Still Grooving After All These Years
The Crystal Ballroom enjoys national recognition for a reason. No local venue, and indeed few in the nation, can challenge this elegant ballroom’s 90 years as a premier place to hear live music, dance and have memorable experiences. The hall has seen countless first loves unfold, police raids, visits by silent screen idols and Beat poets, psychedelic light shows, narrow escapes from fire, demolition, and neglect, and a listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it is a vital, thriving McMenamins owned and operated live music palace that hosts everything from rock ’n’ roll and country, to hip-hop and big band swing.
Tales about the grand hall at N.W. 14th and Burnside cover myriad topics and time periods. The Crystal opened its doors as a ballroom in 1914 (as World War I began), in the days when frisky Portland residents could still be arrested for dancing the Tango. During the Great Depression, “Dad” Watson staged popular old-time dance revivals here as a way to raise people’s spirits. African-American formal dances at the Crystal, because of segregation, were as rare as they were special. Other local folks can regale you with romantic tales of how their dance partner at the Crystal eventually became their spouse.
In the 1960s, the Crystal was the ultimate rock palace. People still argue about whether it was really Jimi Hendrix whom Little Richard fired in the middle of a performance at the Crystal. It is agreed, however, that bands like the Grateful Dead (twice), Ike & Tina Turner, Country Joe & The Fish, and Buffalo Springfield (with Neil Young and Stephen Stills), and a hundred others thrilled audiences at the big ballroom.
The procession of legends and legends-to-be has continued since McMenamins reopened the Crystal’s doors in 1997. The ballroom has been honored to host celebrated artists such as George Clinton, Dick Dale, James Brown, Michael McDonald, Billy Idol, Gregg Allman, the Wailers, and Robert Cray, as well as contemporary favorites including Medeski, Martin & Wood, Liz Phair, Steve Earle, Nick Cave, the Indigo Girls and Ween.
While the action on the stage has always thrilled, one thing everyone remembers about the Crystal is its astounding “floating” dance floor. “Like dancing on clouds,” is how people describe cutting a rug here. At the time of its construction, the Crystal’s mechanical dance floor (now fully restored to proper working order) was said to be unique on the Pacific Coast. Today, it may be the only one left in the United States. You will also appreciate our gorgeous decor: flamboyant wall sconces and light fixtures, grand paintings and gigantic windows everywhere. People who come to the Crystal seem to be inspired by an energy emanating from the site itself, a phenomenon social scientists call “the power of place.”
McMenamins is proud to welcome a whole new generation of fun-lovers and repeat offenders to the renovated, always-happening Crystal Ballroom, and its sister venue, Lola’s (one flight down). The Crystal is the only place we know where you can enjoy national, regional, and local bands live while dancing the night away on air.
The Crystal Ballroom: on any night, anything can happen!
Oregon Historical Society (#OrHi 11744)
and Evrim Icoz