Blog: Rebecca Binno Savage

It is the work of a historic preservationist to keep buildings out of the graveyard. Well-known preservationist Rebecca Binno Savage, a project manager with AKT Peerless Environmental and Energy Services, has written the book on Detroit area Art Deco architecture. This week, she digs into a few vintage buildings and builds a case for their resurrection.

Post 4: The Vanity Ballroom East Jefferson Avenue, the Jefferson East Business Association (JEBA) concentrates its work in an area formerly known as the Jefferson/Chalmers Business District. It runs roughly from Eastwood Street to the Alter Street border with Grosse Pointe Park. This area has a relatively intact commercial strip in Detroit. 

This historic district is an affirmation that Detroit's character is rooted in the small grain of everyday life. There are just plain average buildings in this district: hardware stores, bars, car dealerships, dentist offices, and grocery stores. And those humble structures are just as deserving of historic preservation as movie palaces, big hotels, and auto baron mansions.

The East Jefferson district is both a National Register historic district and a City of Detroit historic district. This means the buildings in the district qualify for a 25 percent State Historic Tax Credit, and can apply for the "enhanced" state tax credit as well.

Also in the East Jefferson district is the Vanity Ballroom, designed in 1929 by architect Charles N. Agree. In the jazz era, ballroom dancing filled the 5,000-square-foot dance floor with young people, and crowds came to hear the popular big bands of the day. The Vanity Ballroom is an Art Deco design treasure, a combination of Mayan/Mexican themed design and Art Deco style.  Sadly, the building has been allowed to deteriorate and has been neglected for many years. The Vanity Ballroom is a preservation opportunity – what a terrific entertainment venue this could be once again.

The East Jefferson district sits on a commuter line of opportunity. While Detroiters and Grosse Pointers alike drive down East Jefferson to get downtown and back, the district has a great deal of potential. JEBA is leading the effort to change the direction of the Vanity Ballroom's condition. It is also leading the effort in the revitalization of East Jefferson Avenue. You can contact JEBA to find out more about it here.

* Vanity Ballroom photo by Rebecca Binno Savage