Castle Ballroom: Wind-Damaged and Long Empty, Landmark Faces Demolition (PHOTOS)

Categories: Architecture

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All photos by Lynn Josse
An interior shot of the now-decrepit dance floor within the Castle Ballroom
The end is near for the Castle Ballroom.

Located at 2839 Olive Street, the music and dance hall that once hosted jazz greats Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Miles Davis faces imminent demolition.

"The Castle Ballroom was a casualty of two weather catastrophes," says Eddie Roth, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay, explaining that wind storms severely damaged the exposed load-bearing truss system holding up its roof. After the second storm partially collapsed the roof in November, the city had no choice but to issue an emergency condemnation, Roth says.

See also: The Castle Ballroom, an Historic Dance Hall, Lies Vacant in Midtown

Roth says the demolition permit hasn't been officially issued yet, but he expects it will be soon.

"It is a danger that cannot be remedied in any sort of reasonable or feasible way," he says, describing the need to demolish the 106-year-old structure. "It is really a shame."

Opened in 1908 as Cave Hall, the structure's grand ballroom and dancing academy made it one of the largest draws for ballroom dancing in St. Louis. When public interest in such traditional dancing waned in the '20s, Cave Hall changed its name to the Castle Ballroom and became a jazz and dance club.

As demonstrated by this 1935 advertisement in the Post-Dispatch, the hall was also one of the first venues to actively seek an African-American audience.

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"Exclusively for the Best Colored People of St. Louis".
The 1930s brought about new ownership for the Castle Ballroom, with promoter Jesse Johnson taking the helm. St. Louis attracted jazz's biggest stars in those days. But the house band played its last number in 1953, and ever since the grand structure has remained largely empty.

See also: Post-Apocalyptic Portraits of Abandoned YMCA Taken by St. Louis Pastry Chef (PHOTOS)

Michael Allen, director of the Preservation Research Office, says the upcoming demolition is a loss for more than just our city's history.

"We don't have a lot of buildings like this," Allen says. "The Castle Ballroom's history is really important, but what makes this even worse for the city is that there are ways that building could be used and relevant today. It's an economic and architectural asset, and every time we lose one we lose more of the city itself."

In 2011, the building's owner, SAG Properties, got the building on the National Register of Historic Places. Roth says SAG hoped the availability of historic preservation tax credits would attract buyers, but none showed up in time.

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A 1910 postcard from a Mardi Gras party in the Castle Ballroom.
Allen says he recognizes the city's need to tear down a structurally unsound building. However, he suggests that had circumstances -- and the right buyer -- come along in time the Castle Ballroom could have been saved.

"I think the damage is serious, but not fatal. We've seen buildings come back from worse collapses," Allen says.

As it stands, the history-rich, desolated Castle Ballroom won't be around much longer. But as shown in the following photos from SAG Properties' 2010 application to National Register of Historic Places, the interior can still hearken us to the era of huge dances, big bands and great jazz.

Continue for photos from SGA Properties' 2010 application to the National Register of Historic Places...

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22 comments
Jesda Ulati
Jesda Ulati

St Louis is, unfortunately, chock full of aging and underutilized structures that have become a blight on the metro area. If the best we can do is replace them, I'm fine with that. Doing so helps to revive dying neighborhoods and increases property values.

Craig Stevens
Craig Stevens

Pathetic that it is being torn down. For all these crappy strip malls and big box stores to survive and true architecture to be torn down is completely the fault of city leaders. There should be protections in place to prevent this. It should never have been let to get to this point. Apathy and money are just toppings on their pizza. Anywhere, USA is what this city will become.

Jarrett Dallas
Jarrett Dallas

Erin the owners of the building did everything they could to save the building but got resistance from the company that insured the building

Erin McMahon
Erin McMahon

What a great venue, such a waste.....we have to be vigilant and proactive to save these buildings

Candy Cederblade
Candy Cederblade

Ashley Douthit Great place for photos... If you could sneak in!

Martin Goebel
Martin Goebel

An eye sore next to my small business... The millions it would take to save would be better spent on something worth saving. I guess StL could use another obscure "museum" that never gets visited

Jim House
Jim House

Where's those historic preservation tax credits when you need them????

Jan Vogelgesang Settles
Jan Vogelgesang Settles

hate to hear this....been there few times....my Mom went all the time because she loved loved to dance!!

MO_AaronD
MO_AaronD

This is a sad end to a historical place of debauchery and good times.  Good thing we have the sanitized PBR Bar and AB themed bars near the stadium to take its place.  Who needs culturally significant places when you can have over marketed neon shit holes.  Plus it used to cater to "coloreds".  And that's a topic in StL that everyone (privately) wants to dodge and demolish all evidence of.

Matthew Ingmire
Matthew Ingmire

It's BS that this beautiful building has to go while the dilapidated/falling down houses along I-70 are still standing. It should be the other way around IMO.

Robert Doyle
Robert Doyle

Across the oceans there are castles and structures that have survived for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. We, on the other hand, don't care and decide that it's easier to tear down and build bigger, faster and newer buildings. Sure there is the national landmark of historical places and preservation societies but in the grand scheme of things - how much do they really save? Such a shame.

Nancy Maria Landa
Nancy Maria Landa

Everyone gets in an uproar to save a building shaped like a flying saucer but NO ONE speaks up for this once beautiful building with alot of St Louis history??? I don't see the justice here.

Matt Stehman
Matt Stehman

I hate how cities let old buildings die :-(

michael1313
michael1313

Still available for the Castle Ballroom, that's where they are. However a developer doesn't get credits until after the work is done -- they are credits *against* expenditures already made. To make the Castle work, a developer would have to finance renovation before getting credits back. Not impossible at all, even now, but someone needs to step up.

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