History

Some Old Dance Halls Fade Away: The History of Dessau Dance Hall

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Even if you are no kinda dancer, Texas dance halls are a tremendous place to soak in the history and local color. Today, every operating dance hall benefits from patronage. Here is a cautionary tale of a now-defunct dance hall whose stage is forever silenced: Dessau Dance Hall.

Originally built by immigrants from Dessau, Germany in 1876, in current day northeastern Travis County, the original two-story structure burned down in the early 1940’s. A second version was built around a large pecan tree which stood in the middle of the dance floor and extended through the roof of the structure. This second hall burned down in 1967 and took the famous tree with it, but a third version of the dance hall was erected in 1969, boasting the largest floating wood dance floor in Texas at 3,000 square feet.

Schlitz beer

Facebook/ Jolene Haney

The hall began as a German music venue for polka dancing but turned towards big bands in the 1930s. Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, and Tommy Dorsey all played there. As music tastes changed in Texas, so did the acts; Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn graced the stage. Jimmy Heap and the Melody Makers made their first recording with a song called “The Dessau Hall Waltz.” For 22 years, starting in 1969, Dessau was adorned with red velvet wallpaper and chandeliers and was a rather straight-laced establishment: men were not permitted to wear hats inside and no profanity was allowed.

Not the best photo of him
Facebook/Lawrence da Silva

Unfortunately, the hall steadily declined until purchased by new owners in 1997. Fancy furnishings came down and neon lights went up. Country music was kept on the playlist but additional genres were included, such as Quiet Riot and Molly Hatchet, to cater to the area’s increasingly urban market. In 2009, the hall was purchased by a new owner who refurbished it to reflect its storied past: red adorned the walls again, old light fixtures were found and reinstalled, and mementos were hung on the walls. A grand reopening occurred on June 13, 2009, but in 2010, Dessau Dance Hall closed again. Later that year, it opened as a nightclub which was last noted to be open a few nights a week. Dessau Dance Hall is missed but is saluted for its contributions to the community!

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