Only four years ago, the Longhorn Ballroom was a long-empty dance hall, the wreck of musical legend. Preservation Dallas declared it one of the most endangered buildings in Dallas.
Now it’s officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a federally protected heritage site.
Last year, the club’s new owner, Edward Cabaniss, had restored enough of the sprawling building that he re-opened the club March 30th with a performance by Texas swing revivalists Asleep at the Wheel.
Then, over the past weekend, Cabaniss made the announcement of the ballroom’s historic designation from the Longhorn’s stage — during a performance of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys (now under the direction of Jason Roberts). In attendance were representatives of the Bob Wills Foundation, the Texas Dance Hall Preservation, the Texas Music Office and members of three generations of Wills’ family.
The ballroom first opened in 1950 as Bob Wills Ranch House. It established itself with a roster of fabled music artists who’ve performed there — not only Wills, the King of Texas Swing, but also Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Merle Haggard, Selena and, of course, the 1978 kamikaze tour of the Sex Pistols.
Getting a site put on the National Registry takes a lot of time and work: It took 18 months for the hall to gain that recognition. A property’s owners have to prove it has the requisite, historic importance to deserve such a designation. But earning the registration can be worth it because it provides very real advantages, not only federal recognition but also tax incentives, access to grants and assistance with preservation.
Cabaniss officially acquired the ballroom in 2022, but just before that, Texas’ infamous killer ice storm hit. It caused the music hall’s sprinkler system to break and flood the place.
Ultimately, the ballroom was restored under the direction of Robert L. Meckfessel of DSGN Associates. The process of nominating the hall for national recognition was overseen by Texas Dance Hall Preservation co-founder, Steph McDougal, with assistance from Dallas architect Marcel Quimby and Texas Historical Commission Natonal Register coordinator Gregory Smith.
In addition to restoring the hall itself, Cabaniss has installed the Cabaniss Collection, a display of historic photos and memorabilia, including James Brown’s stage robe, guitars from such artists as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Waylon Jennings and BB King — and Bob Wills’ own show saddle.
The Longhorn Ballroom is actually only one structure on the six-acre property in the Cedars, which includes several empty storefronts. It is the most ambitious project Cabaniss has undertaken, having already restored the Kessler Theater in Dallas and the Heights in Houston.