The Grande Ballroom is located at 8952 Grand River on Detroit’s west side. It was designed in 1928 by Detroit engineer and architect Charles N. Agree for dance hall entrepreneurs Edward J. Strata and his partner Edward J. Davis, who managed the Grande and the Vanity Ballrooms for many years. The Grande Ballroom building was Initially owned by Harry Weitzman.1 The Grande started off as a place that Detroit residents could go to dance and listen to jazz and big band sounds from the late 1920s until after World War II, but it would become famous in the annals of music history as a rock and roll venue between1966 and 1972.
Grande Ballroom in 2014 (photo by B. Moloney)
The building was designed in the Moorish Deco style with storefront space on the first floor and the ballroom on the second floor. Its ground floor had several retail tenants, such as the W. T. Grant Department Store, Beverly’s, Maas Bros., and a drugstore. The hardwood dance floor contained springs to give the dancers a feeling of floating. The dance floor also boasted of being able to hold 1500 dancers and was considered one of the largest in Detroit.
In 1966 Dearborn, Michigan school teacher and local radio DJ, Russ Gibb purchased the building and opened the space as a music venue for local bands and touring acts. Gibb did not want just another teen club. Instead, he patterned the Grande Ballroom after popular rock halls on the West Coast like the Fillmore and Whiskey A Go-Go. He wanted a place where bands could write and perform their own material and create their own identities.
The MC5 (Motor City 5), became one of the popular house bands at the Grande, playing there on a regular basis along with other local bands like Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, the Psychedelic Stooges featuring Iggy Pop, and SRC.
The Grande showcased local bands like the MC5, as well as national and international bands like John Lee Hooker, The Who, Cream, the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, The Thyme,Canned Heat, Jethro Tull, The Rationals, John Mayall, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, the Fugs, Sly and the Family Stone, Procol Harum, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Doors, Van Morrison, Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, The Moody Blues, The Velvet Underground, Country Joe and the Fish, Tim Buckley, The Steve Miller Band, the Jeff Beck Group, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Blue Cheer, The Grateful Dead, Small Faces, The Troggs, The Mothers of Invention, Eric Burton and the Animals, and many more. The cost of a ticket was usually about $5.00.
The final concert ever played at the Grande was on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) 1972 and featured the MC5, Roy Buchannan, and Jett Black.This important concert venue showcased and nurtured some of the seminal bands that came to define Detroit's rock n' roll music scene.