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'It's about to glow up' | Houston's Eldorado Ballroom restoration project underway

If the walls could talk, you'd hear historic voices like Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and Houston's own Jewel Brown.

HOUSTON — James Brown, B.B. King and Ella Fitzgerald are just some of the big names that performed at the historic Eldorado Ballroom in Houston's Third Ward back in its prime.

The ballroom was a staple in the Black community for decades, especially during segregation, before having to close its doors.

But the ballroom is about to undergo a massive renovation to make it sing once again.

"As the kids say, it's about to glow up," said Project Row Houses Executive Director Eureka Gilkey.

If the walls could talk, you'd hear historic voices like Ray Charles, Duke Ellington and Houston's own Jewel Brown.

"Oh, my goodness. It was like the floors were just, it was really something. And the windows back in the day, they pushed out from the bottom," said Brown.

She performed with the likes of Louis Armstrong. 

"People would be all across the street outside Emancipation Park because you could hear everything," Brown continued.

The ballroom is where Brown began her storied career, along with the who's who of the international jazz and blues community.

"Elvis Presley used to come over here," said Gilkey. "And this is his after-party, and they would just sing gospel all night. Until the sun rose. It was like his favorite place to be. True story."

Project Row Houses is the community group that raised some $9.6 million to restore a pillar of Houston's historic music scene.

"The Eldorado Ballroom represents the heart and soul of Third Ward," said Gilkey.

In its prime, the ballroom was way more than a world-renowned social club.

Teenagers took the stage for talent shows, high schoolers danced at Saturday night sock hops and families celebrated birthdays. The Eldorado Ballroom was a cultural institution.

"Even my aunts and uncles talk about coming here," Gilkey said.

It closed in the early 70s -- leaving a hole in the heart of Third Ward for years. Then, in 1999 it was donated to Project Row Houses. And now, in 2022...

"People are really excited about this project, said Gilkey.

When done, it'll once again be a music hall, hosting performances and special events for the community.

"Culture of this city is not overlooked or forgotten. It's a space that says who we are and what we've done on behalf of the city is important. And it tells a story of what Houston was, what it is, and what it can be," said Gilkey.

He said this project is a love letter to the Third Ward. The work at the ballroom is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

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