After a night of revelry in the Grande Ballroom, dancing under psychedelic lights cast by colored vegetable oil, playing Twister and skipping merrily around the perimeter while Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes sang of the journey to the center of the mind, I gathered my girlfriends and headed for my dad’s Galaxie.
The asphalt lot adjoining the Riviera Theater where black folks went to movies and the Grande where white teens listened to mostly white rock-and-roll was half full at midnight in October 1966. Our purses were still there in my unlocked car.
Oops. There was a note from Pops, “We were here, too bad you were.”
We three girls from Southfield sang a unified chorus, “People try to put us down, just because we get around,” from the Who’s “My Generation” and drove home to face the music.
Grounded a whole month.
Now a half decade later, the Grande Ballroom will enjoy a 50-year tribute this Saturday, October 8 at the Ford Community Arts Center in Dearborn. It will be an all-day celebration of Detroit’s legendary Grande Ballroom with a special concert by The Yardbirds.
Also appearing will be Ray Goodman and The Grande All-Star Band, Stoney and the Jagged Edge, Frijid Pink, The Gang, Thomas Blood, The WHA? and special guest of local fame, “Uncle” Russ Gibb. Click here for tickets and more information.
The organizer is Michele Lundgren, entrepreneur, photographer and wife of Carl Lundgren, who produced some of the most notable Grande posters. The posters have sold strong for years and years at art fairs and Grande revival events.
It will be a night to remember how the Grande Ballroom represented the ultimate culture clash between the emerging Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation.
Between the young, fresh city lovers and first-generation suburbanites.
Between me and my overly protective parents.
Parents saw the decrepit building in a declining neighborhood on Grand River near Joy as a symbol of past glory. My mom and dad met at the Grande at a Catholic Youth Organization’s dance in the early 1940s.
You’d think it would ring bells of happiness. Instead they worshipped new cars, attached garages and the splendid options at Northland Mall. They cast off all things urban as outdated and congested. Why couldn’t I go to the teen center in Southfield?
Oldsters had no understanding of Detroit’s industrial strength answer to San Francisco’s flower-powered, acid-drenched, cosmic moon-in-Aquarius emporium of all things young and rebellious. John and Leni Sinclair had a store in the corner that sold White Panther Party newspapers, incense and political idealism, while girls with flower wreathes around their hair and gauzy dresses sold marijuana out of carpet bags tied with hemp.
Writing in the Detroit News December 22, 1966 in a story, Dale Stevens had this to say. “Boris Karloff would love it. These are his kind of monsters – grotesque, funny, just close enough to reality to suggest they are afraid to take one step beyond.”
The article depicts the decor as lingering rebellious childhood. Guests could play on pogo sticks, ride a kiddie car, sprawl on a giant hassock and build with tinker toys – real wooden tinker toys. On a platform near one corner was a Twister game, where several people could get up close and personal while connecting the dots with their bodies.
“The two main assaults are from such avant-garde folk-rock groups as the MC-5, Ourselves and the Jagged Edge, which often provide dirty lyrics and keep the volume level up so high it vibrates through you and the large stroboscopic light with its garish, blinding silent movie effect,” Stevens writes.
The title of Stevens’ piece was this, “Hey, Ma! I’m Blowin’ My Mind,” which is exactly what my mother feared.
Not to worry, I was more frightened of LSD and peyote than the surrounding neighborhood. I fell in love with these rambling two-and three story structures that held fast with one family after the next moving in.
Houses on blocks north of the Grande had more character than those in our planned residential development stamped out of factories. Rows upon rows of ranches housed wide lawns and narrow minds. Like the Animals sang in the day, “We’ve got to get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do.”
I got out of the suburbs and lived most of my life in the city, but the trend went the other way.
Droves of residents left the neighborhood and the commercial districts lost to plazas and malls with free parking. Before the ’67 riots the residents moved to rid themselves of blenching diesel buses, downshifting semi-trailers and flashing traffic lights. In the suburbs they had attached garages, mostly white neighborhoods and much open space.
After the riots, people streamed out to suburbs like Southfield, Troy and West Bloomfield, as detailed in the fascinating book, Grand River and Joy, by Susan Messer. The neighborhood around the Grande took numerous hits during that civil disturbance and never rebounded.
Something or someone must help revive this neighborhood. The city of Detroit has no active program in place to draw the disparate forces together and the American Institute of Architects has no plans to beautify.
Michele Lundgren, who lives in Midtown, told Jim McFarlin of Hour Detroit she would love to see the Grande revived. It would be costly. It could take $6 million just to regenerate the bricks and infrastructure.
Could it happen?
“Emphatically yes,” says Michael Poris, owner of McIntosh Poris in Birmingham, which transformed the dilapidated Serengeti Ballroom to become the Garden Theater at a cost of $12.3 million in 2012. “The Garden Theater was a total wreck. We brought it back. The Grande could be saved. It would be a destination. With or without a strong neighborhood,” he says.
Could nostalgia alone generate $6 to $12 million to revive the dance hall where the greatest bands of the 1960s played the finest concerts?
Whether all this momentum translates to a full-scale renovation is still a question – a burning question for anyone thinking to reinvest.
Nostalgia is playing some heavy metal enthusiasm.
Louder Than Love, a 2012 documentary by Tony D’Annunzio won an Emmy and other accolades. A new book, The Grande Ballroom – Detroit’s Rock n Roll Palace emerges this month by Leo Early. He will be signing a limited number of copies at the 50th anniversary celebration. It is also available on Amazon.
VIP tickets to the Grand 50th Reunion sold out in hours and tickets to the main event are in limited supply.
For information about the Grande Ballroom reunion click here.