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Castle Ballroom: “Exclusively for the Best Colored People of St. Louis”

June 17, 2011 History/Preservation, Midtown, Real Estate 36 Comments
ABOVE: an advertisement from the National Register nomination (click to view)

Segregation meant blacks had to duplicate all the establishments that were not open to them, including dance halls. One such place was the Castle Ballroom on Olive & 29th (now T.E. Huntley).

Across the street to the south is the Mill Creek Valley Urban Renewal area. This 454-acre tract was the result of a clearance project which razed one of the city’s densest African American neighborhoods beginning in 1959. The low-rise community called Laclede Town was built south of the ballroom in the early 1960s; after subsequent expansions, it was closed in the 1980s and later razed. The property now belongs to the Sigma Chemical Company; most of it is open space. In this context, the Castle can be understood as one of a few remaining buildings with significant associations with the population of Mill Creek Valley.

The nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, quoted above, was written by Lynn Josse.

ABOVE: 2839 Olive today

I’d passed by this building thousands of times over the last 20 years but I had no clue to it’s history.  Again from the nomination:

For the purposes of the National Register, the most significant space in the building is the ballroom, which retains integrity. The dance floor, balcony, stage, even much of the plaster and woodwork are largely intact. Although some of the elements may not reflect the 1908 appearance, nearly all are original to the pre-1954 period of significance.

Thankfully the “pent roof” that was added to modernized the building has now been removed.  I can picture new storefront’s and the building occupied again.

Our buildings have so much history, it just takes someone to bring it to our attention.  In my case it was my friend Leigh Maibes, who has the property listed for sale. I’ve seen dark pictures of the ballroom space but without power I wasn’t able to see inside in person (walking is difficult enough for me in well lit spaces).

The renovation of midtown is moving east and downtown is moving west, in a few years they will meet along Washington, Locust or Olive.  Hopefully all three within a decade.

- Steve Patterson

  • Anonymous

    The challenge here is finding a viable use for a specialized building/space.  Much like a vacant church, theater or big box store, an old-school ballroom is a big space that does not readily lend itself to uses like residential or most restaurants.  Add in the fact that it doesn’t stand out architecturally (“I’d passed by this building thousands of times over the last 20 years”), plus parking may not be included in the sale, and you end up with a property that is competing with dozens, if not hundreds, of similar properties across the city.  Yes, the history is interesting, and probably deserves recognition, but that doesn’t pay the bills.  Sure, it can be used for a non-denominational church or a plumbing warehouse, a scooter store or an indoor skateboard park, but will any of these uses respect and restore the historic architectural details?  Admit it – for the lovers of old buildings and the urban fabric, what we really want is to see these structures restored to their former glory!  Maybe what we need here is another brewpub . . . .

  • JZ71

    The challenge here is finding a viable use for a specialized building/space.  Much like a vacant church, theater or big box store, an old-school ballroom is a big space that does not readily lend itself to uses like residential or most restaurants.  Add in the fact that it doesn’t stand out architecturally (“I’d passed by this building thousands of times over the last 20 years”), plus parking may not be included in the sale, and you end up with a property that is competing with dozens, if not hundreds, of similar properties across the city.  Yes, the history is interesting, and probably deserves recognition, but that doesn’t pay the bills.  Sure, it can be used for a non-denominational church or a plumbing warehouse, a scooter store or an indoor skateboard park, but will any of these uses respect and restore the historic architectural details?  Admit it – for the lovers of old buildings and the urban fabric, what we really want is to see these structures restored to their former glory!  Maybe what we need here is another brewpub . . . .

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      As I stood next to the building recently and viewed historic images I gained a new appreciation for it, one I couldn’t have with the shingled roof that used to be attached between the first and second floors.

      The two upper floors with a ballroom floor and mezzanine would make a great office for a creative firm or an event space.

    • samizdat

      “doesn’t stand out architecturally” Even within the context of Mr. Patterson’s statement–which I took to mean that he had not realized it’s historical significance–I think you need to rub your eyes a bit, and take another look. This is a very attractive building, with a commanding presence on the corner. The large windows on the Huntley elevation are hard to miss, so that alone is quite significant.
         Odd thing that the illustration of the dancing couple is white, whereas the Castle is for the enjoyment and entertainment of “coloreds”.

      • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

        Exactly. Once presented with the history I took the time to look at the building, to appreciate it’s massing and brickwork. To picture it renovated with new storefronts on the two streets. This is where downtown and midtown meet, the renovation of this building would help make the connection. That and a road diet & streetcar for Olive.

        • JZ71

          I agree, “this is a very attractive building, with a commanding presence on the corner. ”  The challenge is that we live in a city full of structures like this one.  Our urban fabric is defined by them.  And every structure that’s more than 50 years old has “history”.  The challenge is simply one of supply (high) and demand (low).

  • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

    As I stood next to the building recently and viewed historic images I gained a new appreciation for it, one I couldn’t have with the shingled roof that used to be attached between the first and second floors.

    The two upper floors with a ballroom floor and mezzanine would make a great office for a creative firm or an event space.

  • TGsouth29

    It’s an amazing building on the inside but has sustained substantial structural damage from a previous fire. It well definitely be an expensive rehab.

  • TGsouth29

    It’s an amazing building on the inside but has sustained substantial structural damage from a previous fire. It well definitely be an expensive rehab.

    • Lmaibes

      This is true, it will not be a cheap rehab. However, it is eligible for Tax Credits that are transferable. 

  • samizdat

    “doesn’t stand out architecturally” Even within the context of Mr. Patterson’s statement–which I took to mean that he had not realized it’s historical significance–I think you need to rub your eyes a bit, and take another look. This is a very attractive building, with a commanding presence on the corner. The large windows on the Huntley elevation are hard to miss, so that alone is quite significant.
       Odd thing that the illustration of the dancing couple is white, whereas the Castle is for the enjoyment and entertainment of “coloreds”.

  • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

    Exactly. Once presented with the history I took the time to look at the building, to appreciate it’s massing and brickwork. To picture it renovated with new storefronts on the two streets. This is where downtown and midtown meet, the renovation of this building would help make the connection. That and a road diet & streetcar for Olive.

  • Lmaibes

    This is true, it will not be a cheap rehab. However, it is eligible for Tax Credits that are transferable. 

  • bonwich

    There was a somewhat pie-in-the-sky plan to turn this into an entertainment venue, but the developer moved a modified and downscaled version of the concept to Maplewood (see pic on left side of link): http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/dining/restaurants/off-the-menu/article_4d33a082-2fe1-11e0-8554-00127992bc8b.html

  • bonwich

    There was a somewhat pie-in-the-sky plan to turn this into an entertainment venue, but the developer moved a modified and downscaled version of the concept to Maplewood (see pic on left side of link): http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/dining/restaurants/off-the-menu/article_4d33a082-2fe1-11e0-8554-00127992bc8b.html

  • Lmaibes

    From my understanding, this was the first “white” dance hall to allow African Americans. Miles Davis was rumored to have played his first professional audition here. Lena Horne, Eartha Kit…the list continues. What this building means to Saint Louis’ musical history alone is priceless. When I take on a property for sale like this I find the history just as exciting as the furture. This would be an awesome mixed used building and the ballroom is amazing. It takes an eye for what could be, and a positive attitude for historic preservation. Midtown has a wonderful mainstreet and in my opinion, it is only a matter of time before people begin to catch on. I will strive to make that sooner, rather than later.

  • Lmaibes

    From my understanding, this was the first “white” dance hall to allow African Americans. Miles Davis was rumored to have played his first professional audition here. Lena Horne, Eartha Kit…the list continues. What this building means to Saint Louis’ musical history alone is priceless. When I take on a property for sale like this I find the history just as exciting as the furture. This would be an awesome mixed used building and the ballroom is amazing. It takes an eye for what could be, and a positive attitude for historic preservation. Midtown has a wonderful mainstreet and in my opinion, it is only a matter of time before people begin to catch on. I will strive to make that sooner, rather than later.

  • Anonymous

    I agree, “this is a very attractive building, with a commanding presence on the corner. “  The challenge is that we live in a city full of structures like this one.  Our urban fabric is defined by them.  And every structure that’s more than 50 years old has “history”.  The challenge is simply one of supply (high) and demand (low).

  • Tj9638

    Steve: Are you a trained journalist, or self-taught? Please pay attention to the simple rules of grammar: the difference between it’s and its; the run-on sentence; the sentence fragment; use of the “‘s” to form the plural, which is NEVER done. If you were in my son’s freshman English class, you would earn an honest “F” for this news feature. It’s almost laughable. Sorry, Steve, but it’s the truth!

  • Tj9638

    Steve: Are you a trained journalist, or self-taught? Please pay attention to the simple rules of grammar: the difference between it’s and its; the run-on sentence; the sentence fragment; use of the “‘s” to form the plural, which is NEVER done. If you were in my son’s freshman English class, you would earn an honest “F” for this news feature. It’s almost laughable. Sorry, Steve, but it’s the truth!

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      Thanks for the feedback, I’m not professionally trained. I’m just a disabled guy writing daily. Feel free to not read if my poor grammar bothers you.

  • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

    Thanks for the feedback, I’m not professionally trained. I’m just a disabled guy writing. Feel free to not read if my grammar bothers you.

  • Tj9638

    It should bother YOU. If you’re going to do something, do it right and to the best of your ability. Your carelssness should be a source of embarrassment to you and to those you claim to represent. And your suggestion that I avoid reading your features suggests to me that you are lazy. Makes me question the accuracy of your feature research. (EFc: 9th Grade English)

  • Tj9638

    It should bother YOU. If you’re going to do something, do it right and to the best of your ability. Your carelssness should be a source of embarrassment to you and to those you claim to represent. And your suggestion that I avoid reading your features suggests to me that you are lazy. Makes me question the accuracy of your feature research. (EFc: 9th Grade English)

    • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

      It has bothered me and I’ve gotten better over the last 6+ years but I can only process so much information.

    • Thoughts From Maryland Heights

      Tj9638, might I recommend that you utilize spell check before you go all grammarian on Steve?

      • Christian

        The irony of one boorishly chiding our host for carelessness while spelling it “carelssness” should indeed not be overlooked.

        • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

          Indeed (grinning)

  • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

    It has bothered me and I’ve gotten better over the last 6+ years but I can only process so much information.

  • Thoughts From Maryland Heights

    Tj9638, might I recommend that you utilize spell check before you go all grammarian on Steve?

  • Christian

    The irony of one boorishly chiding our host for carelessness while spelling it “carelssness” should indeed not be overlooked.

  • http://urbanreviewstl.com/ Steve Patterson

    Indeed (grinning)

  • Patricia Fletcher

    I am praying that I will get the funding to restore the building back to it’s glory no matter the cost..The building was the first dance hall that African-Americans were allowed to patronize in the 1920’s thru 1950’s..Many a musical legend performed here before Gaslight square became a popular location for mixed culture. I know parking will be problem because of the many nighclubs along Olive but I am hoping that there is some compromise for a parking lot within the area with shuttles being provided to & from the venue just as Windows on Washington provides. I want to return it to it’s glory and operate as a wedding/private event venue with special house events to celebrate the history of the locations

  • Patricia Fletcher

    I am praying that I will get the funding to restore the building back to it’s glory no matter the cost..The building was the first dance hall that African-Americans were allowed to patronize in the 1920’s thru 1950’s..Many a musical legend performed here before Gaslight square became a popular location for mixed culture. I know parking will be problem because of the many nighclubs along Olive but I am hoping that there is some compromise for a parking lot within the area with shuttles being provided to & from the venue just as Windows on Washington provides. I want to return it to it’s glory and operate as a wedding/private event venue with special house events to celebrate the history of the locations

    • Lmaibes

      Patricia, I have no idea who you are, but you need to get in touch with me. We now have a spokesperson for the building and are exploring all options

  • Lmaibes

    Patricia, I have no idea who you are, but you need to get in touch with me. We now have a spokesperson for the building and are exploring all options

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