The Kenmore Ballroom opens next year. Michael Hallisey / TheSpot518
ALBANY — Inside the expansive back room in the northwest corner of the old Kenmore Hotel hangs a drab, grey curtain concealing the last piece of history tied to the space.
The curtain protects a mural called “The Court of Cleopatra,” painted on the wall above a modest stage on which Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington played. It’s a depiction of the Queen of Egypt, whose beauty was unparalleled and whose intelligence matched that of the powerful men she seduced, most notably Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. It’s placement high upon the wall implied that this was the room in which the masters of the universe was expected to frolic.
The space is now in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation project that’s breathing new life to the North Pearl eyesore. Modern day Dapper Dons in hardhats expose the promise of a bright future, and at the same time enhance the ghosts of the hotel’s storied past.
When William Kennedy wrote about the Rain-Bo Room in “O’Albany,” he was still able to observe a piano on that stage. He imagined someone playing “Happy Days and Lonely Nights,” a tune Ruth Etting made popular in 1928, and a reported favorite of the Kenmore’s most famous resident, Jack “Legs” Diamond.
Diamond’s name was never mentioned during the press conference called by Redburn Development to announce the Rain-Bo Room’s intended rebranding as the Kenmore Ballroom. Nor would it be expected. He was a New York City mobster, whose charges included burglary, kidnapping and bootlegging. Nonetheless, he was a celebrity.
Diamond’s vocation aside, his choice of haunts reveals that the Rain-Bo Room was Albany’s top nightclub during the Roaring Twenties. Stars of the Big Band area would flock up the Hudson River to play there, especially lured by the prospect of broadcasting their live performances on the radio.
“The Kenmore Ballroom is the heart of this building at the heart of this development,” said Jeffrey Buell, principal of Redburn Development. “We want to fill the space with life, life that spills out into the surrounding streets and supports all of the Downtown.”
Katie O’Malley Maloney and her husband Nate Maloney will manage The Kenmore Ballroom.
O’Malley Maloney has her own long history with the City of Albany. She served as the 50th Anniversary Tulip Queen and worked for the City of Albany planning events and fundraising under former mayor Jerry Jennings. She also owns and runs Katie O’ Weddings and Events, an event planning firm celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year. Nate brings over 20 years of corporate and not-for-profit marketing, communications, and event experience to their first venture together. Katie will oversee the day-to-day operations along with Casey Benson, Vice President of Operations for the organization.
“We are thrilled to be back in Albany and to be a part of the revitalization of Downtown” said O’Malley Maloney. “The Rain-Bo Room was once a vibrant centerpiece of Albany culture and society. We are excited to return the vibrancy of this historic space as the Kenmore Ballroom.”
The Kenmore Ballroom will accommodate up to 300 people for a seated function. The ornate double staircase, demolished when the building was turned into offices, will be rebuilt as the centerpiece of the space. It will also have a separate bar lounge and rooftop deck. For Elizabeth Young Jojo, she focused on the opulence of the room’s past while choosing all of its fixtures and accents.
“We chose an Art Nouveau inspiration,” said Young Jojo, vice president at Redburn Developments. “That, mixed with some super, super modern elements, as well.” The Art Nouveau style was popular during the turn of the last century, a look characterised by curves and asymmetric shapes to provide the illusion of movement. The juxtaposition of elements, Young Jojo said, “I think will be very fresh, that there is no other space like that in the Capital Region.”
“Projects like the revitalization of The Kenmore and its ballroom are transforming downtown Albany,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. “Thank you to Redburn for their commitment to Downtown, and to Katie O’Malley Maloney and Nate Maloney for believing in Albany and investing in Albany’s newest neighborhood.”
The Kenmore Building rehab project is part of a nine-building, $82 million neighborhood revitalization that will bring 350 apartments and 11 commercial spaces to a three-block radius. The first phase of the multi-building project, The Knick at 16 Sheridan, will welcome new tenants this week. The Kenmore is expected to be open by October 2020.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.