A Brief History Lesson: Studio 54

Monday, February 24, 2014

a brief history
April 26, 1977 was a big day for Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. The friends, once roommates at Syracuse University, turned to the nightclub business after a failed attempt at managing a chain of restaurants, and from this nightclub venture Studio 54 was born ("Studio 54 Opens"). The club opened this spring day smack in the era of Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees and went on the become the most famous disco club, probably ever. 

The history of Studio 54 is part fantasy, part speculation, part mystery. The exclusive and elusive club was so difficult to get into, that at one point during its brief period of existence, one could buy maps that supposedly let one into the club through a convoluted tunnel system within the New York subway system (Dowd). People were desperate for entry. The key to getting through the velvet ropes? "We were looking for people with high energy," said one of the club's notorious doormen, Marc Benecke (Dowd). Celebrities like Andy Warhol, Truman Capote (who wrote Breakfast at Tiffanys), Elizabeth Taylor, Calvin Klein, and Mick and Bianca Jagger were regulars. In fact, Bianca Jagger rode a white horse into the club in celebration of her 30th birthday party in an infamous publicity stunt. The performance solidified the glittering mystery that laid just inside the door: the "corridor of joy" as it was called (Dowd.)

The atmosphere was as you might expect: sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. However, the partying wasn't as much as you might expect. According to the BBC article, many rumors regarding free-for-all antics have been exaggerated. Rather, the club was more famous for its diversity. The dance floor was a "salad bowl" (Dowd) of people. The dancing was wild, sweaty, crowded. Photographer Tod Papageorge captured the dance floor in all its glory: a bird's eye shot, wall-to-wall bodies convulsing to the disco hits of the era (Leland). Everyone is smiling, and there seems to be a confetti rain pouring down on the mass. The photograph radiates energy. 

Unfortunately, the brief, but dense era of Studio 54 ended in tragedy. The owners Rubell and Schrager were sent to jail in 1980 after a million dollars went undeclared for tax purposes (Nobile). C'est la vie, I guess. 

I chose Studio 54 as the first History Lesson feature on this blog because the photograph above caught my eye a few weeks ago. Fashion of decades past is so fascinating to me. Bianca and Mick look so posh, and yet Bianca is covered in pink sequins. I was intrigued, and started reading about the club and all its wild rumors. In closing, you might wonder why I look so fondly at these old fading photos of a long-dead disco era. Sure, there was sin abundant within those velvet ropes, (its closing party on February 4, 1980 was christened "The End of A Modern-Day Gomorrah" according to the article from the History Channel site) but looking beyond the partying, there was a vivacity that this present era could use a bit of. Myra Scheer, Rubell's assistant speaks of the Studio 54 radio station on satellite radio in a nostalgic tone: "It's like we have Class of 54 Reunions, because we went to the coolest high school. Modern kids spend so much time texting or tweeting or getting on YouTube. But we were in the moment. We were really there." And that right there is what I love about these photographs. These people weren't trying to escape. They were simply celebrating life in all its permutations, all its eccentricities.  

On a side note, I would like to enter my birthday party on a white horse too, I think. 

Works Cited

Images from Pinterest. 

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