NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas, August 22, 2013 – The squeaky wooden floors seem to dip a bit wherever one steps. But, the sagging floor holds countless stories and tall tales, no doubt.
The walls are filled with pictures of music legends, heroes and vagabonds who have passed through over the years. The wooden tabletops reveal years of carvings, left behind by decades of fans wanting to leave their mark on the place. Holes in the floor have been repaired with license plates.
Gruene Hall may show the wear of 135 years of raucous partying, but it’s still in its prime. The hall – built in 1878 by Heinrich “Henry” Gruene – is the “oldest continually run dance hall in Texas” and still attracts some of the biggest names in music.
Henry Gruene established the small town that bears his name in 1872 when he purchased 6,000 acres of farmland along the Guadalupe River north of the town of New Braunfels, Texas. Originally named Goodwin, the town benefited from its location along a stagecoach route running between San Antonio and Austin.
Over time, the town built a mercantile store, a cotton gin and the dance hall – buildings that still stand today and are on the National Register of Historic Places. The town’s heyday was short-lived, decimated by the boll weevil in the 1920s.
By the 1950s, bypassed by the highway, Gruene was a ghost town. But, in the mid-1970s, former stock broker Pat Molak purchased the 6,000-square-foot, open-air dance hall, giving the venue a new lease on life and preserving it for a new generation of fans.
Like the dance hall, the small town of Gruene, annexed by New Braunfels in 1979, has a second chance on life, greeting tourists. The town’s historic buildings have been transformed into shops and restaurants while the Gruene Family Home has been converted into a bed and breakfast.
But, Gruene Hall is the centerpiece of town.
Levon Helm, Arlo Guthrie, Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks and Bo Diddley are just a few of the folks who have stepped on the hall’s hallowed stage. Appearances at the hall helped launch the careers of Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and many more.
John Travolta also passed through the hall’s doors during the filming of Michael in 1996.
The hall hosts a monthly gospel brunch. But, on a recent weekday in May, with a cold Shiner Bock in hand, Gruene Hall seemed so far removed from the troubles of the real world.
Or, as Molak told Austin’s INsite magazine in 2010: “1/2 mile up there you’ve got the freeway and all the gas stations and chain restaurants but you can sit down in Gruene, have a nice cold beer and forget there’s a highway just up the road.”
For more information about Gruene Hall, visit www.gruenehall.com.
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