The Longhorn Ballroom has seen a lot of action since it was built in 1950 as the resident performance house of Texas country legend Bob Wills. The club was managed by Jack Ruby before he killed Lee Harvey Oswald, Sid Vicious bled all over himself on stage at one of the Sex Pistols’ last concerts, and it has seen performances by everyone from Willie Nelson to B.B. King, the Ramones to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But for the last 10 years, the venue has kept a low profile, only opening for private events. Now, a new owner hopes to put it back on the map.
Last week, Jay LaFrance purchased the Longhorn Ballroom with plans to restore it, just in time to save the historic music hall from falling into the hands of developers.
“I’m a music buff… When I came across this and did the research on it, at first I didn’t understand how much this played a role in Texas music, not just country but others as well,” he says. “So, when I realized that it was a functioning ballroom with a certificate of occupancy and everything, and it had been used for all these incredible performances in the past, but was sitting here idle, I saw it as an opportunity to bring it back and revitalize it and continue that history.”
He expects to reopen the Longhorn Ballroom in time for a few summer concerts. The venue needs a little sprucing up, but the new owner wants to keep its history intact. The primary goal is to restore the facade and the original murals. LaFrance has also brought on prominent Western artist Stylle Read—known for his work at the Fort Worth Stockyards, and hundreds of other murals across the state—to create new murals for the ballroom.
However, that’s only the first phase. LaFrance and his daughter, publicist Amber LaFrance, want to build a creative community around the music hall.
“The ballroom itself is a destination, so if we bring in a concentration of artists it’ll be a destination for that as well,” Jay says.
The four-and-a-half acre plot has enough open space to create a massive outdoor entertainment area on the Trinity River, and an additional building across the parking lot from the ballroom holds a restaurant, as well as 14,000 square feet of retail space. The final phase of renovations will involve turning this retail space into a creative arts center, complete with artist workshops and lofts.
Now that the father and daughter team have given the venue a future, the Longhorn Ballroom can continue to make Dallas history.
“When we started uncovering all these legendary things that had happened at the ballroom, I was just kind of geeking out on music history honestly,” Amber LaFrance says. “It hasn’t been functioning as a concert space for years, but I think it would not only bring nationally touring acts in, but also create new opportunities for local acts and for rising talent from Dallas.”