Goodbye to The Willowbrook Ballroom.
Sadly, on October 28, 2016, the infamous Willowbrook Ballroom of Archer Ave., Willow Springs, IL burned to the ground. Willow Springs is one of the many places I called home as a child, and The Willowbrook Ballroom was where my grandmother and my great aunts worked as servers for just over 40yrs. It was a beloved institution to Chicago and the Chicagoland area, and to my family for many years. It is also the famous sight of the legendary, world renowned ghost story, Resurrection Mary. Legend says she was walking home from a dance at the Ballroom in 1927, when a car struck her dead. Since then, many reports have seen a woman walking down Archer Ave from that site to Resurrection Cemetery. Ironically, my great grandfather (my grandmother's father) worked as a gravedigger at Resurrection Cemetery starting in the 1920s and continuing for many many years after. Most of my family is buried there as well.
Opened by John Verderbar in 1921 at 8900 Archer Ave, as an outdoor dance pavilion known as Oh Henry Park, it soon rose in popularity and became enclosed in 1923. In 1930 it was destroyed by a fire and rebuilt. It reopened on a grander scale in 1931 as The Oh Henry Ballroom. It became a huge attraction and hosted many popular orchestras of the time including: Ozzie Nelson, Harry James, Count Basie, Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, and Bob Crosby (Bing's brother).
They expanded in 1955, and renamed it The Willowbrook Ballroom in 1959. By the late 1960s, the ballroom saw more pop and rock n roll acts including: The Cryan Shames, Chubby Checker, The Association, The Buckinghams, Martha Reeves, Otis Day, and The Village People. Even though music tastes were always changing, the Ballroom proved it was able to accommodate many styles throughout the years, while still maintaining the old big band styles as well. It was often a sought out place to go for New Years Eve, and even hosted the famous "Winter Dance Party Tour" a Tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, for many years.
In 1997 the Verderbar family sold the Ballroom to the Jodwalis family. The Jodwalis family kept up with it's rich history and tradition over the years. Unfortunately, just a few days ago, it is currently believed, roofers working on the building caused a 4 alarm fire. Due to a lack of water pressure, firefighters were forced to wait for tanker trucks to arrive. The wait proved to be fatal to the building and its possessions. No one was harmed luckily, but history was lost.
Willow Springs has changed and gentrified over the years since I last lived there. I hope the Jodwalis family has the same spirit as the Verderbar family had when they met the same tragedy in 1930...I hope they rebuild and keep the show going! The world needs it.
A live action video posted on youtube by artist GunterSnaps
Many people believe that ballroom dancing is just for old people. Well, I completely understand where they are coming from, however, that does not mean that I share their beliefs. In my opinion, ballroom dancing is for all ages. I mean, I am only twenty four years old, yet I do a little bit of ballroom dancing myself. Ballroom dancing is a fun way to spend my Saturday nights, it really helps my own body loosen up a little bit.
10/15/2021 09:30:10 pm
I could never understand the strange entrance to the basement of Willowbrook Ballroom, it was a somewhat long tunnel that you entered from the parking lot. Perhaps it was built as an escape route when and if it was raided by police. My research shows at one time it was used for gambling, perhaps illegal gambling. Perhaps someone would comment who had knowledge of this possibility. I first entered Willowbrook in 1978 and I am sure the gambling occured well before then.
12/4/2019 05:18:22 pm
I was a bartender there from 78 to 1980. After leaving that position danced there off and on for 25 plus years. I sometimes felt it was like a wednesday bowling night because I believe salsa nights were on wednesdays. Some nights I really didn't want to go, others nights couldn't wait. When that place burnt down, a part of me died.I cold write a screen play and turn it into a movie about Willowbrook ballroom, the things I experienced there.
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