By Jennifer Young
When Charles N. Agree designed his Art Deco dance hall for entrepreneurial partners Edward J. Strata and Edward J. Davis, he probably never envisioned that a shock rocker named Alice Cooper would be fooling with a live chicken on its stage, but one thing about the Grande—its story could almost be described as a textbook example of identity crisis.
At one point during its history, it even served as a roller rink. Agree and his clients built the Grande Ballroom at 8952 Grand River Avenue in 1928 to give Detroit a place to dance. While initially a venue for jazz and big band sounds, the legendary ballroom would ultimately be dubbed the ‘birthplace of punk’ and grew up to become an amp-strewn venue for rock-and-roll acts like Janis Joplin, The Who, Pink Floyd and a gloriously denim-clad, angelic young Celt named Robert Plant and his little old band called Led Zeppelin.
Before the Grande became synonymous with the Detroit rock scene, it enjoyed a glamorous reputation as one of the city’s premier dance halls. Eastern Detroit had the Vanity Ballroom, but the west had the Grande with its Moorish arches, blade marquee, and hardwood dance floor that could accommodate as many as 1,500 dancers. The Grande Ballroom is a square-shaped two-story building; its lower level originally provided storefront space, enough room for up to six retailers, including a department store. The upper level was devoted to dance hall space. Upon its completion, dancers arrived eager to dance to the music of big bands or jazz acts.