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The Galvan Ballroom was the first site of integrated dance in Texas

Ballroom allowed different ethnicities to dance in the 50's.
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Posted at 10:31 AM, Jul 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-11 11:31:00-04

The Galvan Ballroom is a well-known entertainment venue here in the heart of the Sparkling City by the Sea known not just for its 9,000 square foot ballroom but for hosting local and internationally acclaimed jazz and swing bands of all ethnic backgrounds.

This venue allowed integration of Hispanic, Black and Anglo American’s during a time of segregation.

The Galvan Ballroom was built by Rafael Galvan, Sr, a Corpus Christi police officer, entrepreneur, and musician in 1949. It was a place for his son’s band to play and for the community to gather for entertainment.

The venue played a significant role in the social and cultural development of Corpus Christi by allowing different ethnicities to come together to dance and enjoy music from legendary artists.

On March 30, 1950 people around the Coastal Bend could see performances by Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa and even Duke Ellington.

“This place was the only place that was opened to people of all races from day one,” said Judge Bobby Galvan, who now owns the ballroom.

Judge Galvan and Attorney Bobby Gonzalez worked there when they were younger and both remember their childhood working various jobs at the ballroom.

During the 50’s, segregation played a big part in America’s history and the Galvan Ballroom was the first site of integrated dance in Texas.

“You have this space where Black, White, and LatinX all come together in America where that’s not heard of,” said Dr. Le’Trice Donaldson who is an Associate professor of history at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi.

What did segregation mean in the 50’s?

“You have the legal segregation, in which separate but equal is in the law of the land. In which you can legally have separate facilities for groups based off their racial identification,” said Dr. Donaldson.

But the Galvan Ballroom allowed integration

“Integration allows for the intermingling and the mixing of groups from a variety of groups without any kind of barriers,” said Dr. Donaldson.

Clifton Pope who is part of the Corpus Christi Black Chamber of Commerce said it was Mr. Galvan’s heart and love for others that created a place for all ethnic backgrounds to gather.

“Mr. Galvan said nah, we are going to come together and unite and just enjoy great jazz music which led to the Galvan orchestra within itself just expanding and even starting what today is now the Texas jazz fest music festival,” said Pope.

“This kind of defines Corpus. Right? Corpus is a city that has always had this multi-culture dynamic to it,” said Dr. Donaldson.

“He just saw the wonderful citizens of this community coming together. And the beauty of it is nothing happened. Nobody boycotted. He was able to pull it off. But he was only able to pull it off by having this courage in his conviction within himself,” said Attorney, Gonzalez.

When I asked our Facebook viewers, if they have any memories of the ballroom, people said they remembered having their weddings and quinceañeras there. Memories that would last a lifetime.

Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo said, “I myself have memories of walking up those stairs, to the ballroom with my parents who are in their 80’s. Who remember both sides of this story where I only remember one. You know obviously I was born in the 70’s, but that building, and that family represent Mr. Galvan’s representation of equality and standing for what’s right is something that will forever remember him for,” said.

Freddie Martinez Senior, Owner of Freddie Records played in the Galvan ballroom.

“I am a trumpet player from the beginning and now I’m a singer now, but when I played the ballroom back then, my grandfather used to rent the ballroom with the band, and I was in the band because he would help me out a lot because he helped me out a lot to be able to have a little job here and there,” said Martinez Senior.

“So, I played hundreds and hundreds of times at the ballroom. I played quinceañera’s, I played birthday parties, weddings, and it’s all because of my grandfather helping me out to book the band,” said Martinez Senior.

Driving by the Galvan Ballroom at 1632 Agnes Street, some might think it’s just a ballroom. But judge Bobby Galvan said the building is a time capsule of childhood memories from birthday’s to weddings and other celebrations among different cultures.

“But it’s more than that, it’s community,” said Galvan.

In 2015 the Galvan Ballroom was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a Texas Hispanic Heritage site.

“It’s iconic places like the Galvan Ballroom, right, that are extremely important for the next generation. Because it is so easy for the young people to take it for granted and say, gosh things were always better, or you could always walk into a store, and you weren’t thrown out because you were African American. No, at one time before the Galvan Ballroom you were,” said Gonzalez.

The Galvan Ballroom still remains open to everyone. If you would like to book your ceremony, visit here.