The Grande Ballroom is a rock and roll mecca, located at 8952 Grand River Avenue (at Joy) in the Ravenswood (Petoskey-Otsego) neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan
Year opened 1928
ArchitectCharles N. Agree
Style: Moorish Deco
More information can be found here:
FOG (Friends of the Grande Ballroom) Chronology
Actions, accomplishments and milestones for the Friends of the Grande Group.
Since 2008 we have no major milestones to report. The Church has not provided documentation nor any official answer to our Historic Nominatoin request.
10-2-2008 - Progress Report
Talks are at an impasse with the Chapel Hill Baptist Church. Calls to the Church Office and Dr. Smith have not been returned since a roof inspection was canceled Monday June 2nd. The church has had over one year to vett the Historic Nomination. Meanwhile, the church continues to receive city fines for failure to secure the property etc.
6-2-2008 - Roof Inspection (canceled)
FOG forwards an offer by John D'anunzio of Paragon roofing to inspect the Grande Ballroom roof free of charge. This appointmemt was also to be an opportunity for Filmaker Tony D'anunzio to shoot interiors of the building. Chapel Missionary Baptist Church cancels this appointment at the last minute.
4-30-2008 - Spring Inspection Tour
Wednesday April 30th FOG members Tom Gaff, Tom Lubinski and Leo Early Accompanied CHMBC Deacons Fells, Cook and Johnson on a spring inspection tour of the Grande building.The winter, having been particularly harsh, has been hard on the building. Water and thaw-freeze cycling has caused two 6-8 foot limestone cornices or "capstones" to fall to the street and onto a neighboring building. A third section is threatening to do the same. Plaster debris was shoveled off the stairway to the roof. The framing of the doorway to the roof is failing so this exterior door had to be gently pried open to allow access. The Grande actually has two roofs, an exterior "upper roof" and a lower "ballroom ceiling". Photographs were taken of the upper roof and corner Spanish tile "peaks". The roof membrane has failed in several sections and water finds easy drainage through these holes. Elbow shaped ventilator shafts have lost their caps to scrappers. It was calculated that this 17000 square foot roof drains 177 gallons during a one inch rain. Detroit averages 2.6 inches of rain per month.
The rear fire escape door was chained (to some degree of success) to limit unauthorized access. A proper job of this will need to be performed in the future. Also, this trip the basement of the building was visited and found to be surprisingly dry!
10-20-2007 - Sanctioned BBC Tour
FOG members led a BBC crew along with John Sinclair through the Grande. This is John's first time inside in nearly 40 years ! It is, oddly the first time inside for our hosts, the staff of the Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church. The resultant film, "Motor City's Burning" airs on the BBC in 2008.
(See FB doc "The FOG and The BBC - 2007")
9-14-2007 - State Historic Preservation Office - Review Board - Lansing
Despite the curious events in Detroit on Thurrsday the 13th, FOG presses forward to Lansing as the Grande Ballroom is on the agenda for the SHPO review board. Rebecca Binno Savage who wrote our nomination, presents the Grande Ballroom to the board. Janese Chapman from the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board also sits on this review board. The board, although enthusiastic about the Grande, is forced to defer to the City and owner approval of the nomination.
9-13-2007 - Historic Designation Advisory Board - City of Detroit
The National Historic Registry Nomination process normally begins with the property owner appearing before the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board. The HDAB forwards any approved properties to the Mayor for signature. The Grande Ballroom was presented to the HDAB on September 13, 2007 by the Friends of the Grande. No response was receved by the FOG from the current owners prior to this meeting. 20 + members of the Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, the building's new owners, appeared for comment. Reverend Smith and the church asked the board for more time to investigate the proposal. The Grande Proposal is Tabled.
8-9-2007 Written notification of Historic Registry efforts sent to Grande Owners.
Rev. Dr. R. LaMont Smith II
Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church
Dear Reverend Smith,
I represent an organization called the Friends of the Grande Ballroom. Our group is a grass roots association engaged in the preservation of Detroit, and specifically the historic legacy of the Grande Ballroom. It is our pleasure to officially notify you of our efforts to submit the Grande Ballroom building to the State of Michigan for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. If approved, this process will place the Grande on the National Register in recognition of its architectural and cultural significance. We hope that this status will be of benefit to you and to your congregation's expansion plans. We are confident that we will be successful in garnering the nomination and hope to speak to you in person soon. We would also like to wholeheartedly offer our group's assistance in fund raising and cleanup towards renovation of the building. In the interim, if you have any questions regarding> our efforts, please feel free to call me directly. Sincerely,
The Friends of the Grande Ballroom
10-7-2006 - The Grande Ballroom 40th Anniversary Concert
FOG Members form Old Stoners Production company to produce a memorial show at the Royal Oak Music Theater. Held 40 years after the Rock era grand opening, headliners Big Brother and the Holdign Company are joined by Canned Heat, Third Power and Arthur Brown. Russ Gibb is guest of honor and is presented with a brass plaque comemorating his contributions. Objective 3 completed.
1-20-2006 - FOG Formed
History of the Grande Ballroom
Prepared for Urban Archaeology class, Wayne State University, March 2014
By Jeri Pajor & Brenna Moloney
Photos from Michael Bolan or authors' collections
The Grande Ballroom is located at 8952 Grand River on Detroit’s west side. It was
designed in 1928 by Detroit engineer and architect Charles N. Agree for dance hall
entrepreneurs Edward J. Strata and his partner Edward J. Davis, who managed the
Grande and the Vanity Ballrooms for many years. The Grande Ballroom building was
Initially owned by Harry Weitzman.1 The Grande started off as a place that Detroit
residents could go to dance and listen to jazz and big band sounds from the late 1920s
until after World War II, but it would become famous in the annals of music history as a
rock and roll venue between 1966 and 1972.
The building was designed in the Moorish Deco style with storefront space on
the first floor and the ballroom on the second floor. Its ground floor had several retail
tenants, such as the W. T. Grant Department Store, Beverly’s, Maas Bros., and a
drugstore. The "sprung" hardwood dance floor flexed to give the dancers a feeling of
floating. The dance floor also boasted of being able to hold 1500 dancers and was
considered one of the largest in Detroit. When the Grande Ballroom opened in
1928 the surrounding neighborhood was predominately Jewish, but by the 1960s it was
a mostly black community.
In 1966 Dearborn, Michigan school teacher and local radio DJ, Russ Gibb visited a
friend in San Francisco and attended “The Byrds” concert at the Fillmore Theater. He
returned home wanting to bring that same sort of musical sound and experience to
Detroit. He started scouting locations in the city which included the Gayety Burlesque
theater on Cadillac Square downtown and the ballroom of the Statler Hotel on Grand
Circus Park, which have both been demolished. He settled on the Grande Ballroom at
the corner of Grand River and Joy Roads, a neighborhood that he had grown up in the
1940s. In 1966 he entered into a rent-to-buy deal with the Glantz-Kliman family for the
Gibb approached some of his disc jockey friends to support his vision, but they
declined due to the location of the ballroom. He then reached out to Detroit’s
beatnik community and met people like John Sinclair, a “long hair” who had served a
six-month sentence in the Detroit House of Corrections for marijuana possession and
columnist for the counterculture newspaper “The Fifth Estate.”4 Sinclair would go on to
manage the band the MC5, who became one of the Grande Ballroom’s house bands.
Russ Gibb did not want just another teen club, his place was going to be different.
He patterned the Grande Ballroom after popular rock halls on the West Coast like the
Fillmore and Whiskey A Go-Go.5 He wanted a place where bands could write and
perform their own material and create their own identities. There would not be any
cover bands or bar bands.6 He wanted local bands from Detroit and the surrounding
suburban areas, as well as booking in national and international bands.
A massive screen hung behind the stage at the Grande showing light shows and
psychedelic water and oil images. A round light fixture hung at the center front of the
stage, which is visible in historic photographs of the space and always serves as an
indicator that the band pictured was performing at the Grande Ballroom. The MC5
(Motor City 5), became one of the popular house bands at the Grande, playing there on
a regular basis along with other local bands like Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, the
Psychedelic Stooges featuring Iggy Pop, and SRC. Rob Tyner of the MC5 introduced
Russ Gibb to his friend Gary Grimshaw, who became a legendary graphic artist
producing posters and handbills to promote shows at the Grande. Normal capacity for
the Grande Ballroom was about 1700 people, but for most concerts 2000-2500 people
packed in there to see the bands, with crowds milling around outside. Tickets normally
cost about $5.00.7
The Grande opened the evening of October 7, 1966 to a crowd of about 60 people
came to see the Chosen Few and the MC5. This concert featured one of the largest
strobe lights ever built at the time. The next night, a crowd three times the size of the
opening night’s audience showed-up for the concert, an early sign of the attraction the
Grande Ballroom had for youth from the suburbs, who came to Detroit to be a part of
Gibb helped to develop and define what came to be known as underground radio in
Detroit on WKNR-FM, known as Keener 13 to its radio fans. The other underground
radio station in Detroit was WABX. Both stations had progressive formats that attracted
a different type of listener and these people were the demographic that packed the
Grande Ballroom every weekend. Radio listeners tuned in to find out the latest
information on upcoming concerts and music by their favorite bands.
The Grande showcased local bands like the MC5, as well as national and international
bands like John Lee Hooker, The Who, Cream, the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, The Thyme,
Canned Heat, Jethro Tull, The Rationals, John Mayall, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Brother and the
Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, the Fugs, Sly and the Family Stone, Procol
Harum, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Doors, Van Morrison, Fleetwood Mac,
Savoy Brown, The Moody Blues, The Velvet Underground, Country Joe and the Fish,
Tim Buckley, The Steve Miller Band, the Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple,
Blue Cheer, The Grateful Dead, Small Faces, The Troggs, The Mothers of Invention,
Eric Burton and the Animals, and many more.8
Eventually, the Grande Ballroom under the supervision of Russ Gibb started
deteriorating, as facilities and infrastructure fell into disrepair. Though the Grande was
still actively used for concerts, patrons started looking elsewhere for better-maintained
venues and the Grande began losing money. By the time the Grande Ballroom closed,
Gibb was booking bands for bigger venues like the Michigan Theater, also called the
Michigan Palace, Olympia, and others in the Midwest.9
The Grande Ballroom is very important both historically and archaeologically to
urban archaeologists and anthropologists, the public, and special interest groups. First,
it shows how musical styles progressed and changed from the time the Grande
Ballroom was conceived and built through several decades of use by various owners
until the building was renovated and revived by Russ Gibb in 1966 to reflect the
cultural music scene of the mid 1960s until it closed its doors as a music venue in 1972. The final concert
ever played at the Grande was on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) 1972 and featured
the MC5, Roy Buchannan, and Jett Black.10
Second, there is a rich body of archaeological material culture from the Grande
Ballroom, including the renowned posters by artist Gary Grimshaw, Rob Tyner, Carl
Lundgren,11,12 and others, ticket stubs, photographs documenting the counterculture
experience by Detroit photographer Leni Sinclair,13 records from the various musical
groups, oral histories from bands who played at the Grande and individuals who
attended their concerts, and of course, the remnants of the building itself. The building
is now ruined and abandoned, and its current state of preservation is questionable. In
2006, signs started appearing on the exterior of the building that this was the future
home of Chapel Hill Ministries. The property at 8952 Grand River was purchased by
Chapel Hill Baptist Church from Wayne County in April 2012 for $3,621, but there are
currently no plans in the works to redevelop the property and the Grande’s current fate
is unknown, but demolition seems inevitable.14,15
There are many interest groups, such as the Friends of the Grande, who are
dedicated to the history and preservation of the Grande Ballroom, there are also well-
maintained Grande Ballroom websites rich with information and documentation about
the Grande venue, the bands, etc., several documentaries regarding the Grande
Ballroom such as Louder than Love – The Grande Ballroom Story by Tony D’Annunzio16
and MC5 A True Testimonial, and a book in the works by Leo Early called Ghosts of the
Grande. Even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has expressed an interest in preserving
the Grande Ballroom through a kickstarter fundraising campaign. We will all have to
wait and see what the future holds for the crumbling edifice that was once a Rock and
Roll Mecca in Detroit.
16 http://the grandeballroomstory.com/
Geostoryteller page about Grande Ballroom: