Since 2021, architectural historians from Austin-based Cox McLain Environmental Consulting (now Stantec) have been hard at work documenting dance halls across southeastern Texas. Stantec was retained by Texas Dance Hall Preservation (TDHP) to complete surveying activities that will be used for future disaster preparedness planning. Following Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the THC received an Emergency Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund Grant from the National Park Service to assist with historic preservation efforts. With the grant funding, TDHP is documenting historic dance halls and studying vulnerabilities to be prepared for the next big storm.
Dance halls play an important role in Texas history and culture. The buildings often have various designs and layouts that tell a story of their own. Shapes may range from rectangle to octagon, and additions to make space for additional seating or for a new kitchen and bar are common. Halls may have specific ties to German, Black, and/or Tejano communities. Historic photos of notable bands, individuals, and moments cover many of the halls’ walls, affirming the importance of music and dance in Texas culture. What makes these places even more important is their role as a center for community events and gathering, making their preservation and resilience even more critical for vulnerable towns along the coast.
As a part of their unprecedented endeavor, Stantec worked with TDHP to customize their documentation procedure for the dance halls. Compared to most historic resource surveys that focus on building exteriors, the dance hall survey documents the interior spaces as well. Like their exteriors, dance hall interiors vary widely. Stages may or may not be present, and ceiling trusses may or may not be exposed. The one thing that remains constant is the dance floor itself. To provide data for future resiliency planning, surveyors are carefully documenting prior storm damage through interviews with hall representatives and materials conditions analysis. The hardwood floors of the dance floor are often victim to flooding, making their preservation and restoration key aspects of past and future storm recovery efforts. The information gathered from this project will help dance halls with this recovery and may also provide the opportunity for historic designation, ensuring dance halls in Southeast Texas are able to preserve their history and endure for future generations.