch the careers of Latin music greats such as Machito and the Afro-Cubans, Tito Puente, Joe Cuba, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri. Here, as in other venues, a creative synthesis of Cuban rhythms, largely Puerto Rican musicians, and New York energy was, by the 1940s and 1950s, producing a distinctive New York sound. Its intense percussion, fast pace, and dense orchestral arrangements made it among the hottest music in town. The Park Plaza stayed vital through the 1950s.