Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Grande Ballroom

The Grande Ballroom began as a jazz and big band dancehall. It was designed in the Moorish Deco style by Charles N. Agree for entrepreneurs Edward K. Strata and his partner, Edward J. Davis, in 1928. Located at 8952 Grand River Avenue, the building had storefront space on the first floor, while the second floor housed a ballroom with Moorish arches and a floor on springs that gave dancers the feeling of floating. 

After World War II, jazz and ballroom dancing lost popularity and many ballrooms closed. However, in 1955, the Grande Ballroom was taken over by Mr. and Mrs. John T. Hayes, who were determined to revive ballroom dancing. The couple wanted a wholesome and entertaining place for young people in a world that was becoming increasingly more rock-n-roll. There was no liquor inside, and on Friday and Saturday evenings the Grande hosted live music. The Hayes resistance to change eventually led the Grande Ballroom to close in the early 1960s. It was turned into a roller-skating rink and then a mattress storage facility. 

In 1966, the Grande Ballroom was purchased by Russ Gibb, who would immortalize the venue. Gibb was inspired by the rock halls of the West Coast and used them as a model for the Grande. He hung a massive screen behind the stage that projected psychedelic images and bought huge strobe lights. The Grande, once the host of wholesome ballroom dancing, became a place for Detroit and suburban youth to dance to rock-n-roll. 

Gibb booked local acts like MC5, the Stooges, SRC, The Frost, and the Rationals. In 1967, he also began to bring in touring bands, the first being Vanilla Fudge. Soon, more touring bands were playing the venue. Big acts like Led Zeppelin, John Lee Hooker, the Yardbirds, Cream, Pink Floyd, Canned Heat, the Jeff Beck Group, The Byrds, Chuck Berry, the Velvet Underground, the Steve Miller Band, and Tim Buckley all played at the Grande.

The bands who played the Grande Ballroom loved its lively audiences. The MC5 drummer, Dennis Thompson, once described the Grande’s crowd like this: “The Grande Ballroom’s audiences are probably the best in the world… They were just fanatics… they loved the hard-driving music and they showed up. Tickets were 5 bucks, c’mon, you could see four bands for $5.” 

By the late 1960s, Gibb was booking bigger venues at the Michigan Palace and in other cities. He explained that it became impractical to host shows at the Grande Ballroom. He complained of greed in the music industry and of problems with police at the venue. The Grande’s final show was on New Year’s Eve, 1972. The Grande Ballroom was added to the National Register of Historic Places in December of 2018.