Eldorado Ballroom: A Concise History By Dr. Roger Wood


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houstonarchitecture.com
"The Eldorado Ballroom was a crucial finishing school of sorts for local musicians. Playing in the house band there was a high status achievement, a gig that sometimes led to big breaks and individual fame as a musician. Among the scores of noteworthy alumni of the Eldorado house band are Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Don Wilkerson and Calvin Owens, for instance.

"Also, Third Ward-based radio station KCOH often used the venue to stage Saturday afternoon talent shows (broadcast live over the radio) featuring local youth, giving unknown kids the opportunity to perform on the most prestigious stage in the community.

"The great vocalist Jewel Brown, for instance, who went on the sing with the Louis Armstrong band for almost five years in the early 1960s, launched her career by winning the talent show there around age 12 or so. The same goes for Johnny "Guitar" Watson, who actually won the contest performing as a pianist, and his good friend Joe "Guitar" Hughes, among others.

"In the early 1970s, the Eldorado Ballroom began to decline as a nightclub of choice for Houston blacks due to various factors including desegregation of public venues in the city and the younger generation's preference for more contemporary styles of music than those that the Eldorado, still a bastion of classic big-band blues and jazz, had come to personify. Eventually it closed, though the building survived as home to various businesses.

"In the early 21st century, the Eldorado Building was donated to the local nonprofit arts and social-services organization Project Row Houses. It was a gift from Hub Finkelstein, a Jewish man who had grown up in the southern part of Third Ward, home to much of Houston's Jewish community before World War II.

"Mr. Finkelstein had amassed a significant personal fortune through the oil business, and he reportedly bought the property as an investment but also for sentimental and historical reasons. You see, as a young man, he had first heard live jazz projecting from the open windows of the famous nightclub and fell in love with that sound.

"Decades later he purchased the building and then elected to donate it to Project Row Houses in order to preserve the physical structure that served for him personally, as well as for much of the local black community, as a prominent symbol of the culture that birthed and nurtured that music."


For more information on the Eldorado, see this 2006 article for the Houston Review of Culture & History written by Leigh Tucker.



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El Dorado Ballroom

2301 Elgin Ave., Houston, TX

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3 comments
Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Great article and it is worth the time to visit The Eldorado. It is a large space and those windows are interesting to think about.

Back in the day before A/C there was very little land that was paved over around the Eldorado for streets and parking lots which allowed a cool breeze to flow off the park and the surrounding grasslands and into those those windows during the summer time.

A welcome relief no doubt when the music got hoppin!

Hopefully people who enjoyed being fans of the Eldorado will come forward with pictures and old movies made back in the day and help create a historic record for youngsters to study.

The Eldorado is most certainly an important part of Houston's musical history.

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