This week for Flashback Friday we step back to the era of dancing and luxurious ballrooms with a look at Trianon, hailed as the most beautiful in the world. This phrase was more than just a slogan on a postcard, it was audible on many recordings and broadcasts here.
This card postmarked December 27th, 1943, and sent to Forest McCoy in Yale:
Cecilia (?) and Margarite, Rose and I are here at the Trianon tonight. We visited Garrett (?) and family this evening. I go one day to (?) for a whole month. Ha (?) It’s a little late but I will wish all of you a Happy Christmas.
The postcard recipient lived in Yale, Illinois (Jasper County) and a page highlighting Jasper County class pictures features a young Forest McCoy in 1894. Given the time frame and sparse population of Jasper County, it’s almost certain that the boy in the photo above is who received this postcard nearly 50 years later.
The Trianon was owned and operated by Greek immigrants Andrew and William Karzas, who rose to success first with a restaurant, then a nickelodeon, and later several movie theaters. Their largest moneymakers, though, were two ballrooms: the Trianon in Woodlawn and the Aragon in Uptown.
On December 6th, 1922, the Trianon opened to the public at 62nd and Cottage Grove.
The ballroom was designed by Rapp & Rapp, who created most of the city’s most luxurious and ornately detailed theaters and dance halls, including the Uptown, Riviera, and Cadillac Palace, among others.
The Trianon was the first ballroom in Chicago that required men to wear a coat and tie. And according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, jazz was forbidden, at least initially:
In 1922 the Karzas brothers opened the Trianon at 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue with a major society gala, a “no jazz” policy, and floor spotters to police the crowd. Like its North Side sister the Aragon (1926–), the Trianon attracted white lower-middle- and working-class youth. Free of ties to lower-class vice, the Karzas used design and decoration to evoke refinement and luxury for ordinary people while uplifting “dangerous” sexuality to the level of romance.
But its purpose wasn’t limited strictly to music–it hosted a number of other events including Miss Chicago pageant in 1926.
Though its exterior was modest by comparison to other buildings designed by Rapp & Rapp, the Trianon had an overwhelmingly large and ornate interior, as described in a recent Columbia College of Chicago article:
The Karzas brothers and their financial supporters understood the importance of social dancing, on both national and local levels. Thus their goal was to build the grandest dance floor in existence. The oval–shaped ballroom measured 170 feet long by 100 feet wide. The ceiling was domed and measured fifty feet at its greatest height. Contemporaneous writings suggest that nearly 3,000 people (1,500 couples) could dance at the Trianon, which indicated that dancing, especially in Chicago, was more than a passing fad—it was a type of entertainment that rivaled the popularity of movies, musicals, and vaudeville shows.
The Trianon had its own radio station–WMBB, for World’s Most Beautiful Ballroom. It opened in 1925 and the broadcasting station’s antenna was on the top of the building. In the audio clip above (courtesy of the Internet Archive), Ted Weems’ introduction comes with a reminder of the venue’s importance:
How’s the Night, Ted Weems and his band. From the Maxis (?) Trianon Ballroom in the city of Chicago, modern dance music is your reminder that a merry and modern evening awaits you in the evening of your choice, in the world’s most beautiful ballroom. Ted Weems music from the Trianon comes to you with the compliments of Andrew Karzas. No matter where you’ve been, no matter where you’ve danced, you’ll enjoy beauty and melody, rhythm, and romance at the Trianon.
After a Failure to Adapt, the Trianon Fades
The other ballroom once owned by the Karzas brothers, the Aragon, adapted to serve other purposes when ballroom dancing faded from popularity. The Trianon, however, struggled to find its place in a changing community and lack of demand for big band and dance hall music.
It closed in 1958 and sat vacant for several years before reopening under a new name (El Sid) and a newly renovated exterior. The last gasp for air didn’t last, and it was demolished in 1967 to make way for a housing project.
The Music Plays On
Although the building is gone, many of the recordings from the Trianon/WMBB live on at the Internet Archive and elsewhere. Coast in to your weekend with this 30 minute recording of Kay Kyser performing there, and remember:
No matter where you’ve been, no matter where you’ve danced, you’ll enjoy beauty and melody, rhythm, and romance at the Trianon.
References and further reading:
- The splendor and romance of Chicago’s dance-hall days (Chicago Tribune)
- Dancing in Chicago: The Trianon Ballroom (CMBR Digest)
- Dance Halls (Encyclopedia of Chicago)