It's Official: The Eldorado Ballroom Is Historic

Venerable Third Ward institution that hosted Ray Charles and Count Basie celebrates its Texas Historical Marker with a weekend-long party.

By Elise Rambaud Marrion April 29, 2014

The Eldorado Ballroom was once the upscale dance hall of the Third Ward, the premier destination to impress your date, flaunt your finest threads, and perfect your dance moves.

And the music wasn’t bad either. From the 1940s to the ’70s, the Eldorado stage showcased music legends including Ray Charles, James Brown, Etta James, Count Basie, Ike and Tina Turner, and B.B. King. Those headliners kept the joint jumping with a perpetually packed dance floor known as Houston’s “home of happy feet.”

The Eldorado embodied the spirit of Houston’s African American community and left an indelible mark on its history. That legacy will be recognized this weekend with a two-day concert series, a community market, and the unveiling of the Eldorado’s official Texas Historical Marker.

“The whole purpose is to recapture some of the spirit that was in the Eldorado back in its heyday,” said Eric Miller, chair of the LIVE at the Eldorado concert series and a board member of Project Row Houses, which manages the venue. “The area is transforming—you have townhomes being built up right next to it, and other new buildings going up around it. So the face of the neighborhood is changing.”

Built in 1939 and owned by African American businesswoman Anna Dupree, the Eldorado was donated in 1999 to Project Row Houses, which has spent the past 15 years raising funds and restoring the Eldorado back to its former glory.

“The Eldorado was a cornerstone of the Third Ward community,” Miller said. “You not only went there to have a good time and enjoy yourself at the ballroom, but you also had black-owned businesses built around the Eldorado that supported the community. So even in the face of a changing neighborhood, you still want to hold on to that history.”

The weekend’s festivities begin with a ticketed concert, “LIVE at the Eldorado with Milton Hopkins and Jewel Brown” at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 2.  Tickets start at $30, with the proceeds supporting the restoration of the Eldorado’s art deco façade.

“I can’t wait to see Milton Hopkins and Jewel Brown,” Miller said. “They both have ties to the Eldorado, especially Jewel Brown, so it’s kind of a homecoming. It’s my understanding that she actually performed there when she was little.”

The celebration continues at 1 p.m. on Saturday with the historical marker dedication ceremony, and a free concert in Dupree Park on 2500 Francis St. featuring performances by DJ SoulOne, Flo-Motion Houston, and The Hue. The Eldorado Parking lot will play host to a fleet of candy-colored Houston Slabs.

To Miller, the Eldorado’s restoration means more than just the beautification of an historic Third Ward building.

 “I’d like to restore the Eldorado back to its past, not just in the sense of making the building look nice, but in restoring its impact to the community—giving people a chance to start their own businesses, and have those businesses support economic development around the community,” he said. “That’s my dream for the Eldorado. We’re working on it.”

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