The Crystal Ballroom
The History of the Crystal Ballroom
Located at 1332 W Burnside St in the beautiful Pearl District sits the Crystal Ballroom. The Crystal Ballroom is one of Portland’s most historic landmarks built in 1914. Originally named the “Cotillion Hall” because it started as a place for debutantes to be presented in a formal setting.The ballroom continued to be used for formal balls until after the Great Depression. Montrose Rigler, the original owner of Cotillion Hall, ran an incredibly profitable business up until that point. Unfortunately, because Rigler played jazz music his business began to suffer. In the early 1920s, the business went under and Rigler had no other choice but to sell. A businessman named Dad Watson purchased the building in the late 1920s and played primarily country music. Watson died in the late 1930s once again leaving the building abandoned. Eventually, a man named Ralph Farrier bought the building. Farrier restored the building to its former glory and followed in Watson’s footsteps. He did this by playing country music and continuing the square dance tradition well into the 1950s.
Once the 1960s began, popular genres like gypsy brass, R&B, and rock hit the music scene hard. The Crystal Ballroom capitalized on the popularity of the new music genres and began booking performers like Tina Turner, James Brown, and Marvin Gaye. Seven years later, psychedelic music became all the rage. The Crystal Ballroom began booking bands like The Electric Prunes, Blue Cheer, and the Grateful Dead, just to name a couple. Eventually, parents whose children were listening to psychedelic music began to worry that the genre would “fry” their kids brains. Fearing public backlash the Crystal Ballroom decided to pass on booking more performers from the genre. The ballroom fell on hard times and didn’t book public events until after the early 1990s. During that time, it became a popular hang out for burn-outs and the homeless. Artists, at one point, rented out the space as an alternative art studio. Private parties were held off and on by locals who enjoyed the privacy of the old building. In 1979, city officials decided that the building should be protected. Later that year, the Crystal Ballroom was listed on the National Register of Historic Places!
After many years of failed restoration efforts, a family named the McMenamins restored the Crystal Ballroom. The McMenamins restore old historical buildings and revamp them for different uses. They also own the Crystal Hotel, Edgefield, and the Mission Theatre. In late 1997, the McMenamins reopened the ballroom and gave it a bar, restaurant, brewery, and a new dancefloor. The old ballroom now features a “floating” floor or “sprung” floor. A floating floor is built with the sole purpose of absorbing the shock of people’s feet as they dance. These sprung floors are exceptional for dance floors and gymnastics floors because they reduce injuries. The sprung floors are created by stacking foam backing with hardwood floors. Many ballrooms and dance halls were equipped with “floating” floors, which date back to the early 20th century. Most of them have disappeared over the years making the Crystal Ballroom one of the only ballrooms left with this technology. The McMenamins opened a hotel near the Crystal Ballroom and called it the Crystal Hotel. This allowed customers the option to stay in a hotel if they were traveling to see a performance at the Crystal Ballroom. The McMenamins named all of the fifty-one rooms in the hotel after songs and performances that were held at the Crystal Ballroom over the last one-hundred years! As you can see, they are very passionate about history! The Crystal Hotel also features pre show concerts before main performances at the ballroom. In 2001, the McMenamins opened up the main ballroom floor. They cut a large opening into the ballroom to make room for more fire exits. They wanted to be able to have more people attend their events and the only way to make that possible was to update their building. After the fire exits were installed, the Crystal Ballroom began hosting dance lessons to the public every Sunday. The Crystal Ballroom holds up to eight-hundred-and-fifty people sitting and fifteen-hundred standing. The ballroom is currently available as a rented space for gatherings and meetings! In 2014, the McMenamins fixed a support beam that cracked during a Schoolboy Q show. Today, the Crystal Ballroom hosts many different genres of music (Pop, rock, folk, blues, jazz, beat poetry, etc) and unique performances. Bands from all over the United States choose to come to the Crystal Ballroom not only to perform but for the amazing history of the building.
Jimi Hendrix and an Urban Legend
On April 5, 1965, according to a Portland urban legend, Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix were performing at the Crystal Ballroom. Apparently, Little Richard did not like the way Jimi Hendrix performed on his guitar during the show. Richard told Hendrix that his performance showed a “lack of skill.” Reports state that the two men did perform at the Crystal Ballroom on that date. However, no one can corroborate that Richard fired anyone, let alone Hendrix, on stage. In fact, on other tours in different cities, the two appeared together. Jimi Hendrix, by that time, was also a very famous guitar player and it was unlikely that he performed that badly. Portlanders assume that this story was a fabrication. The McMenamins, according to locals, most likely created it to drum up interest in the Crystal Ballroom. Whether it is a true story or not, at the very least it makes for an interesting marketing strategy!
The Ghosts of the Crystal Ballroom
The Crystal Ballroom, with its grand history of excitement and amazing events, is no stranger to paranormal activity. Staff and customers alike report seeing apparitions dressed in the styles of the 1920s moving in and around the ballroom. One staff member, as she cleaned up the area for the night, reported that she witnessed something strange. She told her manager that she clearly saw a couple doing the “jitterbug” on the dance floor. “Jitter-bugging” is a type of dance that combines swing dancing, Lindy Hop, Jive, and East Coast Swing. It is a dance that is exaggerated with full movements and lots of energy. The staff member told her manager that before she could do anything the two disappeared into thin air. The Jitter-bug is one of the most fun and carefree dances to come out of the 1920s. It comes as no surprise that a couple would choose to relive that experience even after death. Another common occurrence in the Crystal Ballroom’s main ballroom is the sound of leathered soles gliding across the dancefloor. These sounds can be heard along with the murmured tones of conversation. Almost as if the ballroom is packed with spirits who are enjoying good conversation. Paranormal investigators have used various different technologies to try and capture the sound but none have been captured clearly. The bricks of the building, according to local psychics, hold the ghostly energy of past performers and dancers. One of the scariest encounters to date, was after a live performance in the ballroom. A staff member heard what he thought were the sounds of a child’s laughter coming from behind one of the tables near the stage. When he went over to investigate the sound he felt a tug on his shirt. Startled, he turned swiftly around to find a small child staring up at him. Before the staff member could say a word the child turned into mist and vanished. Many visitors who come to the Crystal Ballroom talk of strange things happening during performances. Lights flicker on and off in one room but not in another. Other times there are loud noises coming from the ballroom. When staff members open the doors to investigate the sound abruptly stops. Guests report feeling ghostly fingers pulling on their clothing, hearing strange sounds, and feeling cold spots especially after performances. Staff and guests believe they are the ghosts of performers still playing their favorite songs. Portlanders agree that the Crystal Ballroom is one of the most haunted places in Oregon. Whatever is happening at the Crystal Ballroom, you can be sure to have a great time! Whether you are interested in great music or life after death the Crystal Ballroom has what you are looking for!