Last year, Project Row Houses (PRH) announced a plan to rehabilitate and renovate the historic Eldorado Ballroom. On March 30, a private grand reopening and unveiling event took place, with a public open house scheduled for this coming Thursday evening.
The Eldorado Ballroom was established in 1939, in the midst of Jim Crow segregation, by Anna Johnson Dupree and Clarence A. Dupree, Houston business owners and investors in the Black community of the Third Ward. Known as“The Rado,” the venue was a significant space for touring Black musicians in the United States. During the 1940s and 1950s, the ballroom hosted performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Houston blues musician Lightnin’ Hopkins, among many others.
In an interview on the television program Great Day Houston, Eureka Gilkey, PRH’s director, explained that the Eldorado Ballroom was much more than a music venue — it was a cultural center and gathering place where the community held graduations, baby showers, and other events celebrating life milestones. The ballroom closed to the public in the early 1970s, following a time of economic stagnation in the area. PRH acquired the ballroom in 1999 and began to intermittently hold programs in the space. The organization began work on the $9.6 million renovation project last year.
Last week’s event featured music by jazz and blues singer Jewel Brown, who opened her first show at the Eldorado over 70 years ago at the age of 12. On Great Day Houston, Ms. Brown reminisced about the historic space and stated, “That area was the it area… that was like Broadway, New York.” Other musicians who were part of the grand reopening include jazz vocalist Horace Grigsby; DJ Mookie Copeland; the Houston Steppers; and DJ Flash Gordon Parks. Author Danielle Fanfair gave a speech, Reverend Marilyn White provided a blessing, and host and producer of Great Day Houston, Deborah Duncan, hosted the event. Additionally, the event was an opportunity to celebrate the 80th birthday of artist Jesse Lott, one of the founders of PRH.
The renovated building includes a market and cafe serving fresh food, a gallery, and a community meeting space. This Thursday, April 6, from noon to 6 pm, the Eldorado Ballroom will host a free community open house featuring art and entertainment.