'rado reborn

Houston's beloved Black ballroom dating back to 1939 gets major makeover

Houston's beloved Black ballroom dating back to 1939 gets major update

El Dorado Ballroom renovation update
The new-look 'Rado. Rendering courtesy of Project Row Houses

A beloved Houston venue is getting a much-deserved and major makeover, thanks to a benevolent local nonprofit. The Eldorado Ballroom, the cherished music spot that dates back to 1939 and hosted myriad and legendary Black musicians, is in the midst of a renovation led by Project Row Houses, the organization announced.

This revitalization of the building known affectionately as “The Rado” is fueled by a  $9.675 million investment and will include restoring the original 10,000-square foot building and its historic fixtures and finishes, according to a press release. The project is expected to be complete in early 2023.

Original wood paneling, stucco, and other original finishes and fixtures that have survived two previous fires that ravaged the space will be rehabilitated and preserved.

A new, 5,000-square-foot annex will be added and will include a hosting space for community gatherings and meetings, a green room, a space for brides and grooms to prepare for weddings, an elevator, and upgraded bathroom facilities, a release adds.

Adding some modernist flair, the original façade’s large “ribbon windows,” that ran the length of the space facing Emancipation Park, will return to the upstairs exterior.

Meanwhile, the  first floor of the building will be renovated to feature a café and community market, a nonprofit art gallery, and flexible meeting and community space, a release notes.

Support for the musical marvel was led by co-chairs Anita Smith, Hasty Johnson, and Chris Williams and the Project Row Houses board of directors, the Kinder Foundation, Houston Endowment, Brown Foundation, and Project Row House supporters.

The Eldorado was founded by Houstonians Anna Johnson Dupree and Clarence A. Dupree in 1939, a time when segregation laws prevented Black Americans from socializing in the same venues as white people.

Past, notable headliners include Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Houston legend Lightnin’ Hopkins. After shuttering in the early ’70s, “The Rado” was gifted to  Project Row Houses in 1999 by Hubert Finkelstein and received a Texas Historical Marker in 2011.

Global real estate and development firm Hines is leading the renovation, Stern and Bucek Architects is leading design, Forney Construction heads up the nuts and bolts of the operation.

“Project Row Houses is grateful for all who have joined us to make this project possible,” said Eureka Gilkey, executive director of Project Row Houses, in a statement. “The Eldorado Ballroom, from the moment its doors open, has always been the soul of the Third Ward. As creative placekeepers with a deep commitment to our neighborhood, Project Row Houses is as proud to be preserving the history of this storied venue as we are to be preparing it to serve as a center for Black art, culture, and community long into the future. We can't wait to celebrate with our friends, partners, and neighbors when the lights go down, the band hits the stage, and the Rado is reborn.’”