The Vanity Ballroom was built in 1929 and was located at 1024 Newport Street, at the corner of East Jefferson, in Detroit’s lower east side. The Vanity Ballroom is a two-story building, with retail space on the first floor and the actual ballroom on the second. The Vanity Ballroom was designed by noted-architect, Charles N. Agree, in a vibrant Art Deco exterior, but the interior of the Vanity Ballroom was the most special. It is designed with a unique Aztec and Mayan-Revival theme and looked as if you were in an ancient Aztec temple. The Vanity Ballroom featured Aztec symbols throughout, stylized Indian faces, stepped-brick archways that surrounded the dance floor, and green-glazed tiles that hovered over the dancers on the floor. A large, revolving, mirrored-chandelier also hung from the ceiling and served as the dance floor’s centerpiece.
The Vanity Ballroom was a “flamboyant venue” in which to socialize, drink (non-alcohol), dance, and listen to music. The Vanity Ballroom was a major venue for bands of the 1930s and 1940s, such as: Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Art Mooney. The Vanity billed itself as “Detroit’s most beautiful dance rendezvous.” The Vanity Ballroom was built to accommodate 1,000 couples, and has a 5,600 sq. ft. maple, dance-floor, a stage, and a promenade on three sides. The dance floor was built on springs, which intentionally compressed under the weight of the people who danced on it, giving the dancers a bounce as they moved. The backdrop of the stage features a scene representing Chichen Itza temples. Everything from the light fixtures to the curtain behind the stage had a Mayan-inspired design. There was no other building like it and the Vanity Ballroom was truly one-of-a-kind.
The Vanity Ballroom lasted for several decades before changing it’s “tune.” By the 1970s, times had certainly changed. Many households now had a television and rock n’ roll was the biggest thing. Ballroom dancing had all of the sudden become a thing of the past. So the Vanity Ballroom started hosting rock concerts in 1971. The Vanity Ballroom booked rock n’ roll legends, such as The MC5, Ted Nugent, and The Velvet Underground. The concert venue only lasted for a few years.
In late 1986, the Vanity was resurrected in an attempt to become a Caribbean-style entertainment hangout. This didn’t last long either. The Vanity Ballroom’s fate was sealed and the curtain closed for good at the historic location. In 1988, the Vanity Ballroom closed for good.
The Vanity Ballroom has surprisingly been spared from the ravages of scrappers and vandals. Some of the building’s walls are crumbling and it’s ceiling has giant holes in it. The floor also crushes every time you step on it because most of the wooden floor is rotted. Most of this damage is from the natural elements and not due to being scrapped. The most important thing is that most of it’s ornate Aztec features remain. Some graffiti “taggers” have destroyed the beautiful ballroom by writing inappropriate messages and other disrespectful words.
As of 2015, the Vanity Ballroom is still abandoned. While the building is properly secured, there are no plans for redevelopment, renovation, or demolition. It sure would be great to see this building used again. It is one of Detroit’s most precious and beautiful structures.
The Vanity Ballroom in 2008: