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DESSAU DANCE HALL
Dolores Fariss with the Bluebonnet Boys at Dessau Dance Hall in 1949. Tammy Fariss Collection, Texas Music Museum.
DESSAU DANCE HALL. Dessau Dance Hall is located in northeastern Travis County at the intersection of Howard Lane and Old Dessau Road. Built by German immigrants from Dessau, Germany, in 1876, Dessau Dance Hall has undergone a number of changes over the years. The original structure burned down in the early 1940s, and a second was soon built. The new hall was built around a large pecan tree that stood in the middle of the dance floor and extended out through the roof of the structure. This second hall burned down in 1967, but a third version, built in 1969 by Arkie Sawyer and Leona Kincl, still stood in 2011.
The hall became a popular destination for non-German music in the 1930s when big bands, such as Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, and Tommy Dorsey played there. Over the years, other well-known musicians, including Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Loretta Lynn, and Patsy Cline, have graced Dessau Hall’s stage. Elvis Presley played in the hall on two separate occasions. Between 1969 and 1991, when Leona Kincl operated the hall, it was known as a rather straight-laced establishment with red velvet wallpaper and chandeliers. No profanity was allowed, and men were not permitted to wear hats inside. The producers of the Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton movie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), wanted to use Dessau Hall for their film, but Kincl declined on the grounds that production would disrupt her normal operation.
The hall saw little use during the 1980s and 1990s until it was purchased by John and Mike Persinger in 1997. The brothers removed the velvet wallpaper and chandeliers, put up neon lights, and added a porch to the exterior of the building. The new management kept some of the country music format that the hall was known for but also introduced more diversified acts, such as Quiet Riot and Molly Hatchet, in order to cater to the increasingly urban Austin-area market. In 2009 the hall was purchased by Robin Bagley who refurbished the building to reflect its storied past—walls were painted red, old light fixtures were reinstalled and rewired, and mementos were framed and hung on the walls. A grand reopening occurred on June 13, 2009, but in 2010 Dessau Dance Hall closed again. Later that year it opened as a night club under the name El Gran Mexicano.
During its more than 100 years in existence, Dessau Dance Hall, with a capacity of 1,500, has gone from being a rural community dance hall and center of the German village of Dessau to being surrounded by the city of Austin and is now only two miles from Interstate 35 in the heart of the North Austin metropolitan area.
Austin Chronicle, April 24, 1998. Dessau Music Hall (http://www.auschron.com/gyrobase/Guides/Location?oid=44691), accessed October 23, 2006. Geronimo Treviño, Dance Halls and Last Calls: The History of Texas Country Music (Plano: Republic of Texas Publishing, 2002).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Andrew Gray, "DESSAU DANCE HALL," accessed September 22, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xdd03.
Uploaded on June 26, 2014. Modified on December 2, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.