Leo Early: “Space Is The Place: From the Village to the Michigan Palace” Presentation

Leo Early    00:19    Okay, my name is Leo Early. I come from a long line of Irish storytellers, history teachers and musicians. In 2003, I got involved in the Grande Ballroom searching for information online and in libraries and discovered that it was noticeably absent. So I started a website and started sharing what information I did find that the Grande Ballroom. I was really surprised at the groundswell of a response I got and inadvertently I kind of plugged myself into the Grande Ballroom culture, including the sixties counterculture. And then as a result, that generated a lot of material for the website, which has kind of evolved now into the book on the Grande ballroom. It’s just kinda my way of paying those people back from the great stories that I got from them. Would I be allowed perhaps one expletive if I keep in context,  just one, one soft one… 

I also come from a family of Irish big fish storytellers. And does everybody in here know the difference between a fairy tale and a big fish story? A fairy tale starts off “Once upon a time” and a big fish story starts off  “This ain’t no bullshit.” So this is my rock and roll big fish story. You’re gonna hear a little bit at some excerpts from my book on the Grande Ballroom contained herein.  

So here’s an interesting fact. Through the 1930s, there were over 250 movie theaters and dozens of ballrooms operating in the city of Detroit proper. Today there are but a few; statistics in part highlights how drastically our entertainment tastes have changed over an eighty year period. There’s also a testimony to how choices have multiplied and how there has been a shift from public to private entertainment spaces such as home theaters.

Every building has a purpose. And without a valid business case or worthy function, a building can quickly fall into disrepair as its market value drops.  In the 1950s, movie theaters all across the country were closing thanks to the advent of television. 

Furthermore, as the children of World War II vets came of age, their significant spending power went to purchasing rock and roll records instead of movie tickets.  For the postwar entrepreneur, the demand generated by teenage baby boomers was  now meaning your readily available stock of larger venues where popular music can be featured. In 1960s and 1970s in Detroit, one man who saw profit in exploiting these under utilized rooms was Gabriel ‘Gabe’ Glantz.  Mr. Glantz was directly involved with many showbiz locales in Michigan, but for our purposes we will profile five of them with the Glantz Family being the common thread.  

Gabe Glantz born in Hungary in 1920 and had immigrated to the US as an infant.  As a school boy he studied classical piano with noted Detroit instructor Misha Cutler where he developed a love for music. Gabriel would attend Wayne State University Law School and serve as an army supply sergeant during World War II.  After passing the bar, Gabe spent a few years practicing divorce law in Wayne County. However, this branch of the law did not particularly appeal to him and he began dabbling in real estate contracts and land speculation. Being passionate about the arts and entertainment, Glantz was drawn to real estate that had formed the exhibited movies that featured dancing.  According to his daughter Arlene Glantz Boom, the first of these properties acquired was a club in Westland near Joy and Middlebelt dubbed The Tantrum.  And the absence of a conventional tenant for this property, Gabe began booking entertainment events to pay the mortgage. It was at The Tantrum that Glantz learned that novelty equals profits as his first acts featured cutting edge entertainment in the form of female impersonators. Thereafter, Gabe was always on the lookout for ever larger property.  

The Garden Theater was designed by noted architects, C. Howard Crane, of the Fox Theater fame. The 900 seater was one of the first to be built outside of Detroit downtown core completed in 1909 it was named The Garden for its decor, simulating an outdoor garden. The retail space you see here, it was integrated into the building and help it maintain financially afloat through the World Wars. But it stopped showing films by 1949.  

Gabe Glantz purchased the property at 3929 Woodward in 1951 originally a version of the 509 Club operating in the building.  But Gabe’s level of involvement in the 509 is lost to history. The ascendancy of the beatnik and bebop jazz culture, coffee shops and alcohol free establishments were becoming hip for adults and even the underage set.  Also about 1959-1960 thanks to a thriving R&B scene the teen market had become especially profitable so much so that Gabe, along with his brother Leo began booking vocal groups and other music acts into a new dry club at 3929 called The Village.   Recording artists such as Nathaniel Mayer, Nolan Strong, Gino Washington<confirm Gino/Geno> and David Ruffin all appeared at The Village.   Legend has it Nathaniel Mayer’s 1962 Fortune Records fave ‘Village of Love’ was about 3929 Woodward.  According to guitarist Jim McCarty, the majority of the acts were Black R&B and Doo-Wop performers. It’s really an R&B club. It was in early 1964 that McCarty and drummer John Badanjek first connected with singer Billy Levise at The Village. Billy often sang with the Black group called The (Fabulous) Peps and he already cut some sides of his own.  Thereafter known as Billy Lee and the Rivieras, the group polished a high energy village attested rock and roll set that would secure them a national recording contract and a new name, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit wheels.  

Glantz would continue to acquire additional properties but still operated or at least under a couple of different monikers, 3920 Woodward through the 1960s.   Two examples of these clubs were The Etcetera circa 1966 which again showcased R&B and blues acts and The Sea, circa 1967 which was briefly operated by the Trans Love Energies Group… Crew from the Grande Ballroom. Lastly, the property was leased to various retail concerns with the Glantz Estates retaining ownership until 2004.  

In the 1920s the intersection of Joy and Grand River was a major hub of activity in Northwest Detroit.   Here at the confluence of several streetcars and bus lines, dozens of shops, apartment buildings, and department stores are sprouting in the years following the first World War.

Noted architect and philanthropist Charles M Agree designed a new building for a connected hard gambling, saloonkeeper, and jail bondsman named Harry Weitzman.  Weitzman would name his building, The Grande Ballroom.  Completed in the fall of 1928 The Grande was a unique jewel on the west side with the first floor retail and a second story ballroom featuring an enormous sprung maple dance floor.  Never a place where alcohol was served, the ballroom flourished during prohibition. Dances such as the Foxtrot were all the rage, the Grande regularly played host to thousands of dancers every week. It would remain particularly successful even through the lean years of the depression and the second World War Swing Era.   

And in the 1950s changing tastes, migrating populations and freeways would bring an end to ballroom dance businesses.  By 1960 the last dancers had collected their coats from the coat room and the Grande’s floor would remain silent for years. 

One day in early 1964 Glantz and his wife, Sylvia were out for a drive scouting properties as they often did.   Turning up Grand River they stumbled upon the old large ballroom now up for sale. Glantz immediately got out of the car and stared up at that facade, Gabe’s wife could only roll her eyes and shout “Gabe, what do you need another property for?” Glantz immediately saw the potential to scale up his business and along with some help from his father-in-law, Irv Climone made a successful offering. So the next step was to convert the second story dance floor into a revenue stream catering to the neighborhood teenagers.

A roller rink operation was created complete with bright, goudy loud colors to appeal to the local kids.

It was believed that his business lasted no more than a couple of years such that by 1965, the first four retailers in the building were using the second floor to warehouse items such as mattresses and paint.  

By 1966 Glantz would connect with the like minded teacher and disc jockey from Dearborn named Russ Gibb. Russ had himself made a little money hosting sock-hops, teen dances and had witnessed first hand the potential in a new model, The Psychedelic Ballroom.   Soon an arrangement was formed between Gibb, the radio host and promotion man, and Glantz, the attorney and building owner to offer original music acts. In October 1966 the ballroom rocker began with now legendary MC5 opening its first weekend. Gibb as the booking agent catered directly to a self-described tastemaker crowd and saw their attendance figures slowly build.  After a relatively lean first year, The Grande virtually exploded in 1968 booking local, national and international acts. The Grande became the Michigan tour stop for recording artists the world over.   Its list of acts reads like a who’s who of sixties rock legends… The Who, Cream, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, the MC5Ted Nuggent and the Amboy Dukes, Stooges, and Traffic to name but a few.  

Gibb was the front office guy, the youthful entrepreneur that enjoyed taking the pulse of counter-cultural heads and freaks alike.  Glantz the in-house legal shark and businessman unapologetically preferring the back office handling of cash ready to be certain of his rent. The greed head moniker that the kids unfairly bestowed was also shared by Gibb who never dismissed it but actually lampooned it on this WKNR radio show. 

The Enterprise had a remarkable run, it started in 1969 the profit potential of rock and roll was becoming glaringly evident. The record companies smelled it. Agents were demanding ever higher guarantees and promoters across the country were looking for ever larger venues to exploit cover costs, just how large it could get remained to be seen.  

The Grande Riviera theater designed by architect Johnny Eberson who was completed in 1925.  The west side’s most ornate and third largest in Detroit. Erected  at 9222 Grand River it was the keystone entertainment property for the Joy and Grand River District that as a whole is becoming a major amusement destination. The 3000 seat Riviera was so popular in fact that its owners built the Riviera Annex Theater just down the street to handle 1800 seats of overflow.  By 1928 the ballroom, I’m sorry, the neighborhood would have nearly 5,000 theater seats and a 1600 person capacity ballroom.  In the early 1930s the Grande Riviera dropped the word ‘Grande’ from its marquee and it was known for decades thereafter only as the Riviera or the Riv. The 1950s were the lean years for the large movie palaces. By 1957 the Meterlander Brothers of theatrical and Broadway fame snapped up the theater and began producing stage shows. In 1960 when the Meterlanders entered The Fisher Theater, the Riviera to the backseat and exhibiting frizz monetary productions. By 1962 the family had phased out those productions entirely at the Riviera and the property remained under utilized for approximately seven years.  

The Eastown Theater at 8041 Harper Avenue was configured originally for 2,500 seats designed by VJ Waier and Company in a neoclassical run renaissance revival style. It opened in 1931 and was operated by the Wisper and Wetsman theater chain. The Eastown differs in that it had an attached apartment building and a small ballroom with a generous amount of retail space on the first floor. By 1967 as with a lot of large moving palaces, Eastown had stopped showing movies and was shuttered. In early 1969, the 22 year old eastsider named Bob Garris saved up enough pennies to rent the Eastown Theater for the purpose of putting on rock concerts. According to Frank Bach, formerly of The Up, Bob Garris had already been doing shows in the building’s smaller Eastown Ballroom and built up enough capital to move up to the larger room.   So on May 22,  1969 Bob Garris opened the Eastown with a few local acts that were often at The Grande.  This event set up a red rocket to Gibb and Glantz on the west side of town.  The Eastown could now forward to afford higher guarantees for its acts given this much larger capacity. Their new competitor also stood to realize more profit. The Grande Ballroom partner’s response was to open the mothball Riviera Theater and rebranded the Grande Riviera. According to the Ann Arbor Sun for several months Gibb and Glantz made sure that on every night the Garris had a big drawing of the Eastown. There was also a major act at the Riviera to compete with it. 

They knew there wasn’t enough business at the time to pack both theaters on the same night with ticket prices as high as they were, but Gibb and Glantz given their well established base could afford to run their operation at a loss if it meant that Garris was also forced to lose money. It was a waiting game to see how long the other could hold out. Eventually Bob Garris caved and Gibb and Glantz formed a partnership that allowed them to run these three venues- The Grande Riviera, Grande Ballroom, and the Eastown in a manner that maximized the market’s potential. This is the new reality of rock promotion

Shrewd, even cutthroat tactics have begun to be used by promoters all over the country.  

Granted, it was never an easy or even a pleasant business to be in. It was just now, as the stakes were raised, rock promotion became evermore dangerous and even violent.  The triumvirate was ultimately doomed, marred by accusations of embezzlement and missing receipts. By early 1970 Russ Gibb had largely stepped back from the pact and the Grande Ballroom eyeing opportunities in artist management, in festival productions like the Goose Lake International Festival. But Garris had continued at the Eastown and produced some memorable shows through 1973 featuring acts like Joe Walsh, The Faces, Humble Pie, and Alice Cooper.  His Big Bamboo Production Company would become one of the two major players in the Detroit market. The other, Glantz Productions would in 1972 set sites ever higher by contents of the new lease holder at the Michigan Theater.  

Michigan Theater designed by Chicago’s Rapp & Rapp was completed in 1926 at a cost of $5 million with this attached office building, the complex towered 13 stories over Bagley Avenue. This 4,000 seat, French renaissance masterpiece featured a $30,000 Wurlitzer organ in one dozen Baldwin pianos installed throughout the building.  At its peak on a Saturday the Michigan’s two dozen ushers might rang a total of two 20,000 moviegoers to and from the seats. 

By 1972 frustrated with his dealings with Bobby Garris, Gibb and Glantz contacted Leo Spears, the new leaseholder at the Michigan Theater.  Spears was a doctor that had invested in a number of successful local clubs such as the West Side Six in Redford and the Funny Farm in Wayne.   When he founded the Michigan was a failed Las Vegas style supper club called the Michigan Palace, Spears was able to assume the lease at the Michigan for far less than the cost of one of the suburban clubs with silverware and tablecloths included.   

Starting at the Grande,Glantz  had been grooming his son Steve in the concert promotion business.  For the pair, the Michigan was the white whale large theatre in the Detroit market.  Spears although successful in the bar business, the expertise and connections that the Glantz’s has provided, although not directly involved, it would be Russ that would tip Spears to the grand opening act, The New York Dolls. The Michigan Palace opened with The Dolls on September 15, 1973 to a large crowd and tons of positive press. During its run, the Palace partnership managed to break a number of legendary bands in the Detroit market. Bachman-Turner Overdrive, KISS, and Rush all attribute some of the early success to their first show being produced by Steve Glantz at The Palace. Dozens of shows were produced at The Palace from the early 1976 but alas the rock crowds were very hard on the building and the Glantz’s were too busy moving onto the next venture to be cautious caretakers. Blamed for the vandalism and pilfering that occurred at the Michigan and as the partnership exited has never fully settled.  Smashed mirrors, beheaded statues were just some of the insults that befell at The Michigan. In the end Glantz’s use of the building reflected his method of operation. It hit hard and fast then counted. 

So where are they now? Bob Garris continued to grow Bamboo Productions with concerts at Olympia, Cobo Hall and the Pontiac Silverdome. He had dodged prison time for several drug charges and died from leukemia in 1985. After the Grande, Russ Gibbs spent time in England, playing monopoly with Grande friends like Eric Clapton and leasing vacation homes from the likes of Mick Jagger. Russ also had worked in Washington DC as National Director for Youth Education for the Bicentennial and has since retired from teaching media arts at the <inaudible, 20:40> school. Steve Glantz would go on to put on memorable shows at Cobo Hall with Bob Segar and KISS.  His companies would make and lose several fortunes for him.  Sadly, Steve took his own life after moving to Florida in the 1980s. Throughout the seventies, Gabe Glantz would back some of Steve’s shows at Cobo Hall and the Silverdome and he retired to Florida flipping real estate deals and passed away at the age of 76 in 1996.  Michigan Theater never opened after the Palace Enterprise.  Today has been converted into an indoor parking structure. Eastown, lastly played host to a series of underground raves in the nineties. And today a series of fires have resulted in its partial collapse. Grande Riviera hosted shows until 1974 but it never reopened. It was razed in 1999. Grande Ballroom shuttered in 1973 but was reused by a series of churches for services in a community soup kitchen. In 2006, the current crime regions reuse plans failed to materialize and efforts to list the building on the National Register of Historic Places were not approved by the owners. The Grande today languishes in decay and neglect. And lastly, it has not all been gloom and doom for our Detroit entertainment spaces. Thankfully, entrepreneurs remain courageous enough to develop our underutilized buildings. Today Gabe Glantz’s old village has seen new life in the form of the Garden Theater of Midtown.  Two partners, Michael Bird and George Stewart, had reopened the Garden as part of the Woodward Gardens Development Project. The venture includes a parking structure, apartments, restaurants, and the refurbished theater space now capable of holding 13,000 standing patrons.  Space is the place…thank you.  

22:38 Applause    

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