News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 25, 2013

Historical Treasure: Trianon ‘tops’ in fun in Terre Haute

Michael Moroz
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The Trianon Dance Hall’s grand opening in 1923 was a Community Ball Fundraiser to complete Union Hospital. Built in the current location of The Cricket Box furniture store — the old Columbia Records warehouse at 29th Street and Wabash Avenue — its octagonal structure was trussed with 100-foot spans that allowed for an uninterrupted 80,000 square feet of dance space. A beacon for good, clean, exhilarating fun, the Trianon is this week’s Historical Treasure.

Its auspicious name is owed to a local Wiley High School freshman named Jane Stuckwish, who found favorability in a name that also graced the marquees of dance halls in larger cities. Its original derivation likely comes from the Trianon de Versailles built in late 17th-century France.  

The Trianon saw ever-changing dance crazes that evolved during its tenure, along with “Dance Derbies” that one newspaper advertisement announced as “Better than an auto race, faster than a horse race, more thrilling than an airplane race!” Spectators and participants alike were given the chance to pick the winners of these derbies.

Yet dance marathons seemed to grab the attention as the most enduring of endurance tests. These could be staged or arise spontaneously as dueling orchestras on opposing sides of the ballroom would tag-team the music-playing duties, and eventual contestants would get wrapped up in the frenzy, leading to marathons that could last for days. Lax rules even allowed for somnambulant dancers to be propped up by their partners as long as one was moving. But it seems unkemptness was not tolerated, as reports of spectators with razors came to the aid of stubbly dancing men; though they more likely aided their fairer partner’s delicate, sleepy skin.

Some notable acts that tickled the ivories and blasted horns at the Trianon during its heyday were the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimmy Dorsey, the inimitable Cab Calloway and debonair drummer Gene Krupa. Local acts like Lowell Tennis and his Rhythm Kings and Bud Cromwell’s band, which is featured prominently in the latest museum exhibition, were both staples at the popular Terre Haute venue. Cromwell also acted as floor manager and host during the mid-1930s.

Entry prices to the Trianon fluctuated from $1 at its grand opening to 1 cent during the depression and depended on the attraction currently playing (Gene Krupa fetched $1.25 a person). Big-name bands were said to rake in $1,200 a night, while local entrepreneurs sold popcorn and drinks, ran coat-checks and made commendable wages, especially on good nights.

Somewhere toward the late 1940s, the Trianon’s popularity waned and other ventures including bingo games and skating rinks were tried. Eventually, it was torn down to erect a site for a Topps department store in the 1960s. But in its approximate two-decade existence, the Trianon could be said to be “tops” in fun in Terre Haute.