MEMORIES OF THE COMMODORE BALLROOM
Better than two generations of Americans who lived within 50 miles
of Lowell between 1924 and 1972 have fond memories of the Commodore
Ballroom, especially those who grew up in the days prior to TV when
social dancing was a major form of recreation for both young people
For 48 years, the Braun family ran one of the finest ballroom
operations in the United States - its dance floor was considered
superb - and just about every top name band in the country graced its
The Braun saga, however, goes back further than the Commodore. It goes back to the turn-of-the century when an inn owner in Dusseldorf, Germany named Carl Ludwig Braun teamed up with a gentleman named Lewis Bopp to bring carousel (Merry Go Round) concessions to America.
Old C.L., who allegedly played the cello, originally settled in Philadelphia where he ran a candy store and was a member of the Philly Philaharmonic Orchestra - along with the carousel enterprise.
His amusement concession exploits eventually brought him to
southern New Hampshire and Canobie Lake Park in Salem, where one of these historic German-built carousels is still in operation... having been refurbished just recently by Brian Buckler of Canobie. Braun
also had other concession rides at Canobie.
C.L.'s son Carl took over the reins of his father's business
following his death, and eventually became a part owner of Canobie
Lake Park. In 1924, he purchased what had been a roller skating rink
on Thorndike Street, Lowell and turned it into what was to become a
most famous ballroom - the Commodore.
Moving to Lowell, Braun continued to lease the Canobie Lake Ballroom, Lakeview in Dracut, and other facilities during a period
when "check dancing" was enormously popular. The Commodore and other top dancehalls attracted couples from as far away as Manchester, N.H. and Providence, R.I.
Louie Armstrong, Count Basie and His Orchestra, and Duke Ellington all played the Braun-run ballrooms. So did Les Brown, Stan Kenton, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Woodv Herman, and Glen Miller.
The orchestras of Frankie Carl, Carmen Cavallero, Tony Pastor, Ray Anthony, Harry James, Charlie Spivak, Johnny Long, Les Hite, Sammy Kaye, Bunny Berrigan, Ray Eberle and many more played here. A skinny kid named Frank Sinatra performed with the Dorseys.
There were the young Clooney sisters, Abby Lane with Xavier Cugat, the Four Voices, the Pied Pipers, the Beachcombers, and such lead
singers as Dolly Mitchell, Kitty Kallen, Ina Ray Hutton, Dee Keating, Lucille Linwood, Maryann McCall and Penny Lee.
There were excellent local bands, from the days of Roane's Pennsylvanians to the Chris Powers Band and Angie Bergamini, the
latter two groups doing their best to keep the Big Band sound alive in today's world.
A good look at the local bands can be found in Paul P. Pearsall's
"Face the Music," Paul, just a few months ago, succumbed to a long
battle with cancer but this book is still available through the studio
of Janet Lambert Moore at A Brush With History (508/459-7819), or at local book stores. It's a great addition to any "Swingin' Years"
We hope that the 100 plus photos selected for this exhibition from
the collection left by the late Martha Braun, Carl's only daughter,
will bring back memories of a bygone era. Many of these photos are autographed; and there are some 200 pieces of sheet music and "house records" from the Commodore to be viewed.
While open to the public, recordings made by the great bands of
the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s will be played in the background for effect.
During the Commodore era, people went out purely for the joy of touch dancing to fine music. No alcoholic beverages were served, only
soft drinks and chips. It was primarily a place to dance, and to meet
those with similar interests.
Hundreds packed the Commodore nightly to waltz and fox trot until midnight. Often couples and regulars would plan in advance with whom
they would dance during each number.
There were stag lines of single men and women who would queue up
to the right side of the ballroom waiting for partners, while on the
left side, couples sat in seats.
Soldiers from Fort Devens took the train to Lowell.Parents
pulled up in their Packards and small groups of teenagers spilled out.
Parents praised the Brauns for giving their youngsters someplace
healthy to go. They would feel safe dropping their girls off there,
and coming back to pick them up later.
Carl Braun, and later his son, Carl Jr., always maintained a tight
ship. During the 1940s, he would not permit dancing of the then-popular jitterbug because he felt it was likely to cause rowdiness. Friday
night used to be "Old Timers" night.
By the late 1950s, the Commodore was catering to fans of jazz,
swing and eventually rock and roll, bringing in such stars as Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Tony Bennett, the Four Aces, Connie Francis and B.J. Thomas.
In addition to running the Commodore, Carl Braun Jr. was active on
the national level, and had become the youngest ever president of the National Ballroom Operators Association.
By the 1960s, Commodore acts included Cream, B.B. King and Johnny Winter, Rod Stewart, the Byrds, the Kingsmen, Grand Funk Railroad and The Turtles. Even in the 60s, the average cover charge
was only $2. It never surpassed $3.50, even for the biggest names.
The combination of a changing society and city politics prompted
Braun Jr. to sell the ballroom in 1972. Ten years later, this famous
structure which catered to all those wonderful memories and perhaps spawned countless romances, found itself at the end of a wrecking
The Brauns may have left the Lowell scene in body, but this family
of entrepreneurs left a tremendous impact ont he city in spirit - the
Commodore Ballroom was a "bright light" during the decline of the
textile mills, through the throes of a major World War and two
military conflicts - we have much for which to thank them.
Thank you to all who helped make this exhibit possible through advice, loan of equipment, and through giving of their time.
We hope it has kindled some memories of the "Swingin' Years" for
you - memories we never want to relinquish!