Professor Krysta Ryzewski and her archaeology students entered the Grande Ballroom with a team of experts on Oct. 5 to formally determine the viability of the property and to investigate its potential towards larger neighborhood revitalization on behalf of its current owners, Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church.
Originally built in 1928 to serve as a multi-purpose building, hosting retail business on the first floor and a large dance hall upstairs, the Grande Ballroom later became known as a live-music venue. The club booked and presented many acts including Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jeff Beck, Procol Harum, Cream and The Who. The MC5, The Thyme, and The Stooges served as house bands, assuring weekly performances. The Grande also featured the avant garde jazz of John Coltrane and Sun Ra.
“The Church assuredly recognizes the historical significance of the Grande Ballroom. Should the property prove to be viable, we would be interested in pursuing reconstruction and funding that is becoming available for Detroit’s neighborhoods,” said the Rev. Lamont Smith.
Led by author Leo Early, the team consisted of representatives from ECM Construction, Preservation Detroit and The Detroit Sound Conservancy in addition to Wayne State students. While there, they documented the interior using a myriad of methods including high-definition still, video and 3-D capture technologies.
“A brilliantly sunny Indian Summer day with temperatures in the upper 70s worked to our advantage and stiff breezes helped tremendously with ventilation,” said Early.
Russ Gibb, who operated the Grande Ballroom from 1966 until its close in 1972, provided copies of the original blueprints to the team.
Currently, reports from the inspection are being compiled to determine the exact condition of the Grande Ballroom, including the remaining materials, progression of decay and its potential for the future. According to Early, an official announcement regarding the Grande Ballroom’s condition and any plans for the building will be released in the near future.
“If the building proves viable it is conceivable that we will collect information on volunteers and those willing to contribute or raise funds for restoration,” said Early.