The Grande Ballroom

3931

1966

Photograph by Leni Sinclair/ Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Museum, The University of Michigan

No one even remotely familiar with Detroit’s musical history can dismiss the importance of The Grande Ballroom, a virtual temple of rock ’n’ roll. Not only did local bands perform there — the MC5 was considered its house band — but big-name performers such as Led Zeppelin, the Who, Cream, Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead, and the Yardbirds also rocked the rafters. But the Grande’s (pronounced Grand-ee) beginnings were tentative.

Attendance was sparse on Oct. 7, 1966, when it opened as a rock venue with the MC5 and The Chosen Few on the bill. The funky lettering on the poster seen in this opening-night photo was the work of Gary Grimshaw, whose posters and handbills became highly collectible.

Word spread among metro Detroit youth, and the Grande, on Detroit’s west side, at Grand River and Beverly (a block south of Joy) eventually was packed. Young people thought nothing of climbing the staircase to the second floor, where the expansive wooden dance floor and stage were. The Grande was the brainchild of Russ Gibb, a Dearborn schoolteacher and DJ, who was inspired by a visit to San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium.

The Grande’s history stretches back to 1928, when it was built by Charles Agree, in a Moroccan-Spanish style. Agree also designed the Vanity Ballroom on Detroit’s east side, the Hollywood Theatre on Fort Street, the Whittier Hotel off East Jefferson, and the Belcrest Apartments on Cass. In the 1940s, the Grande was a bastion for swing music. As a rock palace, the Grande’s coda came on New Year’s Eve, 1972, after which it was left to deteriorate.

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