For more than 40 years the Palais Royale was the place to dance the night away and listen to the legendary sounds of big bands. In it’s prime, the ballroom hosted names such as Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo and Glen Miller.
1922: The Palais Royale is built and connected to the Palace Theatre next door. It is owned by a firm known as the Palace Theatre Corp. The architect was J.S. Aroner of Chicago. From its first days, big bands played in the ballroom.
1930: An attempt is made to sell the Palace Theatre block to Orpheum Theater Corp. for $950,000, but it does not go through. The rumor of the day is that the Palais Royale might be razed to build a hotel. The ballroom’s returning net income is $25,000 per year. Over the next 15 to 20 years, the biggest names in big band will play the Palais including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Cab Calloway, Kay Kyser, Ozzie Nelson, Duke Ellington, Johnny Long, Sammy Kaye, Freddy Martin, Woody Herman and Harry James.
1935: Three bombs explode early on January 10th in the Palace Cafe, just below the Palais on the first floor on the corner of Michigan Street and Colfax Avenue. The explosions demolish the cafe and two other shops in the building: The Krauss Jewelry Store and Dixie Frock Shop. Damage to the ballroom is minimal. Total damage to the building is estimated at $150,000. An indictment is filed against the owner of the cafe, James G. Stasinos, for conspiracy to defraud the insurance company. Jury acquits Stasinos after a three-week trial.
1943: The Palais Royale serves as a World War II servicemen’s center. Dances are offered every Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. A jukebox provides music. A separate area is used as a combination library, writing room and bridge room. On the balcony, servicemen can play ping-pong or billiards or buy ice cream.
1945: The Palais Royale reopens for civilian dances under the new ownership of Edward Makar of Chicago. He warns patrons: “It will be against the rule to dance in bobby socks or without coats or ties, in order to maintain the proper atmosphere.” Every once in a while, he would put on boxing matches in the ballroom.
1953: As the Palais’ draw as a dance hall weakens, Makar converts it into a bowling alley with 12 lanes. They are built on a platform to protect the dance floor underneath. The building is now known as the Palais Royale Bowling Lanes.
1961: National Bank files a $23,000 mortgage foreclosure against Makar, other creditors follow suit.
1962: Makar sells all of his bowling equipment after facing financial difficulty. The Palais Royale reverts to its use as a dance hall.
1965: A discarded cigarette starts a fire on the ballroom stage during an early morning in February. Nine firefighting units battle the blaze, which is brought under control within an hour. Dense smoke hampers the work of the firefighters. Damage is estimated at $12,000.
1967: Michigan City businessman Bill Papineau turns the Palais into a nightclub for teenagers called the “Top Deck.” The walls and balcony are painted black and decorated with hundreds of fluorescent cartoon paintings. The stage is painted red with gold flecks. Picnic tables are provided for patrons. But it is often the scene of trouble as it is a meeting place for young people during the protest years. In a few cases, police dogs are used to break up disturbances outside after dances.
1968: The American Breed, who made the pop top 10 with “Bend Me, Shape Me” and “Out of Your Mind,” perform at the Palais in January. Tommy James and the Shondells play in August. Sometime later a fateful fight breaks out in front of the Palais and two boys are killed. The “Top Deck” closes.
1971: Mayor Lloyd Allen proposes an $820,000 bond issue to buy the Palais and remodel it for a city convention center. After three months of debate, the city council rejects the plan.
1984: The Palais Royale is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city and owners of the Palais, who are organized in a trust, agree to take on restoration of the ballroom. Plans are to use it for banquets, conventions, dances, reunions and other public gatherings.
1985: The board of works signs an agreement to set up funding for the renovation project. Based on an estimated $1 million price tag (which would change through the upcoming years), the city would pay for about half the project and the rest would be raised through a private funding drive.
1992: City of South Bend acquires the Palais Royale with the intention to restore and renovate the ballroom back to its original appearance.
December 2001: The renovation/restoration of the Palais Royale begins. The restoration incorporated the same care and research that was used in the restoration of the theater at the Morris Performing Arts Center. Similar palettes, ornaments, techniques and design were used to create a room in which the charm and grandeur of the 1920s are recaptured with historic accuracy. The ballroom’s interior reflects a garden theme; ornamental plaster flowering vines cover the ceiling and polychrome stencils with floral themes are hand-painted on the walls. Frieze rosettes and the proscenium are gilded and glazed. The crystal chandelier and hardwood floors are replaced. A new full-service kitchen and restrooms are installed and the Grand Terrazzo staircase is repaired and refurbished, creating a grand entrance into the area’s most majestic ballroom.
December 31, 2002: The Palais Royale re-opens with a New Year’s Eve Gala.