Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Crystal Ballroom

A happy Wednesday, friends, & welcome back to the Rose City.  I’m here to introduce you to a great Portland music venue!

In fact, this wasn’t the post I’d originally planned. But on Saturday, one of Portland friends of longest standing, David—a talented singer & guitarist who often sat in with Eberle & me when we played here in the old days—called me up to tell me that on Sunday night there was a free show: the Unholy Modal Rounders (an aggregation consisting of the surviving Holy Modal Rounders, a great local musician named Baby Gramps & a group called the Dust Busters), with a banjo wiz named Danny Barnes as the opener. Now I don’t have space in the course of a blog post to talk about the venue & also introduce you to the Holy Modal Rounders et al., so follow the links if you’re interested (you will, however, be hearing more about Mr Barnes here in the very near future!) But David went on to tell me that in addition to all the great music, the show was happening at the Crystal Ballroom downtown, which is a venue I had to see.

David was right, as you can see at from the photos. The Crystal Ballroom was built as the Cotillion Hall in 1914, & is located at 1332 W Burnside—yes, for you Portland neophytes, that means it’s on the street that divides north from south, but on the west side of the Willamette River.

The Cotillion Hotel was owned by one Montrose Ringler, but it fell on hard times during Prohibiton & was bought by Dad Watson in the 1920s. UnderWatson’s ownership, the Cotillion’s large dance floor was mainly used for square dances. When he died about a decade later, Ralph Farrier bought the property & re-named it the Crystal Ballroom.  Fro the next 25 years or so, square dancing remained the main event.  I should mention that the Crystal Ballroom has a unique floor, called “floating dance floor” or “sprung floor.” The Crystal Ballroom’s sprung floor is made of woven wooden battens.
But in the 1960s, the Crystal Ballroom started to bring in new acts, focusing first on R&B & then later branching out to include psychedelic artists as well—so when you enter its doors today, you see posters for shows from all sorts of 1960s & 70s star groups, from Ike & Tina Turner & Marvin Gaye to the Grateful Dead & Buffalo Springfield.  But the venue closed in 1968, & stayed shuttered, at least as far as concerned the general public, until the 1990s, despite the fact that the building was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979.

However, two entrepreneurial restauranteurs & brewers, the McMenamin brothers, had been slowly amassing a regional empire of restaurants built in restored historic buildings, & in 1997 the McMenamin’s re-opened the Crystal Ballroom as a three story restaurant & music venue, with a pub-style restaurant called Ringler's on the ground floor, a smaller music venue called Lola’s Room on the second story, & the completely restored & refurbished Crystal Ballroom on the top level.

It’s a wonderful place—spacious, beautifully decorated, with paintings along the walls done by local artists—in fact, the McMenamins are to be commended on employing local artists & artisans—my friend David is a neon glass artist, & he is responsible for the wonderful neon work you see in the photos.  & while the McMenamins  do bring in bands with national renown to play at the Crystal Ballroom, they also hire a number of regional & even local musicians to play at their brew pubs, which at this point are liberally scattered throughout western Oregon & Washington.

By the way, as I assume is obvious, I didn’t take the photos for this post.  All except the one of the Crystal Ballroom’s interior are from Wiki Commons, & the relevant attributions are given at the end of the post.  I decided it actually sets a good precedent for me to do some of the Rose City Wednesday posts without feeling the need to get the photos myself, as I think that would be limiting in the long run.

Hope you enjoyed this overview of the Crystal Ballroom!

Note: I used both information supplied to me by my friend David & information from the Wikipedia article on the Crystal Ballroom in composing this.

Photo info:
Crystal Ballroom, north said: M.O. Stevens licensed
under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Crystal Ballroom entrance: same
The interior shot links back to its origin
The distant shot is by Werewombat licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.



  1. Interesting. That side shot with the tall windows almost makes it look like the Ryman in Nashville. I love the mosaic decorations across the top of the building.

  2. They are good photos. The top one is my favourite; I like the awning lines against the grain of the brick.

    What a fantastic interior!

  3. Hi Roy & Kat:

    Roy: Yes, I can see that in that particular shot, especially as that one doesn't show the roofline. The building is quite striking.

    Kat: Glad you liked the photos--they definitely show the building probably better than what I could have done--& yes, the interior is really something! Thanks!


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