Edwin Cabaniss, the owner of the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff, revealed on Monday, in an exclusive interview with The morning news from Dallas, that he is working to finalize the purchase of the Longhorn Ballroom, a legendary concert hall which in recent years has fallen into disuse.
If Cabaniss were successful, it would save the Longhorn from the threat of demolition and place near downtown Dallas a renovated, state-of-the-art concert hall with a capacity of 2,000 seats. Not to mention the rich history of the Longhorn.
The ballroom opened in 1950, as a showcase for Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Over the years, it has hosted country superstars like Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, and Merle Haggard, and African-American music greats like Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and James Brown.
One evening in January 1978, the ballroom acquired international notoriety by welcoming the avatars of punk, the British group the Sex Pistols, who split up shortly after their appearance in Dallas.
Cabaniss does not yet own it. He has a contract to buy the building, and the sale is in progress. It had early backing from the mayor of Dallas and Preservation Dallas, who feared that, like so many buildings in the city, the Longhorn Ballroom was in the throes of demolition.
Cabaniss, 52, who saved Houston’s Kessler and The Heights Theater from a similar fate, said the loss of the Longhorn Ballroom was the last thing he wanted to happen.
“The Longhorn has always been a landmark in Dallas. And a Texas monument. The Longhorn is widely regarded as Texas’ most historic music venue, ”he said. “And when you look at the story of how it happened, and what happened there, it’s also a cutting edge place, celebrated for entering new territories.”
Cabaniss sees it as “a fantastic opportunity that matches the Kessler Presents brand and what we have been doing over the past decade. We also see it as a historical preservation project. It is a real and genuine opportunity.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson agreed, saying in a statement to The news, “Edwin has done a great job with the Kessler Theater, and I am delighted to see his plans to restore the historic Longhorn Ballroom – a hidden Dallas gem. The venue is a living monument to our city’s rich musical history, and it is clear that it still has enormous untapped potential.
David Preziosi, executive director of Preservation Dallas, responded by saying in a statement to The news that the ballroom is “one of the most iconic and unique concert halls in Texas.” Sadly, it’s not protected from demolition for new development, making it one of Dallas’ most endangered historic sites.
“However, he may have found his champion with Edwin and his team. They have a successful track record of restoring and operating several historic sites across Texas. It will be a complicated project to restore the Longhorn to its former glory, and with Cabaniss and the city’s full support, along with preservation and cultural communities, this icon will surely come back to life. “
If you are studying the history of music in Texas, Cabaniss said, “You know the relevance of the Longhorn Ballroom.”
And part of that relevance, he argues, has to do “with the untold story of how important this building is to the African American community.”
Jack Ruby and the Longhorn
Dallas millionaire OL Nelms opened the building more than 70 years ago as a showcase for his close friend, Bob Wills. Nelms then transferred operational duties to none other than Jack Ruby, who rose to fame in 1963 for assassinating Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, in the basement of the Dallas Police Station. .
It was Ruby, said Cabaniss, who in the early 1950s chose to turn Sunday and Monday evenings at the Longhorn into a showcase for leading black artists of the time, which he continued to do until ‘to leave the Longhorn to explore new opportunities. Ruby’s ambitions ultimately included the Carousel Club, a downtown gang joint, which he owned at the time of the assassination.
“Jack Ruby operated the Longhorn for a few years in the 1950s,” Cabaniss said. “It was a decade before the civil rights movement. So you had country and western nights on Friday and Saturday and soul and blues nights on Sunday and Monday.
“Fast forward to the mid-1960s, and the guy who broke both barriers was crossover artist Charley Pride. Turns out the guys with the most sales in Longhorn history were Al Green and Charley Pride.
“It’s also a great place to try new and progressive things.”
The Sex Pistols and Dallas
It became a focal point in the era of Willie Nelson-Waylon Jennings’ outlaw country, but in the late 1970s it opened its doors to artists as daring as Patti Smith, the Ramones and, yes, even the Sex Pistols.
This event quickly became part of folklore, with the late Sid Vicious staring strangely at the crowd, blood oozing from his face, and singer Johnny Rotten shouting the words “Anarchy in the UK”.
Cabaniss recently hosted Oscar-winning Longhorn director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), who came to Dallas in preparation for a new FX miniseries about the Sex Pistols titled Gun.
Even the late and legendary singer Tejano Selena played the Longhorn, as did a flamboyant Oak Cliff guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan, “which means,” Cabaniss said, “that there are many, many chapters in it. delivered”.
The news reported in June 2020 that the property was “in the process of going into bankruptcy after previous owners defaulted on loans to the property.”
“It’s a Chapter 7 liquidation sale,” said Dallas real estate broker Candace Rubin, who was hired by federal bankruptcy court to sell the property. The news. Rubin called it “a murderous property”.
Save it from demolition
Cabaniss says his opportunity to buy the property has only surfaced in recent months. He was intrigued, saying he feared the Longhorn “might be demolished and become just another mixed-use property for apartments.” But it could also become a hub for the creative community.
If the Longhorn were demolished, “there is no doubt,” he said, “that it would be gone forever.”
He declined to reveal how much he pays, but calls it a “substantial commitment,” noting the “millions” he spent to renovate the Kessler and the “millions” he plans to spend to renovate the Longhorn, which extends over a six-acre property. at 216 Corinth St., near Riverfront Blvd. in the Cedars of the West district.
The ballroom itself measures 25,000 square feet and can accommodate, he said, up to 2,000 people. The Kessler, which Cabaniss reopened as a concert hall in 2010, has a capacity of 600 seats. So he hopes to use the Longhorn to showcase talent as prestigious as Leon Bridges and country artist Jason Isbell.
“There is also a second building which will be mixed-use commercial,” said Cabaniss, who prefers to call it “a creative hub for entrepreneurs,” given its possibilities as office and retail space. . “It’s still 20,000 square feet. Another great opportunity will allow us to make music outdoors, in a unique location, surrounded by the embankment of the Trinity River. So, this is a unique opportunity to have three things going.
The ballroom last operated as a concert hall in 2019. The problem, however, is the condition of the property.
“We had people crouching over there, stealing all the copper. The HVAC system is no longer valid. It is a shell which is not in very good condition. But after salvaging and restoring other historic properties, I would say the Longhorn is in better condition than how we found the Kessler. Yes, it will be a restoration project, but we think that with the history it has, it is worth it.
Cabaniss said he wanted “other stakeholders to be involved in this,” urging the city “to join us” because, he said, “there are basic infrastructure issues. We don’t have borders, we don’t have drainage, we don’t have any kind of emergency lighting. These are basic equipment.
For the moment, Cabaniss has “a purchase option. This is another way of saying that we have the property under contract. And we are working with the city to talk about our very specific needs, to make it a viable project. Specifically, he said he needed help in four areas: “Drainage, curbs, sidewalk, lighting. “
So, if all goes well, when does he hope to reopen? “At the latest a year from today. The Longhorn was here long before me. And, if we do it right, it will be long after I’m gone.”