Chicago History: Touring The Aragon Ballroom

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During last Sunday’s Vintage Bazaar flea market, my friend Alex and I got the chance to go on a free guided tour of the historic Aragon ballroom. The guided tours were held in conjunction with the market and it was a rare chance to see the grand ballroom during the day empty of the usual concert goers and revelers.

I’m a history and architecture buff so I enjoyed learning the story of the Aragon. It was built in 1926 at a cost of 2 million dollars and its hey day was the 1920s-1940s. Our tour guide told us that at its peak, the Aragon welcomed over 18,000 dancers a week! It was one of the few places that unaccompanied, single women could come to hear big band music and to dance with gentlemen.

The Aragon was built in a Moorish architectural style and the dance floor is meant to resemble an open air pavilion surrounded by an arcade of arches and a second floor balcony. The ceiling used to be interactive and mimic the actual sky– during the day projections of clouds would float across the ceiling and at night tiny lights would twinkle to resemble stars. More recently the ceiling has been painted with fantastical murals of the night sky and cosmos.

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It was a bit dim in the ballroom so I apologize for the dark pictures, here I’m posing with Alex on a staircase leading to the upper balcony.

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Every detail was considered at The Aragon, even the stairs have inlaid Spanish tiles lining the bottoms.

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By 1964 the dance craze had shifted and for a time The Aragon became a discotheque named “The Cheetah Club”. For a short time it also hosted boxing matches and even roller skating (somehow the gorgeous floor survived). By the 1970s it became the venue for rock and roll concerts and hosted bands like The Doors and The Kinks. Today it still acts as a music venue and also hosts Latin dancing.

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Alex is sitting in the balcony with a view of the dance floor behind him.

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There are murals of Ancient civilizations throughout The Aragon, the one above looks to be an Aztec temple.

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A Moroccan style lamp and another mural, looks to be of a Mediterranean country.

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The original floors are still intact throughout the building.

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Alex in the balcony gazing out at the stage.

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Originally there was a fountain in the middle of the dance floor but it was removed decades ago.

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A wrought iron and crystal chandelier hanging from the elaborately detailed ceiling.

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The grand front staircase leading to the ballroom, the banister finial was spectacular.

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This is what happens when a stranger tries to handle my digital SLR– she took 3 photos of us, all blurry. This was the best one, oh well.

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A majority of the Vintage Bazaar vendors were set up in an adjacent parking lot but a handful were selling out of the lobby area. I was drawn to one booth that sold folk art style items including the butterfly wing tray above and the wooden “tramp art” boxes below.

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A Mid Century Modern lamp seen in Century Chicago’s booth.

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Alex took a shining to this 1960s brass rocket, I believe it was a musical decanter. We spotted it in Century Chicago’s booth.

Next month The Vintage Bazaar is teaming up with the world famous Renegade Craft Fair in the Wicker Park neighborhood so it will be a while until I photograph at The Aragon again. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into one of Chicago’s architectural treasures.

thriftaholic

Comments 0

  1. In my home town is a vaudeville theater that was also built in the Moorish style; it still has a working cloud machine and twinkling stars. I will have to see if it was designed by the same architect.

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