The Galvan Ballroom is a well-known entertainment venue in Corpus Christi known not just for its 9,000-square-foot ballroom but for hosting local and internationally acclaimed jazz and swing bands of all ethnic backgrounds.
More significantly, this venue allowed integration of Hispanic, Black and Anglo Americans during a time of segregation.
The Galvan Ballroom was built by Rafael Galvan Sr., a Corpus Christi police officer, entrepreneur and musician, in 1949. It was a place for his son’s band to play and for the community to gather for entertainment.
The venue played a significant role in the social and cultural development of Corpus Christi by allowing different ethnicities to come together to dance and enjoy music from legendary artists.
On March 30, 1950, people around the Coastal Bend could see performances by Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa and even Duke Ellington. “This place was the only place that was opened to people of all races from day one,” says Judge Bobby Galvan, who now owns the ballroom.
Judge Galvan and Attorney Bobby Gonzalez worked there when they were younger, taking on various jobs at the venue.
During the ’50s, segregation was common, and the Galvan Ballroom was the first site of integrated dance in Texas. “You had this space where Black, White and LatinX all came together in an America where that wasn’t heard of,” says Dr. Le’Trice Donaldson, an associate professor of history at Texas A&M–Corpus Christi.
What did segregation mean in the ’50s? “You had legal segregation … separate but equal was in the law of the land,” Donaldson explains. “You could legally have separate facilities for groups based off their racial identification. But the Galvan Ballroom allowed integration — an intermingling and mixing of a variety of groups without any kind of barriers.”
Clifton Pope, a member of the Corpus Christi Black Chamber of Commerce, says it was Galvan’s heart and love for others that created a place for all ethnic backgrounds to gather. “Mr. Galvan said ’Nah, we’re going to come together and unite and just enjoy great jazz music,’” Pope explains. “This sort of defines Corpus — a city that’s always had a multicultural dynamic to it.”
Adds Bobby Gonzalez: “Galvan saw the wonderful citizens of this community coming together. And the beauty of it is that nothing happened — nobody boycotted. He was able to pull it off. But he was only able to pull it off by having the courage of his conviction.”
Many in the area recall weddings and quinceañeras at the ballroom. “I myself have memories of walking up those stairs to the ballroom with my parents,” Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo recalls. “They remember both sides of this story, whereas I — born in the ’70s — only remember one. But that building and that family represent Mr. Galvan’s representation of equality and standing for what’s right. That’s something we’ll forever remember him for.”
Freddie Martinez Sr., owner of Freddie Records, played at the Galvan. “I’m a trumpet player from the beginning,” Martinez says, “and I played hundreds and hundreds of times at that ballroom. I played quinceañeras, I played birthday parties, I played weddings — all because my grandfather would rent out the ballroom and book my band.”
Driving by the Galvan Ballroom, at 1632 Agnes St., some might think it’s just a ballroom. But owner Bobby Galvan says the building is a time capsule of childhood memories from celebrations among different cultures.
“But it’s more than that,” Galvan says. “It’s community.”
In 2015, the Galvan Ballroom was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a Texas Hispanic Heritage Site.
“Iconic places like the Galvan Ballroom are extremely important for the next generation,” Gonzalez says. “Because it’s so easy for young people to take it for granted and say, ’Gosh, things were always fine. You could always walk into a store and weren’t thrown out because you were African American.’ No, at one time — before the Galvan Ballroom — you were.”
The Galvan Ballroom still remains open to everyone. If you would like to book your ceremony, visit its website.
Photos courtesy Texas Historical Commission.