The Music Hall, built in 1885 by chocolate magnate William L Wallace was designed by distinguished architects Theodore De Lemos and August Cordes who also built New York City’s Grand Central Palace and the Macy’s building at Herald Square. It was opened during Tarrytown’s “Millionaire’s Colony” era when prominent households like the Rockefellers, Goulds, and Vanderbilts had homes in Tarrytown and the families competed against each other at the Music Hall’s lavish flower shows.
The Music Hall was one of the first theaters to show silent films in 1901 and continued to be a multi-use facility (balls, basket ball games, concerts, films, flower shows, horse shows, rollerskating tournaments) while also being the venue for several national causes including women’s suffrage in 1915. Irving Berlin, Antonin Dvorak, Rafael Jossefy, Theodore Roosevelt, Mae West and Woodrow Wilson are among the first performers and speakers to grace the Music Hall stage.
From the 1930’s on, the Music Hall was a successful single screen movie theater operated by local benefactor Robert Goldblatt. His son and daughter-in-law took over the theater after his death in 1964. In 1976, the theater closed largely due to the rise in popularity of multiplexes and television and it was soon thereafter proposed by the Village of Tarrytown that the theater be torn down to make way for a parking lot.
The Friends of the Mozartina Musical Arts Conservatory, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, educational, and cultural organization, purchased the theater on Valentine’s Day, 1980 with the purpose of establishing a center for the performing arts. The theater, located in what people considered to be a depressed area, was not operational with a leaking roof, broken heating pipes, insufficient electrical power and thousands of dollars of back taxes. The purchase of the theater and extensive renovations were made possible by Founding Board Members Berthold and Helen Ringeisen, a language professor and piano teacher respectively, who, convinced the theater was important for the community, secured several loans through local banker Stephen Byelick and placed their home up as collateral. The undertaking was a risky one for had the theater failed, the Ringeisens would have lost everything and this almost came to pass several times.
As there was no money available for a staff, the theater was completely operated by volunteers for twenty-three years until an Executive Director was hired in 2003. In 2004, through a volunteer effort spearheaded by Dean Gallea and Greg and Fiona Galloway, the Music Hall’s silver screen was once again lit aglow. And property essential for the operations of the theater was acquired in 2007.
Today, the Music Hall is one of the busiest theaters in the country, offering the best in music, theater, dance, film, family programming and school residencies. With a 7 person full-time staff, 40 freelancers, and 200 volunteers, it has become a cultural destination, attracting over 96,000 people including 25,000 children on an annual basis from all over the tristate area, and an economic engine, generating over $6 million to the local economy through visitor-related spending according to the Arts & Economic Prosperity Calculator.
Listed on the National Register for Historic Places, the Music Hall is the oldest theater in Westchester and one of the finest examples of Queen Anne decorative brickwork in the county. Only 6% of existing American theaters were built before 1900 and the Music Hall is one of them. As the only theater in Westchester where shows are operated by solar power and powered by the sun, the goal is for The Music Hall to be a showcase for green energy in a 19th-century building.
Known for its excellent acoustics, the Music Hall has welcomed notable performers to its stage: Joshua Bell, Tony Bennett, Lewis Black, Jon Bon Jovi, Chris Botti, Dave Brubeck, David Byrne, Judy Collins, Tommy Emmanuel, Melissa Etheridge, Nanci Griffith, Buddy Guy, Emmy Lou Harris, Levon Helm, Kevin James, Norah Jones, Sharon Jones, BB King, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Nick Lowe, Loretta Lynn, Howie Mandel, Wynton Marsalis, Idina Menzel, Natalie Merchant, Keb’ Mo’, Randy Newman, John Oliver, Mandy Patinkin, Paula Poundstone, Bonnie Raitt, Brian Regan, Chita Rivera, Lea Salonga, Pete Seeger, Jake Shimabukuro, Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, Gwen Verdon, Rufus Wainwright, The Indigo Girls, and The Mavericks to name very few. In 1985, actress Ginger Rogers directed the musical Babes In Arms starring Karen Ziemba.
The Music Hall has also presented many performers from other countries and cultures like the Afro-Cuban Allstars (Cuba), Gonzolo Rubalcaba (Cuba), Arrival (Sweden), Bebel Gilberto (Brazil), Gaelic Storm (Ireland), Ladysmith Black Mambazo (South Africa), Lunasa (Ireland), Red Hot Chili Pipers (Scotland), Peking Acrobats (China), Sabicas (Spain), Vienna Boys Choir (Austria) and Whindersson Nunes (Brazil) among others as well as numerous family oriented events such as The Berenstain Bears, Jungle Jack Hanna, The Nutcracker Ballet, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Emerging artists are featured as “openers” for high-profile performers and gain exposure through Rock The Hall events (contest where the winner scores a solo performance at the Music Hall), local songwriters’ performances, livestreams and student recitals and performances.
The Music Hall’s arts-in-educational arm called The Academy, under the direction of Peter Royston, offers acting, singing, dance, set, costume, lighting, directing, playwriting and tech classes for children and residencies in schools. And every year, thousands of schoolchildren from multiple school districts all over the tristate area are bussed to the Music Hall and experience live performances.
The theater also partners with and offers $60,000 of free/discounted space to local nonprofit organizations such as The Random Farms Kids Theatre, The Rivertown Dance Academy, The Sleepy Hollow Performing Arts Boosters (public schools of the Tarrytowns), Westchester Symphonic Winds, Hispanic Flamenco Ballet, The Paper Bag Players and TheatreworksUSA. It donates a $4000 Outstanding Performing Arts Scholarship to four graduating Sleepy Hollow High School seniors in the areas of orchestra, band, choir and theater every year and presents free Family Fun Days and films for the local community.
Several films, television series and commercials have been shot at the Music Hall including The Preacher’s Wife and The Good Shepherd. Actors who have shot at the Music Hall include Jessica Alba, Steve Buscemi, James Caan, Matt Damon, Robert De Niro, Kirsten Dunst, Vera Farmiga, Whitney Houston, Michael Keaton, Ewan McGregor, Julianne Moore, Keanu Reeves, Julia Roberts, James Spader, Marisa Tomei, Stanley Tucci and Denzel Washington among others.
In 2014, the theater underwent a $1.5 million exterior restoration made possible by a maximum grant of $400,000 from the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, a prestigious “Save America’s Treasures” matching grant through the support of Congresswoman Nita Lowey, state grants through NYS Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and late Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and the support of generous members and donors.