Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Big 10 Ballroom, 1948


1632 East Apache Street, Art Deco Streamline

The Big 10 Ballroom is a very large open structure originally built in an Art Deco Streamline style in 1948 by Lonny Williams. Mr Williams was only the second black officer on the Tulsa police force. It was created to be a venue for black entertainers to perform in North Tulsa.


The Big 10 Ballroom after 50 years of neglect. The front has recently been given a fresh coat of paint.


The interior looking south to the stage.


Plans are in place to restore it to service to the community.

In its day the Big 10 Ballroom was the venue for some of the hottest music of the day. It was a stop on the what was known as the "Chitlin Circuit" that provided safe venues for black singers and musicians to perform as they toured across the United States. A venue where crowds once packed the house to watch legendary performances from artists that are now part of the canon of American music.

Some of the artists to perform at the Big 10 during the 50' and 60s were Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, James Brown and Wilson Pickett, Little Richard, B.B. King, Fats Domino, Count Basie, Jackie Wilson, Dinah Washington, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Sam and Dave, Ike and Tina Turner, and the Temptations. All good things come to an end, and it closed in the mid-1960s.

When the ballroom closed the building was used as a supply warehouse for American Beauty Products for many years and then stood vacant for another two decades. The property has changed hands several times since then but is now in the hands of a group that plans to restore it to its former function as a performance center.

Lester Shaw, founder and executive director for the nonprofit A Pocket Full of Hope, said the organization is dedicated to introducing the arts as a character-builder into the lives of Tulsa youth. The Big 10 Ballroom Auditorium, as it will be called, will be the venue for the organization's theater productions and other events meant to lift the north Tulsa community surrounding it.

Shaw said the organization will apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and seek help from charitable foundations to cover the restoration, which will begin with closing the massive holes in the roof that once served as a secondary dance floor. Then work will be done to clean the interior, extend the stage, add exits, create a coffee shop area and construct a corner to house photos and other memorabilia of the ballroom's and neighborhood's past. (from NewsOn6.com)

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