Thursday, October 11, 2012

Parker's Ballroom

Parker's Ballroom is arguably the most important music venue in the United States.  For nearly eighty years this dancehall and nightclub in Shoreline, Washington right outside Seattle has welcomed all the greats of the music world.  The list is so long if I started here this blog post would be seven miles long.

Unfortunately, Parker's now has a date with the wrecking ball.  It is scheduled for demolition to make way for a used car parking lot.  So before Parker's Ballroom is no more I decided to check out the old club and see if any of the talk by historical preservation advocates about saving the place is possible.

What makes Parker's Ballroom so unique and special is its long and varied history.  The club was built in 1930 by Dick Parker, the owner of a meatpacking company.  He specifically chose the isolated location on what was known then as the "New Seattle-Everett Highway" (now Aurora Avenue) because it was outside the Seattle city limits.  In other words, unregulated territory during Prohibition.

Even today, the building is huge to behold, more than 20,000 square feet in size.

When the club called Parker's Pavilion opened in 1930, it hosted all the greats of the Big Band and swing era.  Guy Lombardo and His Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey, Jan Garber, and many others.  But what would define the long history of Parker's Ballroom, as music tastes evolved so did Parker's.

In the 1950s when rock and roll was born, Parker's hosted Bobby Darrin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rick Nelson and all the contemporary greats of the day.

In the early 1960s, it was Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Kingsmen, the Dave Clark Five, The Ventures and The Beach Boys with their California surf sound.

When the late 1960s brought psychedelic rock to Seattle, so did Parker's.  So many "hippie" acts began playing the club the name was changed (sort of) to the Aquarius Tavern.  A who's who of rock and roll royalty began gracing the stage.  Badfinger, Albert Collins, Koko Taylor, Eric Burden and the Animals, and the Righteous Brothers.  Buddy Miles was booked to appear one night and for some reason never explained he just didn't show up.

In the 1970s, Parker's was the place to see the best acts in the business, literally from A to Z.  Aerosmith, America, AC/DC to Warren Zevon.  Stevie Wonder put in a surprise show one night.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart got their first big break at Parker's.  You can hear one of their early shows at Parker's on Heart's Magazine CD.

Al Stewart, George Strait, Muddy Waters, the Guess Who, and The Byrds played the then nearly fifty year old venue.

In the 1980s it was Blue Oyster Cult, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, B.B. King, Joan Jett, Tina Turner, Marshall Tucker, Santana, George Thorogood, and many many others.

By the 1990s, the music scene had drifted south into Seattle and Parker's became a casino, a gambling joint which occasionally hosted musical acts.  But the place still rocked.  Here is one of my all-time favorite guitar players, Robin Trower, performing at Parker's in 1990.

Here is Nokie Edwards, the lead guitar player of The Ventures, performing at Parker's in 1992.

But Parker's Casino and Ballroom unexpectedly closed about two years ago.  Now, as these pictures below show, the site is an abandoned ruin.

Rumors are circulating in historical preservation circles here in Seattle Parker's Ballroom has days, if not weeks, to live.

I spent about an hour at the site last week, peeking in the windows, checking the foundation and roof lines, doing what I could to inspect the place.  The bones of this old dancehall are solid.  I saw no structural issues precluding an brand new rehab of the place.  All Parker's Ballroom needs is a gut job, some new lights and equipment and another fifty years of music could be enjoyed there.

But, I know in my heart, this is unlikely to happen.  Seattle does not have a good track record of preserving its history.  Parker's Ballroom is likely to become a memory before spring.

I have visited many doomed historical sites in the past and this one made me sadder than most.  To destroy such a remarkable piece of music history for, of all things, a used car parking lot makes no sense, especially when the area around Parker's is FILLED with spaces to store parked cars.

I'm hoping against hope someone with a vision just like meatpacker Dick Parker steps up and saves this gem from destruction.  Once its gone, a place like Parker's is never coming back again.

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