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During these homebound days, I often have music from the 1930s and 1940s playing in the background–big band favorites from Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and others.

by Robin Simon, CAC docent, class of 1997

If this was anytime between the mid-1920s and early 1960s, I would have been able to hear and dance to these bands and others live at the Aragon Ballroom.

For almost 100 years, people have been gathering in the North Side neighborhood of Uptown for entertainment. Fun-seekers had their choice of seeing a movie at the Riviera or Uptown theaters, listening to jazz at the Green Mill or dancing at the Aragon. All four of those venues, located within a block of the intersection of Lawrence Avenue and Broadway, are still standing today. Three of the four will be welcoming back revelers soon.

When Andrew and William Karzas opened the Aragon Ballroom at 1106 W. Lawrence Ave. in 1926, it quickly attracted crowds. The brothers had great success cleaning up the image of public dancing. There was a dress code and strict no alcohol policy, along with chaperones who prevented couples from dancing too close (a different kind of social distancing)!

Architects Huszagh & Hill designed the building’s stucco exterior in the Spanish Baroque style and movie palace designer John Eberson decorated the interior to look like the courtyard of a Spanish palace, complete with twinkling stars in the ceiling. Even though the main feature of the Aragon was a maple dance floor that held 8,000 people, it was described as having “all the appointments of a movie palace except the seats.” 

Several years ago, my mom was visiting from New Jersey and came on my tour of Uptown.  When we got to the Aragon she exclaimed, “Oh —that's the Aragon Ballroom?! I listened to Live from The Aragon Ballroom on the radio as a teenager!” Sure enough, WGN Radio used to broadcast six nights a week from the Aragon, while my teenage mom listened in her East Coast bedroom in the 1950s!