Detroit’s east side Mayan dance temple was built in 1929 for the big band era of the 20’s and 30’s. Its unique Art Deco-meets-ancient style was meant to help differentiate it from its competitors across the city. Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Cab Calloway graced its stage during its heyday, a time when Detroiters regularly traveled far and wide, both on foot and by car, to the Vanity to dance until the early hours of the morning. It never sold alcoholic beverages.
But, as crime rose and interest in ballroom dancing declined in Detroit’s new post-riot atmosphere, the Vanity’s lively evenings began to dwindle, and it was sold off in 1971 to cater to a different audience. Throughout the 70’s, acts like The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, and MC5 played on this stage, three bands that left me standing in awe just to be where they were. I’ll leave it at that.
Though it lasted longer than most of the other venues of its time, including its west-side sister the Grande, with a lot of passionate people working to save it, the Vanity never again found the popularity it enjoyed during the 1940’s-50’s and wasn’t able to survive the city’s decline. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, but not the state of Michigan’s, and was featured on a list of 10 endangered Detroit buildings in 2008. Though the ballroom is severely damaged, the disco ball light fixture was salvaged and sold to a collector.
This is one of the more beloved bits of Detroit Art Deco, slowly crumbling away over the years. With all of the investment currently happening in the city, I can only cross my fingers and hope that whoever acquires it acknowledges its history and importance to Detroit.