Beneath the glittering chandeliers women in formal evening gowns danced with their escorts to the music of a live band. Outside the cold December evening passed, but inside hundreds of people warmed by dancing, drinking, and laughter probably did not notice. They were at the event, held at the place to be.
For nearly fifty years the Davenport Visiting Nurse Association’s Crystal Ball was the social event of season, if not the year, for many people in the Quad Cities. Usually held in mid- to late December, the majority of dances were held in the Blackhawk Hotel’s elegant and popular Gold Room. Underneath a glittering crystal ball, from which the fundraising event derived its name, couples danced to live music. Sometimes popular nationally- known musicians such as Perry Como and Ted Weems were hired to play for the elaborate event. Other times local bands filled the bill. According to legend, famous local musician Bix Beiderbecke even sat in with a band one year when he was home visiting his parents for Christmas. *
While some stories list the first ball being held as early as December 1927, newspaper accounts of the event begin in December 1929. The 1929 ball, held at the Blackhawk Hotel (200 East Third Street in downtown Davenport), not only had an orchestra for dancing, but also included a fashion show, piano and vocal performances, and a cabaret act. By the tone of the newspaper reports, even more exciting than the $500 raised for the Visiting Nurse Association was the image of distinguished men dressed in fine tuxedos escorting women in formal gowns to the event.**
The fundraising, fashions, and festivities of the Crystal Ball continued into the 1970s. For at least forty of those years the Gold Room provided a graceful backdrop, allowing couples to focus for a few hours on laughter and fun instead of world news and daily life. The ball, and the Gold Room, entertained us through prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War – to name a few major events. Opening to a flurry of excitement on February 16, 1915, the Blackhawk Hotel was considered the most elegant hotel in the area. One of the central features the newspapers exclaimed over on February 17th was the ball room with its twelve chandeliers and gilded furniture.*** By all accounts, the Blackhawk remained the premier hotel in Davenport from the early to mid-twentieth century. It most certainly was the place to hold special events.
Times do change. Elegant formal events with such grandeur and elegance such as the Visiting Nurse Association’s Crystal Ball seem rarer these days. Founded in 1902, the Visiting Nurse Association merged with St. Luke’s Hospital in 1993. In 1994 St. Luke’s and Mercy Hospital merged together to form Genesis Medical Center. The Visiting Nurse Association became the Genesis Visiting Nurse Association, a name it continues to use today. With over one hundred years of experience; caring for the public continues to be their mission.
Things have not been as easy for the Blackhawk Hotel. Currently, the former center of social events lies sleeping. A room fire in early 2006 did enough damage to close the hotel and since then talks have been under way for the sale of the elegant building. As of the end of 2008, Restoration St. Louis is purchasing the building with plans to wake it up to much of its former glory. There is even hope of the Gold Room being restored to its original grandeur.
This type of news certainly leaves one dreaming of elegant couples swaying to an orchestra underneath sparkling chandeliers and a beautiful crystal ball. I already have my outfit planned, do you?
(posted by Amy D.)
*Times Democrat Evening Edition, December 13, 1974, Pg. 9.
**Democrat and Leader, December 22, 1929, Pg. 4.
***Daily Times, February 17, 1915, Pg. 7.