27 posters, 10 x 28 inches to 29 x 45 inches
Billed as “the South’s most beautiful ballroom, cooled by nature’s breezes,” the whimsically named Tantilla Garden opened in the 3800 block of Richmond’s West Broad Street in 1931. On the ground level was a miniature golf range (at some point converted to Tiny Town Bowling Alley). The dance hall opened later on the upper level. Ironically, the inclusive dates of Virginia’s prohibition of “liquor by the drink” (1933–1968) coincide almost precisely with Tantilla’s dates of operation. Patrons of “the Garden” were required to “brown bag” it, arriving with their own liquor and mixing cocktails at the table under the gaze of cooperative management. The bar supplied soda and fruit juices.
Tantilla Garden was a destination on the Big Band circuit, hosting nationally popular performers such as Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey in addition to beloved local bands and performers, some of whose names have become pop-cultural footnotes. Among those featured on the posters in our collection are Spyder Turner, Jan Garber, Pat Patton, Charlie Wakefield, Earl Mellen and his Melodies, Benny Benson and the Texas Cyclone, Ron Moody and the Centaurs, the Continentals, the Coquettes, the Dynamic Blazers, Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, Red Nichols and His Pennies, Johnny Mack, Sammy Kaye, Lang Thompson, Jokers Wild, the Escorts, the Mind Expansion Club, Skeets Morris, Jelly Leftwich, and Viola Smith, “sensational girl drummer.”
After the Big Band and early R&B eras, Tantilla Garden worked to transition to changing music tastes, with mixed results, by hosting rock, country, and even psychedelic performers, as evidenced by the far-out poster for “the first psychedelic dance in Virginia,” with “mind music electrically performed” by the Actual Mushroom. When Tantilla was razed in 1969, bricks were sold to sentimental Richmonders for 25 cents apiece. Tantilla (1989), the second album of the Richmond-born rock band House of Freaks, is named after the venue. As of 2011, the site remains a parking lot.
The promotional posters in our collection, many stenciled, painted, and assembled by hand from mixed media, are dominated by grounds of intense primary color. Among the posters is an undated, hand-painted hostess section assignment chart, each name prefaced with the formal honorifics “Mrs.” or “Miss.”
Arrangement and access:
The entire collection is available on Digitool.
Provenance: Purchased, 2008