The Rise and Fall of Utah’s Mid-Century Music Empires: How the Empire Room and the Terrace Ballroom shaped Utah Culture for Decades

By Alaynia Winter

emprieIf you were to open up an issue of the Utah Chronicle during the early to mid-1940s, you might find an advertisement in large, looping scroll advertising the next big jazz band in town. There were two “hoppin’ places” in this time, The Empire Room and The Rainbow Randevu, which later become known as the Terrace Ballroom. So, what happened to these iconic spots that, for decades, played such a large part in the music and nightlife culture of Utah?

The Empire Room was hosted in the impressive and iconic Hotel Utah — this was all the rage for students and non-students alike. Hotel Utah, in this era, served as a symbol of cooperation between the often-sparring LDS church and the non-Mormon entrepreneurs of Salt Lake City. (Boren)

Although Utahns were still subject to wartime restrictions and rationing, the war didn’t keep people from going out for a night on the town in the 1940s, unlike during previous decades. Hotel Utah, sometimes called “the Grande Dame of hotels,” opened in 1910. (Robinson) It even carried a slightly controversial reputation for its lavish bar and opulent parties. (Malouf) Visiting U.S. presidents stayed in Hotel Utah, and a number of LDS prophets were known to have lived in it.

johnny richardsJoining the Empire Room at Hotel Utah, sandwiched between 400 and 500 South on historic Main Street, was the Coconut Grove. The Grove was advertised as the largest ballroom dance in the country. At the start of World War II, the name would be changed, yet again, to the Rainbow Ballroom and eventually became Jerry Jones’s Rainbow Randevu — or The Rainbow colloquially. It wasn’t until the 1960s that it was ultimately given the name Terrace Ballroom.

At the same time, significant cultural changes were taking place at Hotel Utah. The Empire Room retained its popularity throughout the 1940s with big-name bands regularly being advertised in the University of Utah’s newspaper, the Utah Chronicle, and drawing large crowds to dance late into the night within the ballroom’s elegant walls.

Empire_Room_Hotel_Utah_dining_tables_10_After 76 years of hosting visiting celebrities, politicians, parties and enjoying “minor celebrity status” in Utah, the LDS Church announced the closure of Hotel Utah in 1987 and it was converted into what we now know today as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building — an exceedingly elegant office building and visitors center. (Davidson) Coincidentally, this same year the Terrace Ballroom fell accident to a building fire during its demolition. The Provo, Utah, Daily Herald at the time called the demolition “an inelegant and unfair epitaph” for the beloved political and musical site that was enjoyed for over five decades. (“History Comes Tumbling Down”)

Rainbow_Randevu_special collectionsAn article in the Salt Lake Tribune describes the venue in its “heyday” saying, “Jerry Jones and his orchestra played big band sounds and hosted regular dance nights. For many in the 1940s and ’50s, it was the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night.” (Smart) This venue continued to shape Utah’s counterculture. In another interview with the Tribune, Steve Williams, jazz host for decades at KUER, said of the scene in the 1960s, “I had no idea how many hippies were in Utah. It blew my mind.” (Smart)

The Rainbow remained open until it finally closed its doors on December 31, 1981, going out with a bang after celebrating a final New Year’s Eve party. The building eventually fell victim to a fire during its demolition in 1987. All that’s left of its legacy are the shiny memories. Next time you take a stroll around Salt Lake City, you can visit the decaying parking lot remnants of the once-grand Terrace ballroom and just a few blocks to the north, the pristinely preserved Empire Room outside of Temple Square. You might close your eyes and try to hear the distant echo of jazz playing by a swinging 1940s band.

Alaynia Winter is a graduate of University of Utah with a B.A. in communication. She enjoys writing, photography, and videography. She works as a production assistant in digital media at KUED Channel 7 and in her free hours spends time with her dog.

Sources

Boren, Ray. “Hotel Utah, 100 Years of History,” Deseret News,  June 7, 2011.

Davidson, Lee. “Whatever Happened to the Hotel Utah?” Salt Lake Tribune, January 11, 2016.

“History Comes Tumbling Down,” The Daily Herald, August 6, 1987, 5.

Malouf, Mary Brown. “Buzzed in the Beehive: A Brief History of Drinking in Utah,” Salt Lake Magazine, January 1, 2018.

“Rainbow Randevu P.1.” Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, March 18, 2009, https://bit.ly/2L0fEbV.

Advertisement, Rainbow Randevu, Salt Lake Telegram, September 10, 1937, 12.

Robinson, Ryland. “Hotel Utah: Grande Dame of Salt Lake,” Temple Square Blog, July 7, 2015.

National Park Service, “Sacrificing for the Common Good: Rationing in WWII,” June 3, 2016.

Smart, Christopher. “Whatever Happened to … The Terrace Ballroom?” Salt Lake Tribune, March 12, 2015.

Advertisement, The Empire Room, Utah Chronicle, January 7, 1943.

 

 

Salt Lake City Dance and Music: Rainbow Randevu

By Kendra A. Madsen

The Rainbow Randevu was one of the larger music revenues in northern Utah. The dance club previously located at 460 S. Main Street was a popular spot for larger band performers to visit from the 1930s to the 1960s. (Stewart, p. 221) Like many of the popular spots in historic Salt Lake City, the Rainbow Randevu played a large role in the music culture in northern Utah. The ballroom also gave generations of young people a fun place to gather, especially during times of hardship, such as World War II.

Rainbow Randevu ad_1937-09-10_Salt-Lake-Telegram

The September 10, 1937, ad that appeared in The Salt Lake Telegram.

The Rainbow Randevu, previously known as the Rainbow Ballroom, opened for dining and dancing the week of September 10, 1937, according to an advertisement in The Salt Lake Telegram published the same date. The Rainbow Randevu was a popular spot for University of Utah students who were looking to escape their school responsibilities for the weekend. Wilkins and Williams wrote in 1944 that students who were either leaving to fight in the war or had returned from the war would meet at the dance club to enjoy each other’s company.

The Salt Lake Telegram wrote in July 1943 that Louis Armstrong performed at the Rainbow Randevu with other swing performers. Jerry Jones, the manager of the Rainbow Randevu, would often perform with his own orchestra at the Rainbow, and over the years many big-name artists would come to perform at the club. (Raff)

Fire-razes-rainbow-randevu_1948-05-22_Salt-Lake-TelegramIn May 1948, The Salt Lake Telegram wrote that a large fire consumed the Rainbow Randevu, completely destroying the building other than the four outer walls. Officials suspected the cause of the fire to be a cigarette. Days before the fire, the Rainbow Randevu had held an inspection and received approval of its wiring, heating and other equipment in the building. Raff wrote that the fire began with three explosions at 3:45 a.m. Saturday, only two hours after the Friday night performance by the Ink Spots band that was attended by 1,132 dancers had ended. While the firefighters were battling to save the Rainbow, they realized there was no hope for the venue and worked to save the surrounding businesses on the block. Witnesses claimed the flames reached 200 feet in the air at the height of the fire, which left the building as “a mass of twisted steel and charred wood.” (Raff)

In October 1948, manager Jerry Jones chose a new site for the Rainbow Randevu. The Salt Lake Telegram reported that the Coconut Grove would be remodeled to become the new Rainbow site. The renovations included adding 250 booths, a new bandstand, two fountains, a TV room, and a new entrance. Jones said the building would have drapery installed in order to close off certain sections of the ballroom making renovations during the day possible while the venue was open in the evenings.

The music culture in Salt Lake City was fostered by the music venues such as the Rainbow Randevu. (Stewart, p. 221) This was a popular hub for University students and Salt Lakers alike to dance and listen to artists. The venue allowed artists from all over to meet at this cross-road town of the West and try out their music on the attendees of the club. Such cultural spots were the go-to place for many young people at the time and show the importance of having venues where the arts can be celebrated.

Kendra A. Madsen is a communication major at the University of Utah and will be graduating in May 2019.

Sources

 Advertisement, Rainbow Randevu, Salt Lake Telegram, September 10, 1937, 12.

“Rainbow Randevu Adds New Musician,” Salt Lake Telegram, March 26, 1938, 7.

“Louis Armstrong to Appear at Randevu,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 14, 1943, 15.

Pat Wilkins and Norma Williams, “Full Weekend Keeps Utes Busy . . . Playing,” Utah Chronicle, October 26, 1944, 3.

Colin Raff, “Fire Razes Rainbow Randevu,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 22, 1948, 1.

“New Site Set for ‘Randevu,’” Salt Lake Telegram, October 5, 1948, 24.

Stewart, Polly. “Urban Pioneers: The Folk-Music Revival in Utah, 1959-1966,” Utah Historical Quarterly 74, no. 3 (2006): 220-230.

They Paved the Rainbow

By Carley Longhurst

In Joni Mitchell’s hit song “Big Yellow Taxi,” she sings the iconic lyrics, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” These two lines became the story of a building with one of the richest histories in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Rainbow Randevu OutsideBuilt in 1922, the Covey-Ballard Motor Company stood between 400 and 500 South on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City until 1931, when it was transformed into the Coconut Grove. According to Lagoon history, the ballroom was advertised as the largest in the United States. Sometime during the 1940s, the Coconut Grove was changed to the Rainbow Ballroom. Jerry Jones assumed ownership in 1946 and renamed it Rainbow Randevu. Its popularity continued as the community continued to fill the hall. In 1958 Lagoon bought and named it Danceland. A few years later, the company settled on its final name, The Terrace. Lagoon History shares that a final New Year’s Eve party was thrown in 1981 before The Terrace permanently closed. In August 1987 a fire demolished the building and “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” (Braden)

Every city has certain places that give them their own identity. Between 1931 and 1981, Salt Lake City had a hotspot that almost every young adult would flock to. Many knew this venue as the Coconut Grove, others as the Rainbow Ballroom, Rainbow Randevu, Danceland, The Terrace, or even The Terrace Ballroom. In the late 1950s Budge and Jeannene Hyde referred to it as the Rainbow, saying in an interview that they congregated there every Saturday night with groups of friends. With World War II recently concluded and political unrest sweeping the world, it was a refuge from reality.

The venue had a life where the musical notes of Nat (King) Cole and Led Zeppelin, among so many other incredible musicians, seeped into its walls and no one wanted to miss the chance to be there. (“Danceland Sets Cole”) The Rainbow felt the vibrations of twirling and dancing to Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy not long after the Salt Lake Telegram announced in February 1941 that they were coming all the way from New York. Advertisements were scattered through the Utah Chronicle to inform students what big names were coming, just like the one in March 1941 telling how Carl Ravazza was to play at the Randevu.

Rainbow Randevu FireIn May 1948, The Salt Lake Telegram reported the fire that turned Rainbow Randevu “to a mass of twisted steel and charred wood” in the middle of the night. (Raff) Firemen searched, but only found a cigarette as the reason only four walls of the Rainbow were left standing. Covered by insurance, a seemingly positive Jerry Jones wanted to rebuild “as soon as possible.” The Rainbow would reopen to renewed popularity.

After staving off The Terrace lease from Little America Corp, The Deseret News reported in December 1981 of the final three events before the hall closed indefinitely. A concert by The David LaFlemme Band took place, along with the regular Tuesday night dance and a last New Year’s Eve party. Lots of work was needed to meet city fire and public safety codes, and a Little America spokesman announced the hall would remain unused until a use was decided (An Era Ends).

Terrace Ballroom InsideAlready partially torn down, The Terrace couldn’t disappear without a bang. In August 1987, The Deseret News wrote how it took 30 minutes for a fire to demolish a building that was so beloved by a community forever.

Joni Mitchell never performed at The Terrace, but the hall has an undeniable connection to her song “Big Yellow Taxi.” The building with such a rich history that saw so much and could give a look into the lives of several generations is now a parking lot. The Rainbow Randevu left an unforgettable stamp on those who were able to experience its magic and it’s seen within articles written in newspapers.

Carley Longhurst is a senior at The University of Utah, majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism. She will be graduating in the spring of 2019.

Sources

“Randevu Bills Kirk Group,” Salt Lake Telegram, February 28, 1941, 20.

Advertisement for Jerry Jones Rainbow, Utah Chronicle, March 6, 1941, 5.

Collin Raff, “Fire Razes Rainbow Randevu,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 22, 1948, 1.

“Danceland Sets Cole,” Deseret News, February 12, 1959, 13.

An Era Ends as S.L.’s Premier Dance Hall Closes,” Deseret News, December 26, 1981, 6A.

Pierce, Scott D. and Twila Van Leer, “Flames Become Last Dancers at the Terrace,” Deseret News, August 6, 1987, 35.

Interview with Budge and Jeannene Hyde, December 1, 2018, author’s collection.

Smart, Christopher. “Whatever Happened to … The Terrace Ballroom?” The Salt Lake Tribune, March 12, 2015.

Braden [no last name], “The Terrace,” Lagoon History Project.

Williams, Carter. “Looking Back at Utah Music and Dance Venues That No Longer Exist,” KSL.com, September 15, 2016.

McCormick, John S. The Gathering Place: An Illustrated History of Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2000.

 

 

A Brief History of The Rainbow Randevu and Its Cultural Impact in Salt Lake City

By Cristian Garcia

Salt Lake City has always been the hub for live entertainment and nightlife for the state of Utah and surrounding states. With the state’s flagship university, young population, and abundance of downtown venues, it’s no wonder that entertainment acts gravitate to Salt Lake City. According to The Salt Lake Tribune‘s 2015 article “Whatever happened to … The Terrace Ballroom?,” the venue has been known by many names: Coconut Grove, Rainbow Ballroom, Rainbow Randevu, Danceland, and finally the Terrace Ballroom. The downtown venue located on 500 South and Main Street represented an entertainment icon for generations. The building, a quarter of a million dollar project originally built by the Covey-Ballard Motor Company in 1922, was later transformed in 1931 into the “largest ballroom in the country” spanning across half a city block. Known by its original name Coconut Grove, the venue was the prominent dance and entertainment hall during the years of the Great Depression.

rainbow randevu

Ads such as this one appeared frequently in the Utah Chronicle.

The concert venue was known for hosting a large number of top-tier performers. In 1941, Jimmie Lunceford, the famed saxophone player and bandleader, blessed Salt Lake City with his performance at the great hall. The venue was known as Rainbow Randevu at the time of his performance. According to a Salt Lake Tribune article from 1941, “Jimmie Lunceford and his orchestra will make an appearance for three nights only at Jerry Jones’ Rainbow Randevu Thursday Friday and Saturday. Collectively and individually this organization is a versatile and dynamic musical group.”

The hall has seen significant changes throughout its time in Salt Lake City, from a multitude of name changes, to renovations, and even damaging fires. Billboard reported on November 20, 1948, “Jerry Jones, owner of Rainbow Randevu, Salt Lake City dancery, which was destroyed by a $175,000 fire May 22, this week took a 10-year lease, involving more than $250,000, on Coconut Grove Ballroom in the same city. Jones intends to spend $100,000 in remodeling the room.”

The venue hosted a number of famed acts throughout its time, but it was no stranger to local artists as well. The News-Examiner, the prominent news source of Montpelier, Idaho, reported on October 24, 1957, that “Wayne Hoff, a former Montpelier resident, is appearing with the famed Jones Boys’ quartet at the Rainbow Randevu in Salt Lake City Friday and Saturday. Hoff produced, wrote and directed both radio and television shows before going to Los Angeles in 1952 to sing with bands there prior to joining the Jones Boys, recognized as one of the nation’s top vocal groups. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Hoff.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 6.29.06 PMThe venue, known as The Terrace at this time, helped lead Salt Lake City into the modern mindset of equality. Before that time, many businesses and hotels still supported segregation. (Salt Lake City Television) Pushing boundaries by allowing admittance by all helped hoist the hall into fond memories from a diverse culture. According to historian Ronald G. Coleman, “By the late 1940s, Robert Freed had succeeded in fully opening Lagoon to Blacks; and when his company acquired the Rainbow Gardens (Terrace), the same policy was adopted.”

The venue failed to remain in its golden era forever. After its closing in the 1980s, the abandoned building sat unoccupied for some time before the decision to demolish it came from the city. According to a 1987 Deseret News article, “Even in the death throes, Salt Lake’s Terrace Ballroom put on a good show on­­ Wednesday afternoon. The memory-rich building on Main Street between Fourth and Fifth South was already half demolished. And at 5:30 p.m., fire added another element to its demise. The fire sent clouds of smoke through the downtown area and caused firefighters considerable concern as it danced inside the rubble. Although fire officials are happy to have one less fire hazard to worry about, the passing of the Terrace is not without a bit of melancholy.”

It is important to see the history of one’s community and the impact it may have had on the culture in that community. Although The Terrace isn’t around today, it was a historical icon and showcased the abundance of nightlife in Salt Lake City. The venue remains in Salt Lake City as a parking lot, but its rich history is retained through headlines in the newspapers and memories of attendees.

Cristian Garcia graduated from the University of Utah with a BS in Communication in Fall 2018.

Sources

“Local Items,” News-Examiner, October 24, 1957, 12.

“Salt Lake Dancery to Jones on Lease,” Billboard, November 20, 1948, 41.

Advertisement for Rainbow Randevu, Utah Chronicle, October 29, 1942, 5.

Advertisement for Rainbow Randevu, Utah Chronicle, November 5, 1942, 3.

“Lunceford Band Will Play at Local Club,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1941, 8.

Pierce, Scott D. and Twila Van Leer. “Flames Become Last Dancers at the Terrace,” Deseret News, August 6, 1987, B1.

“Covey-Ballard Motor Company Erecting $250,000 Building on Fifth South,” Deseret News, June 24, 1922, 3.

Ronald G. Coleman, “Blacks in Utah History,” Utah History to Go.

Braden [no last name,] “The Terrace,” Lagoon History Project.

Christopher, Smart. “Whatever Happened to … The Terrace Ballroom?” Salt Lake Tribune, March 12, 2015.

Salt Lake City Television, “Salt Lake City History Minute – Segregation,” YouTube, February 16, 2016.