The Graystone Ballroom was Detroit's premier swing and jazz venue during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. It was closed in 1972 and demolished in 1980.
Originally designed to be a Chinese restaurant, the Graystone Ballroom was born when its original owners defaulted.1 Dan Austin attributes its design to architect Rupert Koch, whose original blueprint would have made the ballroom ten stories instead of the more modest five story form it ultimately took.9 Located on Woodward Avenue between Willis and Canfield, Koch designed the ballroom along Neo-Gothic lines. On 7 March 1922 the ballroom opened "to take advantage of the nascent fad for ballroom dancing."2 McKinney's Cotton Pickers and Jean Goldkette's Orchestra launched their careers by playing the Graystone.3 Goldkette was manager of the ballroom during its heyday.6 At that time, the Graystone was, according to Lars Bjorn, "the place to go dance."1 The Graystone could accommodate 4,000 dancers, and featured a 60-foot-high domed ceiling above a 124-square-foot dance floor.9
The Graystone, like all dance halls of its era, was segregated, though the musicians themselves were often black.2 On "Blue Mondays" the black community would rent the ballroom for its own use.
The Graystone Ballroom was known for jazz, and encompassed the Graystone Garden, an outdoor dance floor where patrons could dance during the summer. During the 1920’s, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald all passed through the Graystone. At one time, the house band featured the great Bix Beiderbecke, who got his start playing the Graystone.
After Goldkette filed for bankruptcy in 1935, the Graystone was bought by the University of Michigan and then leased to Fred W. Haynes and Francis Steltenkamp, who would lose over half a million dollars on the venue. At that time, jazz dancing was falling out of fashion. After a 1970 fire damaged the building's roof, the Graystone Ballroom entered a terminal stage, and was finally demolished in 1980.
According to Susan Whithall, the Graystone Ballroom "was the cradle of Detroit jazz."1 In 1974 Benny Goodman recalled the Graystone as "a great mecca in" the 1920s, and noted that "some of the great jazz musicians have come from Detroit."1 Donna Gloff described the Graystone as "a luxurious '20s temple to nightlife and that new music sweeping America -- jazz."4 Isaac Kremer lamented the fact that preservation efforts by James Jenkins and the Graystone International Jazz Museum failed, noting that had they succeeded, it "might have helped to cement Detroit's musical legacy. Instead, this great musical legacy stands without a dedicated visible landmark downtown." 7 Donna Gloff has charged that the Graystone was "the most beautiful and elegant" of all Detroit's ballrooms, and "became one of the best-known ballrooms in the country." 8 Veronica Grandison agreed that it "was one the area’s main attractions," at its height.10
1. From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20070327/METRO/108010004#ixzz2wA4iKdpS
3. Marilyn Bond and S. R. Boland, in disagree about the origins of the ballroom, stating that it "was built in 1924 and started as a jazz place." See The Birth of the Detroit Sound: 1940-1964, page 12. Dan Austin has written that the ballroom opened not on 7 March of 1922 but on 27 February. See http://historicdetroit.org/building/graystone-ballroom/
5. Bond, Marily, and S.R. Roland. The Birth of the Detroit Sound: 1940-1964. (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2002), 20, 42.