Corpus Christi’s Galvan Ballroom welcomed all at a time when segregation was the norm

A place for the community to gather, the venue also hosted such acts as Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

By Dacia Garcia, Voces Oral History CenterOctober 10, 2023 7:28 am, , ,

This story is part of a Hispanic Heritage Month collaboration with Voces Oral History Center based at UT-Austin’s Moody School of Communication.

On March 30th, 1950, the Galvan Ballroom had its grand opening in the heart of Corpus Christi. The famous Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra performed.

Rafael Galvan Sr. built the ballroom so the community had a place to gather. It also gave his family’s 15-member Galvan Orchestra a performance venue.

The ballroom was known for its custom-made revolving chandelier and giant dance floor, but more importantly, it welcomed people of all races at a time when racial segregation was the norm. It rented the facility for Black performers, Anglos and Mexican Americans alike. Galvan’s grandson, Bobby Galvan Jr., runs the ballroom today.

“My grandfather got some heat about it, that he was renting to African Americans,” Galvan Jr. said. “But he said, ‘Well, you know what, this is my place. You don’t like it? Build your own place. I’m going to rent to who I want to.’ So it was always open to all races.”

The Galvan Ballroom also invited family celebrations.

“I hear about it all the time,” Galvan Jr. said. “One lady tells me, ‘Well you know, I’ve had all my kids’ graduation parties here and this one wasn’t gonna be any different. So here we are again.’ And I was at the gas station down the street and a lady tells me, ‘I had my quinceañera there and we’re about to have my daughter’s quinceañera there.’ It’s that kind of tradition that really means a lot to the community.”

Corpus Christi native Noela Oliveira Garza spent many hours in the Galvan Ballroom in her teenage years in the mid-1960s. In high school, Oliveira Garza joined a social club that hosted fundraising events at the Ballroom.

“It just kind of kept everybody busy and it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor. But we learned how to run businesses because of it, because we would manage our own monies,” Oliveira Garza said. “And so expenses came out of what we would earn in fundraising. It wasn’t that we would go to our parents to get it. But those clubs had a lot to do with the Galvan Ballroom because we always used it.”

Oliveira Garza says the ballroom never changed. She remembers dancing to corridos and polkas at the Galvan Ballroom.

“It was kind of like going home because everybody would meet there. I mean, the whole town knew each other, the families would get together,” she said. “The ballroom itself was upstairs above where the Galvans sold the musical instruments. And so we would climb these stairs, then you would be up there at home. So it was very nice.”

While the Galvan Ballroom often had performances from local bands, some of the biggest names in big band history also played there. This included Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

The ballroom was designated as a Texas Hispanic Heritage site in 2015 by the Texas Historical Commission. The Galvan Ballroom still hosts events today.

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