Discuss Detroit Hall of Fame Threads Vanity Ballroom Previous Next
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Newport1128
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Post Number: 240
Registered: 05-2007
Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 3:31 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Does anyone have a resource for photos of the exterior of the Vanity Ballroom during the 1950's or 1960's? The only ones I've been able to locate are either from 1928 or present day. I grew up about 15 houses from it from 1951-71, and would like to see a photo from that era.
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Eastsidedame
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Post Number: 650
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Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 4:04 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Some enterprising dance guru should resurrect the Vanity. With shows like "Dancing with the Stars", the popularity of dance has grown. Doesn't ALL have to be ballroom dance.
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Exmotowner
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Post Number: 512
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Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 4:30 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I think it would make an AWESOME Gay bar! IMO!
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Newport1128
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Post Number: 241
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Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 4:41 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

The Vanity is in such sad shape, it would take millions to restore it. The roof has been leaking for years, so the dance floor is warped and rotted. The once-beautiful Mayan-inspired art deco interior is slowly disintegrating. it would be a project on the scale of the Fox Theater to restore it.
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Gistok
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Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 4:59 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

The 1929 Vanity Ballroom was designed by Charles N. Agree, who also designed Detroit's 3rd largest movie palace... the 3,434 seat Hollywood Theatre (1927, razed 1963).

Since in 1927 Agree was not an experienced movie palace architect, he collaborated with the Chicago firm of Graven & Mayger on the design of the Hollywood (located at Fort St. near 18th).

Graven & Mayger were architects who formerly worked in the offices of Rapp & Rapp... Chicago's famous theatre architects who designed the Chicago Theatre, the Michigan Theatre, and about 100 others.

In 1928 Graven & Mayger designed Detroit's exotic Mayanesque style old Fisher Theatre (old interior destroyed in 1961 for a new playhouse).

The Graven & Mayger firm only lasted 15 months (1927-28) before it closed, probably due the the fact that the principal architects couldn't get along. The total output of Graven & Mayger was only 5 movie palaces, with the Fisher Theatre being their major accomplishment.

Although this is pure speculation, and never been discussed before... I believe that either the plaster molds for the old Fisher were re-used in the interior of the Vanity Ballroom, or some of Graven & Mayger's interior design elements were re-used.

The Mayan cartouche designs of the Vanity interior appear identical to those of the old Fisher. Rather than design from scratch, it is likely that Agree reused the Graven & Mayger designs or molds.

With the Graven & Mayger firm dissolved in 1928, Charles Agree may have gotten these designs and/or molds at bargain basement prices for his designs for the ballroom that opened the next year (1929).

With the close business connection between Charles Agree and Graven & Mayger, there is a strong possibility that these were indeed Fisher Theatre architectural elements reused in the Vanity Ballroom.




Vanity Ballroom "Mayanesque" plaster detail.

Reference source: Theatre Historical Society booklets on 1) Graven & Mayger, 2) the old Fisher Theatre, and 3) Detroit's Movie Palaces.


(Message edited by Gistok on November 13, 2008)
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Gistok
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Post Number: 7509
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Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 5:28 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I had these pics saved of the Vanity Ballroom from a website that appears to be no longer accessible via a Google search.

Although it needs a LOT of work, it appears that a quite a bit of the Vanity Ballroom plasterwork is still in good condition.



















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Pgn421
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Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2008 - 8:14 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

my parents met there in the 40's
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Margie
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 9:28 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

It is a TOTAL DISGRACE to everything that Detroit is that these Exquisite buildings have not been preserved. I want to move to Rome....
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Goat
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 9:44 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

^^^And that is but one reason why these beautiful structures are rotting. The population of Detroit is less than half of what it was. Move back and start to revitalize the city and kick the criminals out.
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Lnfant
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 9:48 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

A cultural or history professional, like from the Detroit Historical Society(?), would be a likely candidate for informing the masses WHY these landmarks are important not only in automotive history but how the culture worked back then. I personally have seen how wrong I was in perceiving history as boring. I've only had terrible teachers in my childhood that made the subject boring.

(Message edited by Lnfant on November 14, 2008)
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Bearinabox
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 11:00 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

quote:

It is a TOTAL DISGRACE to everything that Detroit is that these Exquisite buildings have not been preserved. I want to move to Rome....

Are you joking? You have to be joking. No way in hell is anyone THAT oblivious to irony.
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Gistok
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 12:41 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Before anyone gets their "knickers in a twist"... don't come to the conclusion that somehow destroying opulent old buildings is a "Detroit only" phenomenon...

When William Fox built theatres for his Fox Studio Chain in 1928-29, he built his 5 leviathan flagship movie palaces that were nearly unrivalled in their size and splendor. Sadly only 3 of the 5 survive... the Detroit Fox and its' St. Louis "clone", and the Atlanta Fox (the "Xanadu of Dixie").

The other 2, the Brooklyn Fox and San Francisco Fox, were pounded to rubble in the 1960's.

There is no building in the USA that matched the old world European opulence of the San Francisco Fox, a theatre of unmatched heart rending beauty (and as ornate as any European opera house or palace):

http://www.historigraphics.com /fox/swain_photo_collection.sh tml

But it was utterly destroyed in 1963, due to a failed bond issue to save it.

Also destroyed was the Brooklyn Fox, designed by Detroit's own C. Howard Crane, designer of his Detroit/St. Louis Fox masterpieces:

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ ampage?collId=pphhphoto&action =browse&fileName=ny/ny0200/ny0 255/photos/browse.db&recNum=0& itemLink=D?hh:61:./temp/~pp_Jw jF::&title2=Fox+Theatre,+20+Fl atbush+Avenue+%26+1+Nevins+Str eet,+Brooklyn,+Kings+County,+N Y&displayType=1

I could list another 20-30 palatial buildings around the country that are still here, but rotting away like the Vanity Ballroom, so let's not try to make this a "Detroit only" issue. Even New York and Chicago have their opulent ruins...

(Message edited by Gistok on November 14, 2008)
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Mauser765
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 8:53 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Some recent Vanity interior photos:

http://detroitfunk.com/?p=717

yeah, you can put your leg right through the dance floor in places if you are not careful. And the rest of the building - oh god ! The lower retail areas are just liquified garbage. The ground floor entry of the Vanity is on the Newport side in the back. The rest of the ground level was retail, just like Grande.
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Sludgedaddy
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Post Number: 219
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 9:10 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I remember working the Vanity Ballroom as a roadie for the Rock-A-Billy Cats, who opened up for Robert Gordon sometime in the early 1980's.

The place today would be perfect to revive the ancient Mayan practice of human sacrifice. know any old Mayans out of work?
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Mauser765
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 9:42 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

naw - gotta have a place to chuck the head down some stairs before you eat the heart.
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Bobl
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Post Number: 199
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 10:53 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Thought I saw a tree growing from (or through) the roof last summer. It was visible from the street while driving by.......
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Elimarr
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Posted on Friday, November 14, 2008 - 11:32 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Great pics! I hate to see a lot of these places reach that "point of no return," where restoring them gets financially unrealistic. I was at the Robert Gordon show mentioned by S-daddy above, and at that time it was a little dilapidated, but nowhere near destroyed. The dance floor was in decent shape then, and the Mayan motif was pretty much intact. The crumbling walls look like human destruction/vandalism/urban copper mining.
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Memoryhead
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Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2008 - 3:59 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Yes, Jefferson-Chalmers was my old neighborhood.
For awhile it was a rock n'roll venue. This was in the 1970's maybe early 1980's. Does anyone recall just when?

I saw the Stooges & MC5 there on a double bill. I have some photos of Iggy from that, not great quality but cool. Then they had the Doug Yule-Sterling Morrison "Velvet Underground (without Lou Reed & John Cale, maybe with Maureen Tucker). Various shows were held there (mostly local acts I think).

Then, around the same time they filmed part of a movie there: THE CINDERELLA AFFAIR. It was a silent version of Cinderella as a benefit for the American Lung association (against TB etc.)

I was part of the crew. They had the ballroom scenes at the Vanity. Bill Kennedy played the king (in wild robe and crown). He was pretty wild. But yes, I had some good adventures at the old Vanity.
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Gistok
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Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2008 - 4:23 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Thanks for the website Mauser765!

I Emailed Michael Hauser (who co-authored the Arcadia Book on Detroit Movie Palaces)... and asked him about the possibility of the Vanity Ballroom reusing old Fisher Theatre designs/molds, and showed him some pics.

His reply: "There are some striking similarities, aren't there.....so you are probably right."
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Leob
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Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2008 - 9:04 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I have an interview with Charles Agree in which he talks about a duo of theater Architects that he set up in business. This was done to get the Hollywood project completed. Previously Agree only did apartment buildings and wanted no part of the Theater biz. However, the future owner of the Hollywood insisted he do the job.
Rapp and Rapp in Chicago wouldn't help him out, they wanted the job all to themselves. So Agree made a deal with these two guys that wanted to strike out on their own.
I haven't confirmed this, but it is very likely they were Graven & Mayger.
Agree states that ultimately they were "no good", were drunkards and womanizers and their business suffered.
I also suspect but cannot yet confirm that Agree leveraged Graven & Mayger heavily for the design of his two ballrooms.
Someone very knowledgeable in the area of architectural acoustics was involved as patrons of the Grande (1928) and Vanity (1929) ballrooms can attest. The Vanity and Grande are really "sisters". Each had lower level retail with the Ballrooms upstairs, the Vanity being the more opulent of the two. Also, both Ballrooms were, for decades, managed by Paul Strasburg who was sort of Detroit's Arthur Murray.
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Gistok
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Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 3:25 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Wow!!

Thanks Leob!

So it looks like the Hollywood Theatre commission is what got Graven & Mayger away from Rapp & Rapp and start their own firm.

I bet that when Albert Kahn started with his design of the Fisher Building (design work likely in 1927), that Charles Agree gave him a referral for using Graven & Mayger to design the (open late 1928) Fisher Theatre.

And the boozing and womanizing (not the partners not getting along) is likely the reason why the Graven & Mayger architectural firm only lasted 15 months (1927-28).

(Message edited by Gistok on November 16, 2008)
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Mauser765
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Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 9:07 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

detroitfunk is my website btw, in case the noobs didnt know.

Roof trees - yes there are a few. Im pretty sure detroitblog took photos when he went up on the roof.

I didnt feel like falling through so I skipped that part of the "tour" when I was in there. I also dont go with other people so theres much less chance of help if you fell through two levels of rotten roof and floors. Hahaha !
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Mauser765
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Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 12:11 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

"I had these pics saved of the Vanity Ballroom from a website that appears to be no longer accessible via a Google search. "

The photos you posted are taken right off of the Detroitblog website. Im thinking thats probably not a good idea.

http://www.detroitblog.org/ind ex.php?s=vanity
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Gistok
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Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 2:24 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Well the plot thickens...

Not only does it look like Graven & Mayger may have designed much of the Vanity Ballroom with architectural details originally used in the Fisher Theatre...

But it also looks like they did the same for the Grande Ballroom...with details re-used from 2 of Graven & Mayger (1927-28) theatre designs... namely the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville TN, and the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham AL. And those 2 theatres happens to be, coincidentally like the Grande Ballroom.... in a Moorish style!!

See here (virtual tours available at both sites)
:
http://www.tennesseetheatre.co m/about-us/

http://www.alabamatheatre.com/ Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx

So Charles N. Agree may have been the principle architect for both the Vanity and Grande Ballrooms, but Graven & Mayger appear to have reused some of their theatre ornamentation for the exotic details of these legendary ballrooms.

The collaboration between Charles Agree (who mainly designed apartment buildings) and Graven & Mayger appears to have been more extensive than what has been documented.

Ironically later in his career in the 1930's Agree did design several of Detroit's neighborhood theatres, likely by himself. But they were in a tame Moderne style (such as the Harper Theatre, today "Harpos"), and not with the ornamental exuberance of the 1920's movie palaces and ballrooms. For those earlier entertainment establishments, he likely engaged Graven & Mayger to add the exotic touches.
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Leob
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Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 10:59 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

GISTOK
Awseome ! Thanks for helping complete more of the Grande puzzle. I am going to have to take a drive to Knoxville.

Greg Piazza was a former Free Press writer that interviewed Agree as part of his research for the Historic Nomination of Palmer Park.
In the interest of academic enlightenment I don't think he would mind me posting an excerpt from his 1983 interview with Charles Agree.
This picks up with Agree talking about Abe Cohen's insistence that he design the Hollywood theater and Agree's frustration in finding partners or an associate for the project:

Agree:.....I want to supervise the construction out of my office.
That's what he wants. But I need help to get the drawings up. That's how we're going to handle it". So I said, "Forget about it," and I
went to Rapp and Rapp, who were very famous for theatres in Chicago.
I found the same problem there. They wouldn't send any people to my office and do the plans and be a partner of mine. they wanted to take the job over. So I got two men out of Rapp and Rapp's office. Yaeger and I can't think of the two names. Two boys that worked In Rapp and Rapp's office. I got acquainted through S. W. Strausser with them.
He told me about them, that they wanted to go into business as for themselves. They were ready to go into business for themselves, these
two boys.

PIAZZA: Yes, I've seen the name but I can't think of the other name, but I recognize.

AGREE: Yaeger and another one. So I called them. I met them at S. W. Strausser's office, who recommended them I didn't know them.
They were out of Rapp and Rapp's office and said they wanted to go into business for themselves. They were good theatre people, they knew the business. I made a deal with them: they would have a Partner but they come to my office in Detroit. I'm the architect and I'm responsible for this, no outsider. But I'm doing it to help you because you want to get started. On the plans I'll put down your names as associates. Charles N. Agree, Architect, and Yaeger and Yaeger, whatever the names were as associates. Your names will be tied in. In the meantime if you want to start a business you can go into business for yourselves. So we made that deal. They came into
the office. We got the working drawings out of our office. I let the contracts and supervised the construction just like I handle my office. They got paid. From that point they got work on their own.
They got quite a few jabs on their Own in Chicago and In Detroit they did a few theatres, but they turned out to be bums, drunkards, left their wives, just nothing. Within Five years from the time we built in '31 they were both divorced from their wives, they were both drunkards and they were absolutely no good. Just shows you, they
wanted to go into business, they wanted an opportunity.

Leo B
www.thegrandeballroom.com
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Gistok
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Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2008 - 11:52 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Thanks Leo!

Charles Agree was already pretty old when he did that interview. His memory must have been getting fuzzy. He mentions "Yaeger", but I bet he meant "Mayger".

I was able to track down the full names of Graven & Mayger... it was "Anker Sveere Graven" and "Arthur Guy Mayger".

Interestingly enough I could not find any info on Mayger, but I did find this (rather incorrect) bio on Graven from a Chicago area university website:

quote:

Anker S. Graven was born in 1891 in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the son of Scandinavian immigrant parents. Graven earned a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree from the University of Illinois in 1917, apparently worked for an architect in Cleveland for several years, and then set up his own firm in Chicago in 1925. He specialized in motion picture theaters and among his most prominent commissions were the Fisher Theater in Detroit; the Minnesota Theater in Minneapolis; and, the Keith-Albee Palace Theater, Rochester, New York. In later years his firm was known as Graven & Magyer. The building at 1300-06 South Michigan Avenue is the only structure by the architect identified by the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, the City of Chicago’s comprehensive survey of potential landmark structures built before 1945. Other buildings by Graven in Chicago include the seven-story Starck Piano Company Building, 234 South Wabash Avenue, of 1927, and the 25 story Lawyers Building, 100 North LaSalle Street, built in 1929.



This bio is rather incorrect in that Graven & Mayger both worked for Rapp & Rapp before going off on their own (after coming to Detroit to do the Hollywood Theatre).

The Rapp & Rapp firm in Chicago designed theatres since at least 1915. But we don't know when Graven & Mayger started with them.

Since the Hollywood Theatre opened in 1927, Agree must have lured Graven & Mayger away from Rapp & Rapp sometime circa 1926. They came to Detroit to work on the Hollywood Theatre designs, and then must have returned to Chicago in 1927 to start their namesake architectural firm (which only lasted 15 months in 1927-28).
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Dmoore
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Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 - 1:42 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Hey Memoryhead who are you? I went to St Martins in the 70's...
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Memoryhead
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Posted on Friday, November 21, 2008 - 2:53 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Hi. Is that Dave? This is Maurice.

Yes the old Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood: St. Martins, Saint Ambrose, Guyton PS etc. Long live the Catacombs Coffee House!!

I think that rock period of the Vanity Ballroom was the last time it was really open to the public. Is anyone old enough to remember it pre- 1970??

I have good memories of the Vanity and (a few blocks down Jefferson toward downtown). The old Cinderella Theatre. J. Geils recorded a live LP there. These were our neighborhood "rock palaces."

The Cinderella was formerly a movie theatre & has long since been gone, torn down.
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Rhymeswithrawk
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Posted on Friday, November 28, 2008 - 8:44 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Does anyone know the year the Vanity closed? I know it was still open as late as 1987 (Rob Tyner had a birthday party there that December). I can't find the exact year ANYWHERE.
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Bobl
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Posted on Saturday, November 29, 2008 - 12:08 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Looking at the state of the Vanity and Cinderella gives new meaning to the Geils Band's "Detroit Demolition".
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Rhymeswithrawk
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Posted on Sunday, November 30, 2008 - 8:02 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Gistok, any clue on the exact year the Vanity closed? I tried calling Leroy Burgess. He was no help and refused to talk about the history or the past. "I ain't got no rearview mirror," he said.
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Irish_mafia
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Posted on Sunday, November 30, 2008 - 9:13 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

He doesn't seem to have an gear shift that goes forward either.

I though that he had a year to start fixing that place up or the city was going to take it from him?
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Detroitderek
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Posted on Monday, December 01, 2008 - 4:41 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I thought the Vanity "officially" closed in 1980.
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Sumas
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Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - 6:22 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

For current info on the Vanity you should check with Jefferson East Business Association. For info about ordinance violations check with Sheila and for historical info Josh would be your best bet.
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Jimg
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Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - 12:28 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Venues such as ballrooms often don't "officially" close - they stop having regular dances, but are available for rent. The Vanity hosted dances, concerts and private affairs (according to the above posts) into the 80's (I attended a dance in 1983). Easiest way to find out when weekly events stopped is to go through old newspapers at the Library - you can find out when the poor Vanity "went for a Burton" as the saying goes...
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Rj_spangler
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Posted on Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - 12:52 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I played on a bill there once many years ago -- late 70's, maybe 1980? Roy Brooks, the great jazz drummer was on the show as well. No rock music -- all jazz.

Too bad its gone to waste.
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Rhymeswithrawk
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Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2008 - 10:36 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

To those interested:

www.buildingsofdetroit.com/pla ces/vanity
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Gistok
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Posted on Thursday, December 18, 2008 - 2:25 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Rhymeswithrawk... I had no clue when it actually closed, but it's good that you spotted that link.

Hmmm those comments about Graven & Mayger sound awfully familiar... and I had never seen that link before! :-)

I did get a phone call left on my answering machine from a man in California about the Vanity Ballroom. But I misplaced his number, and never got back to him...

If he sees this... try again!