The Vanity Ballroom on Detroit’s east side was NOT a competitor for the Grande Ballroom on the west side; both were built by Edward Strata and eventually used for covering both ends of the city.

The Vanity opened in 1929 and was designed as a Mayan temple ”filled with stepped archways, rich earth-toned colors and Aztec symbols, all inspired by pre-Columbian archaeological discoveries of the time. Stylized Indian heads, stepped-brick archways and green-glazed tiles hovered over the dancers’ heads (Historic Detroit).”

Opening on the corner of Newport & Jefferson, the Vanity was Detroit’s last ballroom to open…and boy, did it exceed expectations. Five nights a week 1,000 couples would be on the 5,600-square-foot dance floor, boppin’ to big bands led by Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Dorsey, Louis Prima, Tommy Dorsey, and many others.

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With storefronts on the bottom floor, the second level had the ballroom with a bandstand, two bars, revolving chandelier, coatroom, light-reflecting mirrors, and soda fountain. Once the 1950s hit, ballroom dancing was losing favor. Now Americans wanted to stay home and watch this new contraption called a ‘television set’ and go to the movies. But later that decade, Rock ‘n Roll exploded becoming the new thing. With the Vanity closing in 1958 due to lack of public interest, it took until 1964 for it to open again. Unfortunately, the re-opening focused again on big band music, believing middle-agers wanted to re-live their youth…but it didn’t happen.

Finally, in 1971, a new owner took over and began bringing in local rock bands: Amboy Dukes, MC5, Stooges, etc. and national band the Velvet Underground.

The Grande Ballroom closed in 1972 thanks to the city’s tense atmosphere following the 1967 riot five years earlier. The Vanity soon closed as well. After closing in the 1970s, it re-opened in 1983 with high hopes, but closed a year later.

On November 12, 1982, the Vanity Ballroom was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on becoming the last intact big band ballroom in Detroit.

Attempts to renovate and re-open the Vanity have been an ongoing thing since 1980 with brief re-openings, closings, restrictions, lack of customers, vandals, looters…..but admirers still have not given up hope. The once-exquisite and exotic Mayan Temple known as the Vanity Ballroom is now a shambles that looks like it came from Skid Row…..or worse. But it’s still there, which means hopes & dreams are there as well.

Abandoned Vanity Ballroom, Detroit

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