Eldorado Ballroom: A Concise History By Dr. Roger Wood
Rocks Off was pleased as punch to report last week that, thanks to the efforts of the Texas Blues Project's R. Eric Davis and Project Row Houses, which has owned the historic Third Ward venue since 1999, the Eldorado Ballroom will receive its own Texas Historical Marker plaque later this year.
David Bush/ houstondeco.com The Eldorado Ballroom in 2006
Davis, the man who headed up the campaign for the Lightnin' Hopkins marker that now rests a few blocks from the Eldorado, paid for the application fee to the Texas Historical Commission - more soon on his brand-new soon-to-be nonprofit, which intends to raise money to purchase or restore blues musicians' gravestones as well as for a walk of fame-style Blues Trail in a high-traffic location TBD - and the Project Row board of directors raised all the funds to pay for the marker itself.
Rocks Off spoke with Project Row director Linda Shearer, who told us that beyond being very excited about the news, she didn't have that much to tell us yet. Figuring out how and when the Eldorado's marker will be dedicated - and even what it's going to say - is still in the "beginning stages," she said, although they are hoping to have something as soon as late April or early May.
As you're about to read, the Eldorado - alive, well, and still hosting concerts and other events - is such a historic venue it takes a real historian to tell the tale. Rocks Off reached out to our designated local music scholar, Dr. Roger Wood, for his assistance. His history of the Eldorado is after the jump. Thanks, Doc.
"The Eldorado Building opened in 1939 with various small businesses as tenants on the ground level and the famous Eldorado Ballroom occupying the entire (and spacious) second floor.
Project Row Houses/ houstondeco.com The Eldorado Ballroom shortly after it was built in 1939
"The nightclub operated there from 1939 till the early 1970s. In its prime, it reigned as one of the finest showcases in the South for performance of, and dancing to, black secular music - mostly blues, jazz, and R&B, but also pop and even some zydeco (e.g., Clifton Chenier is known to have performed there in the 1950s).
"This large building occupies a high-profile corner in Third Ward: the intersection of Elgin and Dowling, right across the street from Emancipation Park, the first city park in Houston that was open to - and in fact created by - African-Americans, dating back to the days of Rev. Jack Yates.
"The owners of the Eldorado Building were a remarkably successful African-American couple, Clarence Dupree and his wife Anna Dupree (1891-1977). They had married in 1914, but even before then, Mrs. Dupree had established herself as an sharp entrepreneur via her ownership of of beauty parlor.
"As a team, the Duprees prospered, even during the Great Depression, and they created the Eldorado Building primarily as an investment. But they also specifically established the upscale Eldorado Ballroom to serve as what Ms. Dupree reportedly defined as a "class" venue for Houston blacks, during an era when segregation severely limited the options of well-to-do African-Americans seeking to enjoy a night out for entertainment purposes.
"Like the more famous Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, the Eldorado billed itself as "The Home of Happy Feet" in homage to the dancing that occurred there.
"From 1939 into the early 1960s, the Eldorado Ballroom maintained a large house band - actually more of an orchestra, typically comprising 17 to 18 instruments. Directed by legendary Houston big-band leaders such as Ed Golden, Milton Larkin, I. H. "Ike" Smalley, Arnett Cobb, Pluma Davis, and Conrad Johnson, the house band backed nationally touring stars as well as self-produced floor shows featuring local entertainers (singers, dancers and comedians).
"Among the big name acts that are reported to have performed at the Eldorado Ballroom are T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Bill Doggett ("Honky Tonk"), and the original Guitar Slim, Eddie Jones.