The restoration of El Dorado Hall received a prestigious national award

The Eldorado Ballroom, a building in the Third Ward that served its community with music and culture, received the 2023 Modernism in America Award from Docomomo US.

The Eldorado is one of seven recipients of the Group’s Design Excellence Award, an honor given to the best recent conservation, documentation and advocacy work. Docomomo USA is the American subsidiary of Netherlands-based Docomomo International, and the group’s unusual name stands for the documentation and preservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement.

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“We are deeply honored to learn that the Eldorado Ballroom has received this prestigious national award,” said Danielle Burns-Wilson, Project Row Houses curator and artistic director. “We are especially pleased to see the amazing artists at Stern and Bucek Architects recognized for their vision and determination to help us achieve our goal of rehabilitating this historic building and giving it new life as the heart and soul of Third Ward.”

Designed and built in 1939, the Eldorado Building is located at Emancipation Street (formerly Dowling Street) and Elgin Street in Third Ward. It was built by Anna Johnson Dupree and her husband, Charles Dupree, with retail businesses on the first floor and a nightclub on the second floor. The first floor businesses over the years have ranged from a pharmacy, a barber shop, a hardware store, and a tailor.

Upstairs during the day, there were talent shows with kids and others trying to break into the music business. It’s where Joelle Brown got her start at the age of 12; She later went on to sing with Louis Armstrong’s band. However, at night, wealthier blacks would gather at the nightclub to hear the house band Eldorado as well as bigger names like Etta James, James Brown, and Ray Charles. Stories from the past are told of Elvis Presley coming to Houston for white crowds, heading to El Dorado when his show was over and singing to that crowd until dawn.

As times changed and blacks were able to go to other musical venues, Eldorado’s acts diminished. Anna Johnson Dupree sold the building in the 1970s to the founder of Medallion Oil Co. Hubert “Hub” Finkelstein, who bought it to afford not to demolish it. He donated the building to Project Row Houses in 1999.

In April, Project Row Houses completed a months-long restoration and rehabilitation process, after years of planning. They brought in architect David Bucek of Stern and Bucek Architects to help them figure out a way to install an elevator, but the simple plan evolved into a nearly $10 million full-scale rehabilitation of the building.

The building’s original architect, Leonard Gabbert Sr., who was part of the first graduating class of Rice University architecture students in 1917, designed the building with an Art Deco and Moderne influence that was strong in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a sleek white building with a rounded corner and a set of ribbon-like second floor windows to make it look like an ocean liner.

In recent years, the upstairs dance floor has been used quite a bit, with events such as Texas Southern University fraternity and sorority parties, Black Stepping Club practices, Jack and Jill groups and even the Houston Swing Dance Association practicing here.

The other six recipients of the Design Excellence Award are the John and Catherine Christian Home in West Lafayette, Indiana; Schwan House and Studio in Lincoln, Massachusetts; Demeric Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York; PACCAR BioIngenuity Center in Berkeley, California; Modern Pittsburgh Survey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the Ebony Test Kitchen in Chicago and Washington, D.C

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