Dance Hall Days Detroit: Palais de Danse

Dance Hall Days Detroit: Palais de Danse

By Hometown History Tours Guest Blogger Cindy Flynn

Detroit's Electric Park at the foot of Belle Isle Park. Photograph from the Detroit Publishing Co online collection, Library of Congress.
Detroit’s Electric Park at the foot of Belle Isle Park. Photograph from the Detroit Publishing Co online collection, Library of Congress.

In 1906, Detroit lay claim to one of the largest amusement parks in the world called Electric ParkElectric Park opened at the foot of the Belle Isle Bridge in what was originally a trolley park where three streetcar lines converged.  Today, it’s Gabriel Richard Park.

Electric Park was owned by the Arthur Gaulker family and went through many name changes before it’s closure in 1928.  There were many attractions at the park, including high wire acts, roller coasters, and dance halls.  A poster from the time stated:

“20 Great Attractions Affording a Continuous Whirligig of fun.” 

Detroit was home to many famous dance halls that provided entertainment as well as a place for people of this era to mingle.  Several prominent dance halls were located at Electric Park.

The Pier Ballroom was one of the most famous of these dance halls. Others were the Palace Gardens, Ramona, and Palais de Danse.  The Palace Gardens Dance Hall burned down in 1911.  In 1912, the Palais de Danse, which is French for dance hall, was built by Charles Rosenzweigh.

Click here for online photo of the Palais de Danse and related Detroit News article. 

Known as the Queen of Ballrooms, the Palais de Danse extended out over the water with dancers literally dancing above the beautiful Detroit River.  The Sousa Band formed by John Phillip Sousa and known primarily for American military and patriotic marches played at Palais de Danse along with many other popular bands including Sousa rival Guiseppe Creatore’s Band, and the Rosati Royal Italian Band, accompanied by Miss Nellie Turnbull.

Those who have spoken of their memories of the dance hall seem to nostalgically recall the music played at the Palais de Danse, including Detroit natives who flocked there to enjoy the memorable dance floor. Popular dances from this time included the Charleston, West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, and Jive.  It was a place people wanted to go back to again and again.

In 1916, the Palais de Dance was one of three buildings inside the park to house the 1916 auto show put on by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association. 

“Wide-well lit corridors connected the three buildings, and electric signs at two entrances blazed forth the fact the show was there,” stated author Robert Szudarek in the book: The First Century of the Detroit Auto Show.   According to Szudarek, the Palais de Dance, with its unusual black and white checker scheme with a French poster effect,  was more elaborately decorated than the other two buildings.

Today, the dance hall no longer exists.   In 1921, a second fire ravaged several of the buildings in the park, and the buildings were condemned in 1927.  Electric Park was demolished in 1928 to make way for what is now Gabriel Richard Park, which was considered a better use for Belle Isle by the city.

Located at the most eastern point of the Detroit River Walk, Gabriel Richard Park underwent a recent transformation by the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. The park now features a riverfront plaza, pavilion, fountains, butterfly garden, labyrinth and fishing outlooks to be enjoyed daily by nearby Detroit residents.

Cindy Flynn is a teacher, writer and photographer who resides in Northern Michigan with her husband and two dogs.  She writes for several blogs and newsletters, including her own My A-Muse-ing Life .  

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