Arts & Culture

Historic Eldorado Ballroom in Houston’s Third Ward set to be restored

The popular segregation-era venue for Houston’s Black community is a landmark of late Art Deco design.

The Eldorado Ballroom in 1939.

A pillar of Houston’s historic music scene is getting restored.

Project Row Houses, a Third Ward community organization, is rehabilitating the Eldorado Ballroom, which was founded in 1939 to showcase musical performances for Houston’s Black community at a time when such venues were segregated.

The community group has raised $8 million of its $9.65 million fundraising goal for the project. From now until June 15, a donor will match donations up to $500,000.

Andrea Greer, the development director at Project Row Houses, said the goal of the reconstruction is to restore more than just the building itself.

“When we’re preserving buildings, we’re doing it so that they can continue to have a life and continue to support the community,” Greer said.

Located on Elgin St. across from Emancipation Park in the Third Ward, the Eldorado Ballroom was a popular music and community venue until it closed in the early 1970s. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the owner was Anna Dupree, a successful Black business woman who operated the ballroom with her husband Clarence Dupree. The couple ran the venue for decades.

Houston city council member Carolyn Evans-Shabazz represents the city council district where the ballroom is located. She remembers spending the night with her siblings and a babysitter as a child when her parents would go out with their friends to the Eldorado.

“It was a place to go and just really a highlight of the community,” Evans-Shabazz said.

The Eldorado Ballroom in January 2021.

The make-over will include restoration of the historic Art Deco façade and interiors while bringing the building’s amenities up to modern standards. Plans for the building include a café and market, as well as community meeting spaces and a live music venue. Project Row Houses is giving an update on the construction Saturday morning and unveiling some artwork for the construction fences surrounding the building as the rehabilitation finishes.

Tierney Malone, a Houston artist who created the fence art, said the music hall jump-started many Houston jazz and blues artists, like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Big Mama Thornton. Nationally acclaimed artists like James Brown and BB King also performed there.

Malone said the ballroom was more than a place to go listen to music. Black people in Houston couldn’t move about the city freely during the Jim Crow era, so venues like the Eldorado Ballroom were essential spaces, and the restoration helps dive deeper into that element of Houston’s history, Malone said.

“It was a venue that wasn’t just for dancing,” Malone said. “It was meant to serve the community and to inspire the community.”

Evans-Shabazz said she hopes the restoration will lead to the venue becoming the birthplace of careers for talented local artists again.

“I would love to see that,” she said. “Then, they could move onto the bigger arenas, but to know that they were given an opportunity to showcase their talent would be an awesome experience for them as well for the city.”

The building was donated to Project Row Houses in 1999 and underwent several years of renovations in the early 2000s. Greer with Project Row Houses said she hopes that reviving the building fully to its original prominence will reignite its purpose and role in the Third Ward.

“We want it to function fully as a hub right there at that primary corner of the neighborhood,” she said. “Sort of a Third Ward crossroads.”

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