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.  

Photographer Falls Through Abandoned Downtown Roof, Second Occurrence In One Year

By Eric Hergenreder - 

A photographer ended up in the hospital Thursday night after falling through a skylight in an abandoned building downtown. It is currently unclear what exact injuries the man suffered, but it appeared he had broken his leg, ankle, and a couple ribs. The man fell through the abandoned Harvard Square building on Broadway Avenue in downtown Detroit. This is the second occurrence that we know of within the past year, including an explorer who fell through a stairwell at the United Artist Theater last August, shattering his heel among other injuries.

Photo of Harvard Square Center by Eric Hergenreder

Photo of Harvard Square Center by Eric Hergenreder

Although the number of abandoned properties downtown has been decreasing over the past few years, there are still a good number of neglected properties within walking distance of the attractions bringing people to the city. Even with more security and police presence downtown, these photographers, explorers, and vandals continue to find their way into these buildings. Most of the neglected buildings that remain downtown have been sitting for decades, which enables the decay of these structures. After such negligence, entering these buildings is an extreme risk. Even with that being said, and all the work that has been done downtown in recent years, urban explorers are still able to find their way into buildings amidst the new hustle and bustle downtown. 

Harvard Square Center was built in the 1925 and originally housed offices and retail space. The building exchanged hands a couple times before becoming abandoned in 1998, although the street-level retail space is still operational.

The United Artists Theater opened in 1928 and was one of the most beautiful movie palaces in the city. The theater and connected office tower closed in 1975, although it was used for various things such as a recording studio for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and storage. Bricks have been falling off of the facade since the 1980’s, and not much has changed since the graffiti was buffed before the 2006 Super Bowl and the marquee was removed after falling apart onto the sidewalk in 2005. It was recently announced that the building was part of a renovation plan by Ilitch’s Olympia Entertainment, but many are weary of the behemoth of a project actually being completed. Renovation plans are set to start in 2018.

Photo of the United Artists Theater by Eric Hergenreder

Photo of the United Artists Theater by Eric Hergenreder

Both of these properties were featured on our list, Buildings in Detroit That Need to Be Saved in 2017.

Even with less and less abandoned properties downtown, it appears until they are all renovated or demolished we will continue to see accidents like this. 

Detroit Documentaries You Should Watch

Alright, this is my first blog post so please bare with me. I really have no idea what I'm doing...but here goes nothing.

I had an accident about a month ago and since then I have had a lot of time on my hands. This has led me to watching way too much Netflix and illegally downloading way too many movies. Believe it or not I got so desperate I paid for a couple films because I really wanted to see them and could not find a torrent for the file. That's desperation. As most of you know I'm pretty into Detroit and plan to live there when I graduate. Naturally, being the nerd I am, I watched just about every Detroit documentary I could get my hands on. Here are some of the ones I have watched recently, along with some of my long-time favorites.

  • ESPN 30 for 30, The Bad Boys (2014) - By far my favorite 30 for 30, this documentary by Zak Levitt follows the story of the team that Detroit loved so much, the Bad Boys. Not only does it tell the story of my beloved Detroit Pistons, it's also narrated by Kid Rock, giving me even more of a reason to adore it. Whether you were alive to watch the Bad Boys play or not I highly recommend this documentary because most of these players are still relevant either coaching or in management of NBA teams, and it also partially covers the Detroit rebellions of 1967. You also get to see Dennis Rodman talk, and that's always a fun time. Must watch for anyone who enjoys sports.
  • It Came From Detroit (2009) - This documentary from James R. Petix studies the Garage Rock epidemic that took over Detroit in the 80s when bands like The Gories started making a very unique brand of music in their garage. The film continues to talk about icons like The White Stripes and their rise to fame, followed by the reemergence of bands like the Stooges and the MC5. I didn't know much about the topic beforehand and still found it very interesting.
  • Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002) - This highly acclaimed documentary from Paul Justman takes a closer look at The Funk Brothers, the group of musicians behind almost every hit that came out of Motown during it's Detroit days. The band backed up dozens of superstar Motown artists, but never really received the fame or money that one might think comes with the booming success Motown had. The Funk Brothers reunited in Detroit for the first time since the Motown Era and this film does a wonderful job documenting that and their history.
  • Burn (2012) - this eye opening documentary from Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez spends a year with the firefighters of Detroit, documenting their every day lives. Not only do the cameras take us into the burning buildings of Detroit, they show us how awful the equipment for these heroes truly is and what hard lives most of these men have. Probably one of my favorite documentaries I have ever seen, and I highly recommend it to anyone who spends time in Detroit or has ever held a government paid-position.
  • Detropia (2012) - this all-encompassing documentary by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady takes place in 2012 Detroit and focuses on the economic crisis that, for better words, destroyed a significant portion of Detroit. The documentary highlights the major manufacturing flight from the city that started in the 1960s and continues today. The filmmakers also talk with then Mayor Dave Bing about what to do with all the vacant land in Detroit, and even entertains ideas such as mass relocation and urban farming. If you know much about Detroit, you probably know a lot of what is covered in this documentary, but it is still very interesting to watch. 
  • American Revolutionary | The evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (2013) - One of my favorite documentaries. Not exactly about Detroit, this film by Grace Lee (a woman with the same name, watch it, you'll understand) follows the life of one of the most influential revolutionaries of our time. Now diseased, Grace Lee Boggs moved to Detroit in the 1950s and fought in almost every activism movement to emerge in the United States since. The film also talks about the program she started, Detroit Summer, a multicultural youth program in the city. If you enjoy this documentary I highly recommend her book The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-first Century. You won't want to put it down.
  • Motor City's Burning | Detroit From Motown to The Stooges (2008) - The BBC hits a home run with this documentary that covers everything from the rebellions of 1967 to the resurgence of The Stooges in the early 2000s. As a huge fan of Iggy Pop and The Stooges, I loved this documentary. They covered the early years of Detroit rock and roll, take you to now-abandoned venues (which I have also been to) The Grand and Vanity Ballrooms, and explain how Detroit's music scene evolved and eventually was capped off by Alice Cooper stealing the stage in the early 1970s. If you are a fan of music, history, or love the city of Detroit I highly recommend this documentary. It covers so much in a very short amount of time, and interviews all of the key players during that time period. Seriously, bravo BBC. Spectacular documentary.
  • Parts Unknown, Detroit Special (2013) - Antony Bourdain takes his CNN travel show to the Motor City in this food-stuffed episode. Mr. Bourdain takes his talents to my favorite coney spot in the city, Duly's in Southwest, which is probably the highlight of the episode. He also has pupusas, homemade barbecue, beers with Fox 2's Charlie LeDuff, and hung out with the Detroit Mower Gang. For those who love urban exploration Anthony tackles that too, meeting up with Allan Hill, who at that time still lived in the Packard Plant. Overall I did enjoy this episode, and Parts Unknown is one of my favorite shows currently running. I'm not sure what it was though, but I found Anthony to be much more of an asshole in this episode than in others. Maybe it was just the part of me that loves Detroit that couldn't handle his criticisms, but for the most part his criticisms were pretty spot on. I really do hope he eventually comes back for another visit, because I would like to see him prove himself wrong. Near the end of his episode in Detroit he pretty much said Detroit is fucked, and I hope that another visit a couple years later would change that misconception. I guess we will see.
  • Noisey Detroit With Big Sean & Danny Brown (2016) - Noisey stops in Detroit to show their viewers what has become of the Detroit rap scene. They catch up with Danny Brown, talk with lesser known rappers like Payroll Giovanni of Doughboyz Cashout, and talk with the mother and friends of late rapper Dex Osama. The show also later heads to California to talk to Big Sean in his home about the city he was raised in. It is really interesting to hear rappers talk about Detroit and how it influenced their music. I really enjoyed the interview with Danny Brown because he had some really interesting things to say about why Detroit rap is so raw and grimy. If you enjoy this video, I highly recommend checking out Complex's YouTube Channel. They have tours of Detroit with both Big Sean and Danny Brown. 
Detroit rapper, Danny Brown.

Detroit rapper, Danny Brown.

If you didn't know, I'm also huge into music. I want to close out every blog post with a song I've been feeling lately. Not necessarily a new track, just something that I've connected with lately. 

Now playing - Kurt Kobain - Proof