Grande Ballroom Strikes A Case For NRHP, Redevelopment

By Eric Hergenreder - 

 
The Grande Ballroom shortly after it opened. Photo from the Burton Historical Archives.

The Grande Ballroom shortly after it opened. Photo from the Burton Historical Archives.

 

The Grande Ballroom on Grand River and Beverly may enter the National Register of Historic Places by the end of the year. The Friends of the Grande are making a push to have the historic concert venue added to the NRHP to ensure the building’s safety and to help enable renovation. The current owners, Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church, have given permission to the group to pursue the nomination to be added to the list. The Grande’s sister, the Vanity Ballroom on Jefferson and Newport was added to the NRHP in 1982.

Photo by DetrotUrbex.com via HistoricDetroit.org

Photo by DetrotUrbex.com via HistoricDetroit.org

The Friends of the Grande recently met for the first time in over ten years to discuss the nomination to the NRHP which will be reviewed by committee in September. The group also talked potential business ideas and pre-development projects to stop the deterioration of the structure. Leo Early has spent over 12 years researching and collecting stories from the Grande, culminating with the publishing of his book, The Grand Ballroom: Detroit’s Rock ’N’ Roll Palace. In the book, Early tries to shed light on the building's almost 90 year history and empower hope for the future of the building he loves so dearly. This past week I was able to catch up with Leo to talk about the building and the recent meeting of the Friends of the Grande. He was most excited about the fact that after an 8+ year battle, the building owners are allowing a submission to the NRHP. He was also excited to have a number of members of the church that owns the Grande at the meeting, including the Reverend Dr. R Lamont Smith II. They also spoke about a number of different stabilization ideas and fundraising projects that would help stave off demolition, but these are all dependent on the structural integrity report. A bad report would make addition to the NRHP and saving the building quite difficult. Early is very enthusiastic about the Grande Ballroom and without patrons like him it’s likely we would have lost a number of other historic Detroit buildings. There is another meeting planned for Thursday, July 7th at the Tech Shop in Allen Park. Find more information here, and you can purchase Early’s book here.

Photo by DetrotUrbex.com via HistoricDetroit.org

Photo by DetrotUrbex.com via HistoricDetroit.org

The Grande Ballroom, as Historic Detroit describes it, was ‘a rock ’n’ roll mecca.’ The building opened its doors in 1928 as a place for young Detroiters to listen to music and dance. The Grande began to struggle in the 60s due to a lack of a liquor license and a deteriorating neighborhood. In 1966, Russ Gibb began renting the property and promoting rock shows. Detroiters and suburban youth alike began frequenting the Grande to see acts like the MC5 and The Stooges. It wasn’t unusual to find tabs of acid, kids smoking weed, and Iggy Pop bleeding on the Grande's stage. Not only did local legends rock the Grande, big name acts like Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds, Cream, Pink Floyd, Chuck Berry, and the Velvet Underground climbed onto the stage of the historic venue. Eventually, the music stopped echoing out of the Moorish Deco walls of the ballroom, hosting its last show in 1972. The building has been seldom used since, and it has been owned by Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church since 2006. 

The basis for joining the NRHP is somewhat simple. The National Park Service wants to protect and inform the public about important places that have changed our history in some shape or form. There are 261 sites in Detroit that already boast this certification and 10 National Historic Landmarks, which is a higher distinction. While the fate of the Grande Ballroom is unknown, it’s pretty hard to deny that the building is something special that deserves to be remembered.