This post was originally published on Defender Network
By Aswad Walker
One of Houston’s most significant historical landmarks, once left for dead, is poised to celebrate a game-changing resurrection, with a grand reopening beginning at 5 p.m. today, March 30.
The Eldorado Ballroom is back on the block, and ready to once again serve as a hub for entertainment, commerce and community.
The significance of this reopening is not lost on Eureka Gilkey, executive director of Project Row Houses, the current caretakers of the Eldorado that Gilkey says is being “regifted” to the community.
“It’s important for us to recognize what this means to the community,” Gilkey said. “So, when we say ‘re-gifting,’ we mean that we’re just the stewards of this space. We’re just lucky that it’s been bestowed upon us, and we have the privilege of managing it, but it’s really the communities. And it’s also a part of our work here as the management district entity for the Third World Cultural Arts District that we rehabilitate and protect spaces like this.”
The Eldorado Ballroom, opened in 1939 by husband and wife entrepreneurs Clarence and Anna Johnson Dupree, serves as the happening spot in Third Ward, and played host to all the big-name Black entertainers. During Jim Crow, Blacks coveted the “Rado” as many called it, because they could see the best entertainment in the country with dignity during a time when Blacks could not enter white-owned establishments.
The Eldorado fell on hard times during the late 1960s, and was sold shortly thereafter. Eventually, Hubert “Hub” Finkelstein acquired the property, saving it from demolition. And in 1999, he donated it to PRH.
Much has transpired for the property since then, but a $10 million capital campaign allowed for the institution’s total renovation and restoration of the property to its former glory, and PRH board member and co-chair of the Eldorado Capital Campaign, Anita Smith, couldn’t be happier.
“I’m elated. This has been a long time coming,” Smith said. “When we acquired the Eldorado Ballroom, we did amazing things with what we had, but… just to look around and see how we’ve come, I’m thrilled.”
Gilkey gives the lion’s share of the credit for the successful fundraising efforts to Smith and her co-chair Hasty Johnson, while making sure to shout out the major donors.
“Hasty Johnson and Anita Smith. They are the king and queen of ‘Give and Get.’ So, they did a lot of the footwork in reaching out to donors and making sure that we had the capital that we needed. The Kinder Foundation played a huge role in being our principal funder, as well as the Houston Endowment, the Brown Foundation, the Cullen Foundation, and the list of individual donors is so long that I probably would be remiss and leave someone out.”
David Bucek, who has extensive experience with historic buildings, and his team from Stern and Bucek Architects, oversaw the design. Forney Construction served as the general contractor. A team from Hines, led by Johnson and Bert Brown III, stewarded the building committee which has overseen the project as it has unfolded over more than five years.
Field supervision of the project was overseen by Kenneth McGowan, who in his own words was on hand “making sure things get done and get done right,” working some days from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. in preparation for the reopening and the institution’s many varied uses moving forward, including entertainment functions, community meetings, businesses and regular customers at the eatery that will be located on the first floor.
But for now, Gilkey wants people to get ready for a good time at tonight’s grand reopening, and willingly shared what attendees should expect.
“You should expect a little bit of Harlem Nights in Third Ward; a little Third Ward Chic mashup. We want to honor the people who brought us this space, the Duprees. And we’re in honoring them we’re encouraging participants to come dressed to the nines as they would back in the day. And then they will actually experience some of what people experienced back in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Ms. Jewel Brown, Third Ward legend, will be performing. We will have what we know as Houston two-steppers. We’ll have, of course, a jazz quartet and bring in some contemporary DJ music, as well. It’s going to be a great time.”