Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 105 - The Danceland Ballroom
If you pass the intersection of East 90th and Euclid today, you see an area that is overwhelmed by the seemingly constant construction of the sprawling Cleveland Clinic complex. On the northeast corner is a new seven-story parking and office building. But nowhere is there any hint that the building occupies a site that for years housed one of Cleveland’s most popular ballrooms where many of the top artists in jazz performed.
It was called Danceland and it presented many of the biggest names in music during the 1920s and ‘30s, an era when jazz meant dance music. In addition to the ballroom at Danceland there was a roof garden that was popular during the summer months.
I discovered a copy of a publication called Danceland News. Published in January of 1935, it is a promotional sheet for the ballroom. On the front page it says Danceland is "enjoying its tenth successive season." The main headline reads, "A parade of nationally famous orchestras coming to Danceland." Just below is a subhead: "Red Nichols leads the parade of famous dance bands coming to Danceland." With a large drawing of Nichols, there is a full front-page article announcing Nichols’ band would play Sunday night, January 20th (1935) at Danceland, and reviewing his career, including his many records with "Red Nichols and his Five Pennies," but ignoring the fact that just four years earlier, Nichols had played regularly and made many radio broadcasts at the Golden Pheasant Chinese restaurant on Prospect Avenue just east of Ninth Street.
Across the bottom of the front page is a large banner announcing, "Coming Sunday, January 27th – Duke Ellington." Inside the publication is an article promoting the Ellington appearance and a drawing of a smiling Duke. The article says, "Danceland is proud to present the internationally famous Duke Ellington one night only."
Ellington and his orchestra had just completed one-week engagements at the Regal Theatre in Chicago and the Schubert Theatre in Cincinnati. There was only a brief mention of the Ellington gig at Danceland in the February 2nd Cleveland Call and Post. After playing from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at 90th and Euclid, the Ellington band moved on to the famous Graystone Ballroom in Detroit for a dance the following night.
Also in the Danceland News is a box showing the weekly line-up at the ballroom. Mondays and Wednesdays were called "bargain nights." The dance hall was closed to the public on Tuesday, but available for rental by private groups. Thursday was called "Audition Night," (Euclid Avenue Idol?) with the winner getting the opportunity to sing with a band for one week at salary. Friday was "Waltz Night." Every other dance was a waltz and there was a waltz contest. On Saturday night there was continuous dancing until 1 a.m., and on Sunday, continuous dancing from five in the afternoon until 12:30 at night.
The manager of the Danceland Ballroom was Mrs. F.B. Conklin. Twenty years earlier, Professor F.B. Conklin gave dance lessons at another popular dancehall, East Market Gardens in Akron.
Others who performed at Danceland included a young singer named Perry Como. Long before his huge national popularity, Como was the featured singer with Cleveland’s Freddie Carlone Orchestra which played a number of times at Danceland in 1934 and ‘35. Other members of Carlone’s band included saxophonist Nick Lovano (the brother of Tony Lovano and the uncle of Joe Lovano), violinist Maurice Cancasi, trumpeter Lennie "Buzz" Lenassi, pianist Fred Kaiser; saxophonist Arthur Circillo, and saxophonist Johnny Singer.
Nearby were a number of other popular Cleveland dance halls. The Trianon Ballroom was just a few blocks east at 9802 Euclid. The Circle Ballroom was at 105th and Euclid. Oster’s Ballroom was on 105th between Euclid and Carnegie. The Luna Park Pavilion off Woodland was still operating, although 1935 was its final year.
The Danceland Ballroom did not last as long as some of the other Cleveland dance spots despite the growing popularity of the big bands. In the late 1930s, when swing was becoming the most popular music in the world, Mrs. Conklin sold the ballroom. The new owner converted it into a roller rink and changed the name from "Danceland" to "Skateland." By the 1960s, the property was sold again and the next owner converted and remodeled the building for commercial use as a food store and other shops. In recent years the site was acquired by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Just across Euclid Avenue from the Danceland site is the original Cleveland Clinic building, now part of what is called "T Building." This is where in May of 1929, 129 people were killed in a tragic fire and explosion. Heat from a dangling bare light bulb and a leaking steam pipe apparently triggered the explosion in a coal bin area where 70,000 nitrocellulose x-ray films were stored. The blast spewed a dense, yellowish-brown gas that trapped and killed patients and employees. It was one of the three worst disasters in Cleveland history. There is now a tunnel under Euclid Avenue connecting the old original clinic building and the new parking building on the old Danceland site.
Just across 90th street from the ballroom site is the old White Mansion, one of only three remaining properties from what was known as "Millionaires’ Row," the almost endless line of palatial homes that prompted people a century ago to call Euclid Avenue "the most beautiful street in the world." Built by Windsor White at the dawn of the 20th century, the mansion was an immediate neighbor of the Danceland Ballroom in the 1920s and ‘30s and remained in the White family until 1957 when it was sold to a funeral director. The old mansion was purchased by the Cleveland Health Museum in 1976 and today is an office building for the museum which is now called Healthspace.
During the Depression, when jobs were hard to find, thousands of Clevelanders managed to scrape up enough money to take streetcars to 90th and Euclid to see and hear Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, Perry Como, Freddie Carlone and many others at Danceland, and try to dance away their personal problems. It was a part of Cleveland’s history. But today, more than 70 years later, there is no physical reminder of the ballroom and the bands at Danceland -- just a few old publications and the memories of some old-timers.
Copyright 2006 Joe Mosbrook
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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30. The greatly-expanded second edition of Mosbrook’s Cleveland Jazz History book is available by calling (216) 252-0828.