by Michael R. Allen
On Saturday night I sat in the balcony watching some 250 dancers heating up the floor at the Casa Loma Ballroom. Even my two left feet were itchin’ to join the action at this weekend’s Nevermore Jazz Ball and St. Louis Swing Dance Festival, a multi-night, multi-venue extravaganza. Credit goes to two of this town’s most go-getting young people, Christian Frommelt — former PRO intern — and Jenny Shirer, for bringing the scene to our town in a big way.
On Friday, Kevin Belford and I had a small part in the weekend’s festivities as guides for a tour of musical and architectural heritage sites in midtown. Many of our guests were from out of town, so we enjoyed getting to promote neglected aspects of our cultural heritage to them. If St. Louis could tell the stories that Kevin Belford has told in his book Devil at the Confluence and elsewhere, our national image would be much different — and far more compelling to cultural tourism.
We started at the Castle Ballroom, originally opened in 1908 as Cave Hall, and wended our way across the fields of what was Mill Creek Valley. There we chased the ghost flats of musicians as well as the glory days of Laclede Town. Back up to Locust Street, we saw how St. Louis’ music industry lived side-by-side with the rising automobile age in the early part of the twentieth century.
Our tour ended at the Palladium, built in 1913 as a roller rink but most significant as a ball room later known as Club Plantation. While the Castle Ballroom is now on the path to finding a good owner and new life, the Palladium faces the threat of demolition and the interest of the Veterans’ Administration that wishes to expand the Cochran Veterans Hospital to the north.