By Caryl Clem:
In 1925, Americans felt secure in the promise of continuing prosperity. Uncle Sam is boldly standing on the Peak of Prosperity waving a banner proclaiming, “Highest Living Standard in the World” in a 1925 political cartoon. The Chicago Tribune’s slogan, The World’s Greatest Newspaper spread the influence of Chicago style living. Andrew and William Karzas in 1926 built a lavish Spanish castle style ballroom complete with stars and clouds moving across the ceiling. Alcohol was prohibited, crowd control was maintained by “chaperones” and a strict dress code was enforced. Classy, glamorous entertainment with live band performances, in Uptown near the “L” propelled the Aragon Ballroom into an instant success.
Wayne King played his saxophone and led his band featuring all the favorite love songs with waltz and fox trot rhythms. He started recording with RCA/Victor in 1929. In a ballroom that could hold thousands, Wayne King sold millions of his records. During the 1930-40’s decades romance ruled the dance floor; song titles such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – Cole Porter, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – Jerome Kern ,“Night and Day” – Cole Porter , “My Funny Valentine” – Rodgers and Hart, “How Deep is the Ocean” – Irving Berlin . Recorded in 2014 by Barbara Streisand and Michael Boule, a favorite of mine from this time period, “It Had To Be You”.
Radio was the main vehicle to transmit information and entertainment. Chicago’s own WGN owned by the Tribune featured live broadcasts from the Aragon Ballroom since 1927. Not only were there stars twinkling in the ceiling but many star performers graced the Aragon Ballroom. In 1958, a fire next door to the Aragon closed it down for about 6 months. When the Ballroom opened its doors again, dance styles and formality were changing. By 1964, the swanky ballroom dance era was over. Top Hits from 1965 showcased The Beatles singing “Ticket to Ride”, “Help”, The Rolling Stones groaning about “Satisfaction” and the McCoy’s belting out, “Snoopy Hang On” introduced new styles of music entertainment. .
The Aragon hung on trying different venues such as wrestling, roller-skating and disco. Rock concerts lasting for 6 hours were held during the 1970’s. Zack Snyder‘s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was filmed in 2015. Eventually the new ownership in the 1970’s linked up with the promoters of Jam Productions. Currently, Aragon has hosted over 1,000 rock concerts in the last few years. A picture of these events testifies to the ongoing popularity of entertainment. In August 2019, the Chicago Sun-Times announced Byline Bank sponsors the Aragon, offering a full concert schedule of events that will start performing when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.