Before the days of widespread auto ownership and expressways, people sought recreation in their local areas. Perhaps Detroit has been such a successful incubator of musical innovations because of the many venues where aspiring artists could perform. In the 1920s, six impressive ballrooms were built in Detroit—the Graystone, the Grande, the Jefferson Beach, the Mirror, the Monticello and the Vanity. Patrons could go to these spectacular ballrooms, socialize, dance and hear marvelous music and, perhaps, enjoy some liquid refreshments spirited across the Detroit River from Canada.
There was competition to create flamboyant and innovative ballrooms. Aztec and Toltec motifs were used to encourage patrons to imagine they were entering a fantasyland when they came to the Vanity. Although the perspective from East Jefferson makes you think it is a very large structure, it is a two-story building with retail shops on the first floor and the ballroom on the second. It is a steel and reinforced concrete building, but the architect, Charles N, Agree, used his imagination and the skills of brick makers to add luster to this building. He used the orange brick that was popular in Detroit in the 1920s, but complemented it with darker brick and cast stones. He added an appealing three-sided entrance pavilion. If you look toward the second floor, you will see multi-paned casement windows that are flanked by pilasters that are then topped with Aztec geometric designs that you see so clearly as you drive along East Jefferson toward the Grosse Points. It is clear that the architect spent a great deal of time and effort attempting to put fascinating decorations on the outside of this once impressive building.
This was a major Detroit venue for the leading bands of the 1930s and 1940s. Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman led their large bands in the Vanity Ballroom. This ballroom played a bit room in Emimen's famous movie, Eight Mile.
Date of completion: 1929
Architect: Charles N. Agree
Michigan Register of Historical Sites: P 25270
National Register of Historic Sites: Listed November 12, 1982
Current Use: This building is dilapidated. It is not used and, so far as I know,
There are no immediate plans to refurbish this impressive ballroom.
Photo: Ren Farley, February, 2003
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