Local Current Blog

Then and Now: Prom Ballroom

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper backstage at the Prom Ballroom in 1959 (source) / Prom postcard via Postcardly

Text by Andrea Swensson and Steve Cohen
Research and “Now” photos by Steve Cohen

Now that every address is available with a quick Google search and every concert is Instagrammed from 100 angles, it can be hard to remember a time when things weren’t so heavily documented.

Even massive concerts like the Beatles’ visit to Minneapolis in 1965 and Elvis’s stop through town a decade earlier were scarcely photographed (at least by today’s standards). It can make photos from that era feel like long lost relics, like rarely opened windows that peer into a forgotten time.

In the spirit of remembering and revisiting our history, we dug through the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society, Minneapolis Public Library, Old Minneapolis, and other sources to find the influential venues that predate today’s popular clubs like First Avenue. For the third installment of the “Then and Now” series, we’ll revisit the Prom Ballroom.

 

Prom Ballroom



Prom Ballroom location 1947 and 2013 / Photos: Minnesota Historical Society & Steven Cohen

The Prom Ballroom was located in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, at 1190 University Avenue. The Prom opened in 1941 with a performance by Glenn Miller, and became a popular dance hall for big band acts of the era. The venue boasted a 9,000 square foot hard maple dance floor and sprawling spaces large enough to accommodate big crowds. For years the Jules Herman Orchestra served as the house band, and the Prom would host dance competitions and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

A dance contest in 1965 / Photos courtesy MNHS

In those early days, dancing was on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and the the Park-N-Eat Fountain Grill sold hamburgers for 5 cents.

Through the years, the Prom Ballroom also hosted some of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll acts to visit the Cities. Buddy Holly & the Crickets performed there with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper just seven days before the plane crash that took all three musicians’ lives. Other famous acts to play the Prom in the ’50s and ’60s included Lawrence Welk, Louis Armstrong, and the Police.

Prom Ballroom house bandleader Jules Herman with Louis Armstrong in 1965 / Photo courtesy MNHS

The Prom Ballroom was demolished in 1987, and the site of the venue is now an auto body shop. The Prom legacy lives on, however, through Prom Catering, a company started by Prom Ballroom owner Harry Given that is now operated by his sons Tom and Bill, who took over when Given passed away in 1998. Prom Catering is now based in Oakdale.

Minnesota polka legend Whoopee John Wilfahrt at Prom Ballroom in 1961 / Photo courtesy MNHS

Dancers at the Prom Ballroom’s bar in 1955 / Photo courtesy MNHS

Prom Ballroom owner Harry Given with sons Bill and Tom in 1975 / Photo courtesy MNHS

The Prom Ballroom dance floor in 1947 / Photo courtesy MNHS

 

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