McEwan, Jonathan. “The Saint Goes On.” Metrosource, 1994, pp. 36-44.
secondhand qualities of the source
This magazine article has likely been scanned into a digital format and subsequently printed out. The article does not appear to be in its original form for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the photographs contained within the article are black-and-white, blurry depictions of the Saint disco club. Even the ads scattered throughout the text are in black and white, which seems to suggest that the article text has been reprinted from an original, colorful format.
The article was published in New York City in 1994; color photos and text would have been common in the USA’s mainstream media by this time. This source surely would have made use of color, given its subject of the sensual Saint disco. Though I cannot be sure that the article first appeared in color, its lack of color seems to suggest that the material I possess is a reprinted copy of the original source.
Additionally, the pages of the article are out of order. Beginning with page 36, and ending with page 38, the article has been stapled together in an haphazard fashion. The last page of the article, page 44, can be found in the middle of the packet. Pages 41 and 43 are missing, though their absence fails to interrupt the article’s narrative oddly enough.
The paper materials cited in this annotated bibliography have all come from The NAMES Project Quilt Gallery located on 117 Luckie Street NW, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. The tangible materials I cite in my bibliography (including this one) are secondary copies of the NAMES Project’s archival materials relating to the Saint’s memorial block, block 1087. Thus, it is possible that this article has been reprinted by a staff member of the NAMES Project, and stapled in the wrong order. It is also possible that the original owner stapled the pages in the wrong order, and the NAMES Project maintained the owner’s array. I can not be certain of either claim.
Regardless, the text contained within the article presents captivating details about the Saint’s demanding beginnings, the disco’s subsequent euphoric popularity, and the gay culture within which the Saint boomed and later withered, only to be gloriously revived once more.
the closet, the underworld
Author Jonathan McEwan opens his article with a description of the “dark and underwordly” nature of gay clubs such as the Flamingo and The Paradise Garage at the time of the Saint’s origination.
Though the late 1970s enjoyed the “height” of the disco era, exclusively gay clubs “were often dingy holes-in-the-wall” that were “hidden from view.” The “gay community was still tinged with the musty odor of a deep, dark closet,” whose liberation during the sexual revolution had yet to see an open representation of or welcoming of its population (McEwan, 36). Gay dance halls insinuated “criminal refuge” much the same as the “speakeasies of the twenties” did (McEwan, 36). To McEwan, they hardly evoked festivity or “dreams” (36).
Author Jonathan McEwan wholeheartedly believes that the Saint’s founder, Bruce Mailman, “gave the community something extraordinary” when he constructed the St. Mark’s Baths and the Saint dance club. Mailman created something “wonderful” that sadly lasted only for a “brief shining moment” (McEwan, 36).
Yet when the Saint shone, it radiated like a beacon, and drew crowds and crowds through its doors. Bruce Mailman’s inventive vision of the gay community’s liberation did not only include a thriving, gay disco. First, Mailman founded a steamy, gay bathhouse.
bruce mailman’s gay social scene
Bruce Mailman sought to “perfect what already existed and claim it for the gay community alone” (McEwan, 36). Multiple heterosexual bathhouses sprung up in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, yet there were hardly any bathhouses marketed towards the gay community.
To fulfill his endeavor for a perfected gay haven of free expression and community, Mailman created the St. Marks Baths, described by author Jonathan McEwan as an “exciting place in which to enjoy the pleasures of the then unhindered sexual revolution” (36).
Mailman’s bathhouse became a “gay social scene” and, thus, a measure of the level of acceptance extended to fellow gay men (McEwan, 36). Attendance at Mailman’s Baths became sacred to a man’s gay identity. According to a former visitor to the St. Marks Baths, “anonymous sex” was expected of gay men; suspicions of self-loathing or ignorance arose when gay men did not attend the Baths (qtd. in Peters). Read more about this here.
The St. Marks Bath inspired Mailman’s next business venture, or rather, its name did.
By the end of the 1970s, Mailman had begun to fantasize about owning an exclusive disco club. When his otherworldly disco came to fruition, Mailman named it the Saint, after the St. Mark’s Baths.
Before the saint
Upon arriving at the Loews Commodore movie theater (which later became the Saint), Bruce Mailman’s long-time business partner, Steve Casko, noted that the place looked like a “disaster” (qtd. in McEwan, 36).
Once one of the sixth largest movie theaters in New York City, the Commodore theater experienced quite a few transformations before its regeneration into the Saint.
For a while, the theater was lonely and abandoned, until it became a rock haven called the Fillmore East in the 1960s. In 1979, the old theater was considered by a man with a fantastic vision, and eventually unveiled as NYC’s hot new disco.
But the Saint had a rough beginning.
Aside from the fact that “it looked like someone had detonated a bomb in the orchestra pit,” according to Steve Casko, there were also quite a few strings attached to the theater that required tedious bureaucratic untangling (qtd. in McEwan, 36).
Casko informed author Jonathan McEwan that it took thirteen months for he and Mailman receive permits to construct a disco club in the former theater.
An additional nine months were then devoted to the actual construction of the Saint, which included the removal of the theater’s seats and a demolition of a part of its balcony.
Due to a sudden revelatory insight, Mailman decided that his disco would be a planetarium in which men could dance, lit by projected images of the stars. His stunningly unique vision necessitated the implantation of a planetarium dome, which, upon its completion, spanned three stories above the dance floor.
Though originally estimated to be 2 million U.S. dollars, the Saint’s entire construction ended up costing a little over 4.5 million U.S. dollars (McEwan).
But Mailman knew what he wanted and had already amassed an annual revenue of millions of dollars during the popular years of the St. Marks Baths.
But not everyone approved of Mailman’s new business.
When he first tried to purchase a planetarium projector for his club, Bruce Mailman solicited Zeiss for the projector. At the time, Zeiss was the leading manufacturer of planetarium projectors. Zeiss denied Mailman.
Zeiss’s rejection of Mailman’s request was explained as an “inappropriate use for their equipment,” yet Steve Casko asserts that Zeiss just “didn’t want to be associated with a gay disco in New York” (qtd. in McEwan).
Fortunately, the two business partners were later able to purchase both a planetarium dome and planetarium projector from Spitz Space Systems. Through the use of mobile lenses in the club’s projector, hundreds of unique slide images could be projected onto the planetarium dome and reflected off of the Saint’s dancing crowds, illuminating them with bright images of starlight and other exciting designs.
the first party
The Saint’s premiere, entitled “The First Party,” was postponed until July 30 1980 due to a series of untimely impediments. However, during this word, the buzz surrounding Mailman’s mysterious new club grew exponentially.
To announce the opening of the Saint, Bruce Mailman sent out a blueprint of the club; the flyer demonstrated sketches of the Saint’s basic layout and informed readers of the benefits of membership at the club.
A $175 membership purchase guaranteed buyers a reduced cost of admission into the Saint as well as a locker in the club. The benefit of a locker applied only to the first 700 members. By the time the Saint opened, the club had 2500 members. Word about the Saint had spread fast. The Saint’s legendary opening night began with a line of men “wrapped completely around the block and back up to the door and into the street” (McEwan, 38). The Saint had officially become a hot commodity. Read more about opening night here.
Then, the doors opened.
As crowds explored the newly opened Saint, George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue “swelled” from the sound system and encased the public in a luxurious mood of classical music. I do not know if the orchestral rhapsody or the piano version of Gershwin’s composition was played during The First Party. I have included both versions below.
Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue on the piano
Original version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue
A spacious lounge dominated the main floor of the Saint, with metal stairways leading up to the the dance floor. The top floor had been devoted to a viewing area.
A fenced-in balcony overlooked the dance floor below it through a “porous aluminum dome.” A “knee-lighting array” called the mothership encased the planetarium projector found in the center of the dance floor (McEwan, 38. As the projector splashed light across the planetarium dome in “spectacular patterns of orange and rose,” men continued to explore Mailman’s new club (McEwan, 38).
As the night progressed, classical music slid into “slow and sexy dance music,” and sometime after 2:00am, the pace of the club “picked up” (McEwan, 38).
The mothership, mounted on a hydraulic lift, was able to rise and fall on its axis.
After 2am, the mothership rose above the heads of the dancers. Andrew Holleran, who wrote a remembrance of the Saint in the May 1988 issue of the New York Native reviewed the Saint’s 1980 opening party for Soho News. He remembers that as Donna Summer’s “Baby I Love You” began to play a little after 3:00am, “the stars appeared above and, as the song took off, the galaxies began to rotate. There was nothing to do but scream, throw up your hands, and keep screaming” (qtd. in McEwan, 38).
Joel Teitelbaum, the former manager of the Saint and passionate organizer of GMHC fundraisers, states that by the time the Saint opened, mirror balls had become “de rigeur – all the clubs had them” (qtd. in McEwan, 38). However, upon arriving at the Saint, the night dancers noticed that there was no disco ball. The stars “rotated” and the “galaxies and planets appeared and disappeared and lights strobed in tempo with the rhythm and vocal tracks,” and people began to assume that the club simply did not have a disco ball, given its marvelous overhead display (McEwan, 38).
Yet when the “music again appeared to crescendo, four spotlights shone dramatically into the center of the dome. An octagonal hole opened and, to the reverlers’ sheer delight, after a few minutes an enormous mirror ball began to lower into the space above them” (McEwan, 38-39). An otherwise anonymous attendee named Charlie describes the moment as “fabulous.” Charlie states the following:
“Up until then we were dancing in the Hayden Planetarium and that was cool. But the ball-it made it a disco!”
The mirror ball’s lighted revolutions n the planetarium dome was “Simply dizzying, dazzling, amazing…” (qtd. in McEwan, 39).
The First Party of the Saint proved the club was a king of discos.
the saint is king
From that moment, the Saint dance club became the “hottest, most exclusive ticket in town,” that “set new standards for lighting and sound” (McEwan, 39). Mark Ackerman “designed and operated the lighting for the first few years,” and later hired a young technician named Richard Sabala (he operated the lights for the 1998 White Party) to hold the brilliant reigns of the disco’s transportive illumination (McEwan, 39).
The planetarium dome of the Saint “was like a canvas” according to Jason McCarthy, the former night manager of the Saint and the manager of Roxy at the time this article was written in 1994 (qtd. in McEwan, 39). Lights “aimed at the [dome from the] mothership, from the base of the walls and from the catwalk that circled the outside of the dome” (qtd. in McEwan, 39). The Saint was revolutionary in its phenomenally immersive technology.
Joel Teitelbaum explains that “Dancing at The Saint was like nothing else then-or even today. [At the Saint,] It wasn’t just a night out. It was a kind of trip. A trip that started around midnight and didn’t reach its destination until 2:00 the next afternoon” (qtd. in McEwan, 39).
Susan Tomkin, Bruce Mailman’s assistant of thirteen years by 1994, similarly states that “Being under the dome on the crowded dance floor with the lights and the stars was a spectacular visual experience that if you didn’t have, you’ll never know” (qtd. in McEwan, 40).
As explained in my annotation on Carol Cooper’s article “Disco Knights: Hidden Heroes of the New York Dance Music Underground,” various musical distinctions defined the popular discotheques of the 70s and 80s, such as the Saint and the Paradise Garage. In my annotation, I state the following:
“Carol Cooper cites Chaka Khan, the Emotions, and The Talking Heads, as famed performers of mid to high frequency music, which was traditionally played at The Saint.”
According to author Jonathan McEwan, songs fitting the club’s “interstellar” theme such as “Rocket to Your Heart” by LISA and “Trippin’ On The Moon” by Cerrone were similarly “instant Saint standards” (38).
“Rocket to Your Heart” by LISA
“Trippin’ On The Moon” by Cerrone
DJ performances at the Saint also provided a unique experience.
A stage within the planetarium dome had a wall that could slide up and down; the deejay resided behind this wall and, thus, remained hidden from the crowd for much of the musical journey that he or she weaved into the night.
DJs generally just blended the crowd “into the beginning of [a] song,” but sometimes the wall blocking the DJ from view would recede and the DJ would give a “performance” (qtd. in McEwan, 39-40). The spectators who could see the DJ would “scream and applaud;” after “the performance was over the wall would come back up and the DJ would mix right into the next song-and the boys never stopped dancing,” according to Joel Teitelbaum (qtd. in McEwan, 40).
Open only on Saturdays and Sundays, the Saint made sure to wow crowds with unique experiences every time they attended the club. The club provided crowds with different experiences between Saturday night and Sunday night on the weekends. Former manager of the Saint Joel Teitelbaum notes that the staff of the club would “set up art installations or fill the club with balloons and cotton clouds. Then, right after the last dancer left on Sunday afternoon, a crew would remove all traces of the Saturday night party and reset the lights so that Sunday’s would be completely different” (qtd. in McEwan, 40).
Parties at the Saint were planned ahead to an impressive detail. DJs contained playlists of songs to which they envisioned specific staging cues (such as the descent of the mirror ball, or the appearance of the stars) being enacted. On Saturday, “a seamless performance shaped to build until five or so and then taper off slightly before pausing for applause around seven” (qtd. in McEwan, 40). Sleaze music would then carry the club into the Sunday afternoon.
According to Jason McCarthy, the Saint “was an entire environment.” The club was a “safe place removed from the often difficult hetero world outside” (qtd. in McEwan, 40).
dance dance dance worship
Frank Courson, a management consultant in Manhattan, describes the Saint as a temple.
Author Jonathan McEwan expounds upon Courson’s claim. He explains that the Saint had “four opposing entrances that led to the circular dance floor, an icon of worship (the mirror ball) and even an altar (the DJ booth). The DJ played a liturgy designed to engage the congregation in ritualistic dance” (McEwan, 40). The Saint certainly seemed to provide the services a traditional church would, and going to the Saint provided experiences close to what some might call religious.
Frank Courson states that “a lot of guys […] planned their entire lives around the seasonal calendars sent out by The Saint. There were people who leased apartments in New York, just so they could have a place to stay when they came to events” (qtd. in McEwan, 40).
The Saint was a big deal.
a saintly schedule
The Saint dance club had a unique schedule.
The club opened only on Saturdays and Sundays, and would present a special party for each month of its season of opening.
September brought the Opening Party of the season.
Halloween showcased yet another celebration, and the night before Thanksgiving boasted the Night People at Thanksgiving party.
During the month of December, the Christmas Party occurred, and in January, the News Years Eve party took place.
In February, the White Party embraced love.
In March, the “passage of spring” exhibited the “S&M and fetish tinged Black Party” (McEwan, 40).
Easter was celebrated with a Land of Make Believe party in April, and the Closing Party ended the Saint’s season in May. When summer approached, many “Saint boys” left the city to vacation at Fire Island or in the Hamptons (McEwan, 40).
Frank Courson notes that the “high holy days” of the Saint’s season were Halloween, New Years Eve, the White Party, and the Black Party (qtd. in McEwan, 40). DJs became famous for their performances at certain holiday parties at the Saint. Robbie Leslie always played the White Party, and Michael Fierman always played the Black Party.
This was their signatures.
Yet the Saint soon became known for more than just its music; what of its carnal celebrations?
The Saint was known to host frequent balcony sexcapades. The “narrow spiral staircases” led up to a “dark sexual scene” that came to haunt the Saint club’s memory in the eyes of many (McEwan, 42).
When AIDS struck, it decimated the Saint’s community; around 700 membership renewal forms were sent back through the mail bearing the message “Return to Sender. Occupant Deceased” (McEwan, 42).
DJs, staff members, and technicians at the Saint also fell ill.
Charges of tax evasion and a drug-dealing conspiracy were held against Mailman (though later dropped due to proven bias) at the same time that attendance in dance clubs and bars began to “radically” decline (McEwan, 42). Mailman became “disenchanted with the gay community,” according to Steve Casko, when he found himself fighting conservative city bureaucrats alone.
Though the club had a capacity of 5400 people, once the AIDS epidemic swept through the country, Saturdays at the Saint drew in at most 500 people.
Members were sick, and those who weren’t sick, were afraid to go back.
In 1985, Bruce Mailman began to sell liquor at the Saint.
Mailman later opened the club to heterosexual people on Fridays. To Susan Tomkin, Mailman’s assistant, straight people “just didn’t appreciate it” (qtd. in McEwan, 42).
Soon an offer to buy the Saint for 6.5 million dollars from the Fillmore East Village Associates Ltd. was extended to Mailman. By the Saint’s 1987 Halloween Party, the sale of the building had already “passed the point of no return” according to Joel Teitelbaum (qtd. in McEwan).
The final party at the Saint in April of 1988 lasted 36 hours.
the last party. the last party?
in 1988, the “surviving DJs and lighting technicians and a roster of live performers” enlivened the Saint one last time.
Saint regulars attended 30 hours of the 36 hour-long party, only going home to “bathe and change clothes,” according to Frank Courson (qtd. in McEwan, 42).
The Last Party spanned “three days and three nights,” evoking yet another Christian motif.
All things that are sacred come in threes.
Jimmy Ruffin’s song “Hold On To My Love” played as the Saint’s last party “drew to a close” (McEwan, 42).
After Jimmy Ruffin’s song ended, Marlena Shaw, a famous American singer closed the Saint with “Suite Seventeen,” a medley of the following songs: “It Was A Very Good Year,” “Love Dancing,” “Thank You,” and “Touch Me In The Morning.”
Shaw sang softly to a “tearful crowd” (McEwan, 42).
As Marlena Shaw’s performance culminated, “lightning flared in the [planetarium’s] night sky, the stage closed and the stars slowly circled over head. It was over” (McEwan, 42).
On the following day, the public noticed that the words “Hold On To My Love” had been spray-painted over the main entrance to the Saint. Bouquets were left in front of the door to the Saint on the sidewalk according to Frank Courson. Shown on the Saint Promotional Video, the following image likely depicts the textual memorial of the Saint, represented by Jimmy Ruffin’s song.
Gay nightlife was quiet without the Saint.
Yet when Halloween came around after the Saint’s official closing in April of 1988, Bruce Mailman decided to host a Halloween party that, due to the circumstances, was not located at the Saint.
This Halloween Party, held outside of the Saint’s physical reach, began a series of parties that became known as Saint-at-Large events.
During the first Halloween party without the Saint, too few restrooms and an inefficient coat check hampered the novel Saint at Large event. Fortunately, they got over that.
The four holiest parties of the original Saint (Halloween, New Years Eve, The White and Black parties) are currently hosted every year and are annually commemorated celebrations of the Saint’s legacy. In 1994, the White and Black parties were the most popular Saint holiday parties to be revived, and they remain so today.
Curt Wagner states that when he goes to the Saint-at-Large parties, he cannot “find a familiar face anywhere” (qtd. in McEwan, 44). Wagner believes that there is a whole “new generation out there-maybe two” (McEwan, 44).
Jason McCarthy laments that “so many of these young guys out there dancing never saw The Saint itself. They don’t know what it was-what they’ve missed” (qtd. in McEwan, 44). McCarthy believes that it is possible to bring the Saint back, but Frank Courson disagrees.
Though life without the Saint “seems somewhat stark and somber,” the world and all its people can “never go back” according to Courson (qtd. in McEwan, 44). Susan Tomkin cannot imagine the expense it would cost to build the Saint today, when it already cost 4.5 million dollars in 1979.
Today, there “are entire portions of the city where [the gay community] can be comfortable,” according to Frank Courson (44). During the 1980s, Frank Courson states that “we needed a safe place where we could be who we were and love as we wanted,” however Courson believes that the world has changed for the better since that decade.
discussion of The saint goes on
The Saint at Large continues to dazzle crowds the same way the Saint once did.
A “sea of muscular men [dance] in the darkness beneath incredible lighting” and the music “follows the same programming format” as before, which was described in Steve Weinstein’s article. Parties don’t end until “well into the afternoon” (McEwan, 44).
This source is valuable because it includes interviews from people who experienced the Saint directly, whether through working there, or attending its celebrations. Interviews of people who experienced the Saint’s phenomenon firsthand are critical to presenting an accurate narrative towards one’s audience.
This source is also valuable because it provides more detail on the season of the Saint, and of what its celebrations entailed.
The article is also helpfully aware of the importance of multi-modality, and utilizes pleasing visual, spatial, and linguistic modes appropriately.
Unfortunately, one drawback to the article is the blurriness of some of its images; many of the photographs included in the article are indistinguishable lumps of black and white. However, the photographs I recognize, though in black and white in this article, appear in color in the Saint’s promotional video.
This article provides critical personal experiences from people close to Bruce Mailman (his assistant and business partner), and from people who enjoyed his creations.
Though none of my sources contain interviews from John, Mailman’s partner, I believe this source, in particular, provides detailed narratives of the Saint that showcase both familiarity and fond remembrance.