The Jefferson-Chalmers Historic Business District is definitely one of Detroits east-side luxuries. Spread over 29 acres of land, this District is the only continuously intact commercial district remaining along East Jefferson Avenue and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. During the 1920s, Jefferson was the center of the east-side neighborhood's commercial, social, and cultural life. The district contains 57 buildings bordering East Jefferson Avenue, running for 8 blocks between Eastlawn Street and Alter Road, at the border between Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park. Most of the structures are two-story, multi-storefront commercial buildings, dating from the 1910s and 1920s but the district also includes many apartment buildings and churches, and houses two ballrooms: the Vanity and the Monticello- being unique in that two big-band era ballrooms, the cultural fulcrums of the early 20th century social scene, still exist within the district today.
The Jefferson-Chalmers Historic Business District
Vanity Ballroom (14201 East Jefferson): The Vanity Ballroom was designed in 1929 by Charles N. Agree as a flamboyant venue in which to socialize, dance and listen to music. The ballroom was a major venue for bands of the 1930s and 1940s, such as: Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Red Nichols, Russ Morgan, Art Mooney, Woody Herman, and Pee Wee Hunt. The Vanity deemed itself as "Detroit's most beautiful dance rendezvous". The ballroom was closed in 1958, but reopened in 1964 for one night a week. It was eventually completely shuttered, remaining closed and dilapidated. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The ballroom was built to accommodate 1,000 couples and has a 5,600 sq. ft maple dance floor, a stage or bandstand, and a promenade on three sides. The dance floor was built on springs which intentionally compressed under the weight of the people who danced on it, giving the dancers a bounce as they moved. The backdrop of the stage features a scene representing Chichén Itzá (a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people of the Terminal Classic period). The ballroom is a two-story building originally containing 5 retail shops on the first floor with the ballroom on the second. It was built with focused Aztec/Mayan Revival themes.
1700s: E. Jefferson Avenue was originally an Indian trail running along the Detroit River until french settlers established ribbon farms, which the trail then transitioned into what is now River Road, connecting the farms with Fort Detroit.
1800s: The JeffersonChalmers area gradually became more agricultural once the swamp drained. In the mid 1800s, a plank road was built along Jefferson; from Detroit to Grosse Pointe with a toll bridge over Fox Creek. Roadhouses were built along the plank road including a saloon. A streetcar line was built through the district in 1891, connecting Detroit and Grosse Pointe. The land in the district also began to be subdivided in that same year and by 1893, a number of streets crossing Jefferson had been platted.1900s: Only a handful of houses had been constructed during the early 1900s. In 1907, the area was annexed to Detroit. The rise of industry ushered in a rapid influx of residents, and the Jefferson-Chalmers Historic Business District began to grow rapidly as a result.
By 1913, a number of commercial buildings had been constructed, including the W.J. Hiller Building (14350-56 E. Jefferson), which is one of the oldest buildings still existing in the district. Businesses including tailors, hardware stores, drug stores, physician offices, grocery stores, and dry goods began to flourish. In 1915, the development in the area really began to explode; a string of commercial buildings, Automobile-related businesses and churches were constructed along Jefferson. New development continued in the surrounding neighborhoods well into the 1920s, which was spurred by the Chrysler Motor Company's construction of a huge nearby factory which also lead to a number of apartments being built to house the influx of workers.