The Palais Royale Ballroom: Where They Danced for Joy

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A couple weeks ago I received an email from Cherie Cheney Nomura who mentioned that her father, Ed Cheney, once owned a ballroom on Burnside in Portland in the 1940s.

Would I be interested in a few photos from the ballroom she inquired? “Absolutely,”  was my answer.

She took the time to dig out photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia and made copies of everything for me. Even better, she composed a document about her father’s ballroom that I am re-printing [pretty much verbatim] and am using as the kick-off for my oral history project.

Thanks Cherie – hopefully the memories of your father’s ballroom will inspire others to share their own stories about the place and about Portland and Oregon.

Once located at 2115 West Burnside, the ballroom had many different names before my father bought it in 1944, including DeHoney’s Ballroom, the Uptown Ballroom and finally the Palais after he purchased it.

The ballroom was open six nights each night with a designated dance. Some of the types and styles included Old Timers which meant old structured dances such as Schottische, Varsovienne, Viennese Waltz, Polka, the Quick Step, and the Peabody.

These were full houses of accomplished dancers who knew the intricate steps and patterns of these dances. Another designation was “modern,” which meant jitterbug, foxtrot, Balboa, swing, glides and waltzes.

Latin was also popular and included rhumba, Bolero, tango, samba, merengue, salsa, cha cha cha, Paso Doble, Mambo and Bossa Nova.

Dancers included older and younger adults, married couples, singles, high school and college students, service men and women. Many couples would arrive separately and meet up to dance – it was usual for men and women to arrive alone.

The building

The ballroom was almost half of a block size with three floors. The street level housed a Chinese restaurant, a cleaners, a variety store and a books store. To enter the ballroom, dancers walked up a long ramp from the street level up to the second floor. At the entry to the ballroom was the cashier’s booth and inside the large double doors was the coat check room, the office. cafeteria, the ladies “lounge,” and men’s room.

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Stairs led to the third story which was entirely a ballroom floor of very fine hardwood. There was a bandstand for the house band at one end and alcoves on each side of the bandstand.

On each side of the bandstand was a reader board that announced the next dance.

One alcove side was for the single women and the other side for single men. Couples could sit on the leather benches that were around the edges of the ballroom. Some dances were called “Men’s choice,” and the men would go to the ladies’ alcove and select a partner and vice versa.

[Scooch around the map a bit – I believe the old site is now the parking lot of the Subway franchise.]


No booze, no cars and lots of fashion

No alcohol was served at the ballroom. Hungry dancers could eat sandwiches, dessert and drink coffee at the cafeteria or enjoy a soda at the soda fountain. People would also occasionally step out to their cars for a quick shot of alcohol though a cop guarded the entrance door to ensure no one showed up inebriated.

Many dancers [and Portlanders in general] only had one car or no car. Many of the dancers arrived by bus are taxi. There was a taxi stand out front and uniformed taxi drivers would line up to take home the dancers at the end of the evening.

Coats and ties were expected for men – with a supply of coats and ties available in the coat room for those who didn’t have them. Service men and women could wear their uniforms – and being the WWII era – there were lots of them.

Young people in high school and college could wear their “clean school clothes” and all women were required to wear skirts – no slacks or jeans.

Famous performers for the dancers at the ballroom included Tex Benneke, Wayne King [The Waltz King]. Other celebrities that performed at the ballroom but not for the dancers included Stan Kenton, Red Buttons, Billy Eckstein, The Mills Brothers, and Louis Armstrong and his All Stars.

The demise of the ballroom? Rock and/or roll
By the mid-1950s dancing styles and lifestyles went through some huge changes. TV became available and people started to stay home. The large dance floors were not necessary for the new dance styles such as the Twist where partners weren’t generally needed for the “free form” dancing. The public for the most part lost interest in more traditional ballroom dances in favor of inhibited, unpartnered, unstructured, extemporaneous “dancing.”

Fortunately for my father, he sold the ballroom just before the demise of grand ballrooms. The new owners allowed alcohol and smoking, no dress code was required and the formal dance band was replaced with very loud electronic music and youthful “rock” bands took over. The building was eventually closed and then demolished because it was a nuisance, dangerous and was so poorly maintained.

Sidenote: Cherie also handed over a 1945 issue of The Oregonian that highlighted her dad’s ballroom. Below is a scan from the article about young couples doing the Portland Walk, described by the writer:

“The Portland Walk is the favorite with the younger disciples of Terpsichore these days. Garbed in Levis, rolled high, the young men steer their companions around the floor, apparently oblivious to others in the spacious ballroom. The young lady’s back is bent backward in a manner that seems to threaten the spine, but the walk apparently is popular. The Levi and bobby-sock brigade also get hep on the jitterbug numbers.”

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Also, a Google search came up with this article about a riot in 1960 at the ballroom when Ray Charles didn’t show up to a scheduled show.

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17 thoughts on “The Palais Royale Ballroom: Where They Danced for Joy

  1. Great story!

    Until reading about it on your blog, I had no idea that television hastened the demise of the large dance halls and night clubs. I guess I’d always thought that they just went out of style.

    So many big things have been changed in an instant with some tiny technological invention.

  2. I lived the first six years of my life in the “Stadium Court Apartments” that was just a block or so away from the Palais Royale Ballroom. I was about five years old – so that would put it at about 1952 or 53 when being awakened by fire sirens and looking out on the street (West Burnside) to see the Palais burning. The arched windows broken out and draperies afire flying out the windows. I think I had nightmares for weeks after that… does anybody remember this?

  3. my mom was at hat check girl there in the 40’s. she’s 83 years old and is suffering from alzheimers, but when i showed her a pic of the place, she recognized it right away and started talking about it for awhile…

  4. I have really enjoyed seeing the posts on the Palais Royale Ballroom. Shortly after I was born in 1947 my folks moved into the “Stadium Court Apartments” on S.W. Burnside St. across the street from the ballroom. I remember one late afternoon (I believe) hearing sirens – I must have been about three years old so this would be around 1950 – and my mother picking me up and taking me downstairs (we were on the second floor of the apartment) and walking out onto Burnside and seeing the Palais Royale burning. I remember the draperies flapping out the curved top windows aflame and a lot of smoke pouring out the windows. I haven’t seen any posts about this particular fire or have seen any newspaper articles… Does anybody remember this?
    I would also like to see some posts on the Stadium Court Apartments… When we lived there it was rented out to servicemen and their families who had just come back from the war. I have many memories of living there. I lived there until about 1954.

  5. I discovered the Palais Royal in the late 1950’s while in highschool in Portland. At that time it was a “bottle club” for those over twenty one, but anyone could pay the cover and go in to hear, and see performed, the great Blues music of that time. Doug and I, two Blues fans, had the youngest and palest faces in the the ballroom, but we felt welcome and so lucky to be up close to live music from Chicago, the South, and Texas and watch the fabulous dancers. Doug could hold his own on the dance floor even in that gifted crowd. Not me, but once I guided a rather unsteady Jimmy Reed to the men’s room and waited and then took him back to the stage to begin his next set. I still love good blues and will never forget those nights at the Palais Royal.

  6. Hey!
    I have just been introduced to the Palais Royale Ballroom through archival work. I had a few questions regarding the ballroom circa 1960s, and have a few posters for reference. I know you did an Oral History Project on this and would love to hear more about that as well.

    One question I can post on here: I saw the link to the Ray Charles riot, and after researching a bit, found this website: http://globalimageworks.com/clip-riot-outside-ray-charles-concert-stock-footage-2072_027?id=45723&search_string=rioting&sort=asc&startrow=0&search_type=all

    Do you think this video is labeled wrong? Or do you think Ray Charles started TWO riots in TWO towns at TWO different Palais Royale Ballrooms!!! Made me wonder….

    Anyway if you have the time, I would really like to hear more about this historic place.

    Marti

  7. My father is the drummer in the photo of the band at the Palais Royale. His name was Axel Tyle. I might be able to identify some of the other musicians in the photo – is there any chance you could send a higher resolution copy of it? I’d be very grateful.

    The drum set my father used can be seen in the Woody Allen film “Wild Man BLues.” I sold the set to a friend, John Gill, who plays drums with Woody’s band in New York.

  8. I just picked up a copy of J.Harvey DeHoney’s book “From the Ball Room and Dance Halls to Hell.” It features a photo of the interior of “DeHoney’s Grand Ballroom” ca 1929 (Book’s publication date.) The premise of the book is about the “evils of [JAZZ] dance.” A classic! Published & printed in Portland too!

  9. Circa 1950 my brother and I (ages 16 and 17) often stood on the sidewalk below and listened to Monty Ballou and his Castle Jazz Band. Great music and great memories.

  10. I was born in 1956 and grew up in the Bel-Air Apartments that was right next door (just across a small alley way) to the ballroom. My grandmother and mother owned the Bel-Air. My earliest memories of the ballroom (from about 1960-when I was 5) was the Chinese Restaurant on one corner of the ballroom where they made excellent milk shakes and Ron the Barber (at the other corner) where my brother and I got our haircuts. (Good memories) And, however, was the dark wall of the ballroom just outside our dining room and the extremely loud, blaring music (Not so good memories). The ballroom was demolished when I was still a young boy in the early 1960s (before 1965).

  11. Does anybody remember anything about a band called Dick Day and the Dukes of Downbeat? They played all throughout the 40’s at the Royal but almost no record of them exists.

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