Woodlawn’s historic Grand Ballroom shut down

THE HISTORIC GRAND BALLROOM in Woodlawn was shut down by the city November 28 after hosting a party with 200 guests. (Photo by Keith Chambers)

City closes facility indefinitely for violating Chicago’s COVID-19 restrictions after hosting party with 200 guests

By Erick Johnson

Woodlawn’s historic Grand Ballroom was shut down last weekend after the city found the facility hosted a big party that included 200 guests, according to the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP).

The last surviving relic of the African-American jazz age in Chicago, The Grand Ballroom will be closed indefinitely. City officials have issued a long-term closure order requiring The Grand Ballroom to remain closed until BACP approves a plan for reopening. BACP did not provide further details about the party and The Grand Ballroom’s closure. During a visit to the venue, located at 6351 S. Cottage Grove Ave., a Crusader reporter found the city’s order posted on the front door.

A SHUT DOWN ORDER from the city is posted on the front door of the historic Grand Ballroom in Woodlawn. (Photo by Keith Chambers)

It is uncertain how much The Grand Ballroom will be fined for the violations or whether it will survive while shut down. The Crusader contacted the venue Tuesday morning, December 1, for comment and left a message with a staff member, but neither a manager nor owner responded by Crusader press time Wednesday for its print edition.

The Grand Ballroom was among more than 300 Chicago businesses that since October 30 have been cited for violations of the city’s restrictions on indoor gatherings and dining. Another venue frequented by Blacks, the Black Cat Lounge in Morgan Park, was issued a citation for violating the city’s restrictions on gathering during the coronavirus pandemic.

Early Sunday morning, November 29, city officials shut down a large party with 300 guests in the basement of The Vault in the Wicker Park neighborhood at 1612 W. Division St. Authorities said the guests did not practice social distancing nor were they wearing face masks. A closure order was issued, along with five cease and desist orders and nine citations. At the Chicago Sports Complex, 2600 W. 35th St., a party with over 600 guests was held with no face coverings or social distancing. Like The Grand Ballroom, the business is closed indefinitely until BACP approves a reopening plan. The Fat Fish Bar & Grill, 234 W. 31st St., has also been closed indefinitely for violating the city’s restrictions on social gatherings.

Since March, BACP has conducted more than 6,500 COVID-19 investigations and has cited more than 330 businesses for violating the regulations.

“While the vast majority of Chicago’s businesses are doing the right thing and following the COVID-19 regulations to keep Chicagoans and their employees safe, it is incredibly disheartening to see some establishments continue to egregiously and blatantly disregard the guidelines and put our entire community at risk,” said Rosa Escareno, BACP Commissioner. “Actions like this are a slap in the face to the thousands of businesses and millions of Chicagoans that are making sacrifices every day to keep our city safe, and we will continue cracking down on this inexcusable activity.”

On Monday, November 30, 6,190 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 were reported, as well as 85 additional coronavirus-related deaths.

That same Monday Governor Pritzker noted the overall number of hospitalizations remains above the peak seen in the spring, with some regions near or below the state’s warning level of 20 percent availability of intensive care beds.

“If we’re not especially careful right now, the surge will overwhelm our state’s healthcare system,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker also said on Monday that the Tier 3 mitigation measures will remain in place statewide as health officials watch for the predicted spike in COVID-19 cases. He said regions could potentially move to “Tier 2” in time for the December holidays, but did not give a definite timeline for them to be rolled back.

While many businesses were cited for violations, The Grand Ballroom is the most prominent business in Chicago’s Black community on the list.

Before the pandemic, the venue hosted banquets and stepping dance lessons. The ornate building is a relic from a bygone era known as the Jazz Age in Chicago’s rich Black history.

The Grand Ballroom was previously known as the Loeffler Building, whose neighbors were the 3,200-seat Tivoli Theatre movie palace and the seven-story Pershing Hotel, once owned by playwright Lorraine Hansberry.

As Chicago’s Black Belt expanded in the 1940s, white residents moved out of the Woodlawn neighborhood and left its hotels and ballrooms. The buildings became hubs of the South Side’s African American jazz and social scenes. The Pershing Hotel and Tivoli Theatre were demolished decades ago. A Family Dollar store now occupies the site of the Tivoli Theatre.

In 2003, The Grand Ballroom underwent a major restoration after being saved from demolition. Today, the facility includes an original 60-foot oak bar and a 6,500-square-foot dance floor illuminated by graceful arched windows. The stage is a dramatic scalloped shell reminiscent of the inside of Cinderella’s fairytale carriage.

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