What Is Happening To Texas’s Dance Halls? The Historic Tin Hall Closes Its Doors At The End Of The Year
As Cypress loses one of the oldest dance halls in the state, we look at what’s causing the decline in their popularity.
Greater Houston seems to get a little less stereotypically Texan with each passing year, and that shift is about to take a big leap forward with the loss of Tin Hall, the last real old-school Texas dancehall in the entire Houston metro area, which is closing at the end of the year. We’ll soon be left with little more than a SPJST Lodge that looks more like an elementary school than a dance hall.
Tin Hall started hosting events in 1889—the same year Coca-Cola incorporated, the Eiffel Tower rose over Paris, and Vincent Van Gogh dabbed “Starry Night” to canvas. It is pretty much the only historic structure of note in the vast agglomeration of strip malls, apartment complexes, clogged freeways and master-planned communities that is Cypress. Long ago it was pastureland for German dairy farmers, who built Tin Hall as the focal point for Saturday fun. For many years that included not just dancing and drinking, but also riflery. Tin Hall sits on 40 acres, some of which was given over to a shooting range, until ravenous suburbia and a golf course encroached on three sides and put the kibosh on the gunplay.
Now that growth is closing in for the kill. In December 2014 the 26,000 square-foot hall was sold to a Houston homebuilder. According to a statement on the hall’s Facebook page, the current owners cobbled together a deal to move the hall in pieces and reconstruct it elsewhere, but that transaction fell apart, putting the building’s survival is in limbo (if you’re interested in hosting it, you can still email the Tin Hall folks). The statement continues:
We basically have two choices. We’re hoping to find a location that we can relocate to for the next 100 years. Or, we have to sell. The buildings, improvements, fixtures, equipment, antiques, furniture, fencing and intellectual properties have a value. Maybe someone might be interested in purchasing all of Tin Hall and moving to a piece of land that they own. Either way, we’d like to see it carry on for generations to come.
Almost 500 comments answered that announcement, and these “Tinhallers and Tinhallettes” (many of them bearing German, Czech and Polish surnames bespeaking their generations-old roots in the area) tapped out each of the five stages of grief as they mourned the looming loss.
There was denial:
“The good thing is It is a historical landmark and cannot be torn down.”
She is mistaken, as evidenced by this 2012 statement by the hall’s previous owner Fred Stockton. “I purposely did not certify [Tin Hall] as a historical structure because if I make it a marker I will never be able to sell it. It’s a great idea, but once you think it all the way through, it’s like ordering a big fat steak that you can’t eat and you can’t sell.” And sell Stockton did, eleven months ago.
There was anger, and plenty of it:
“No zoning, everything can be sold, no respect for history and hell no to preservation!!!!! What about future generations??? I’m so sad and angry about this!!!”
“Crime, it is a crime that this is not a historical landmark. Houston I’m born and raised you make me so angry. The Astrodome and Tin Hall.”
“What a crock of poo. It is the last real dance hall in and around Houston. Cuss words, cuss words and more freakin cuss words. This is so sad. No it is a crime!!!”
A little bargaining:
“It was one of the first Dance Halls I had ever gone to. This is so sad, isn’t there a way to get it on the National Historic Registry with all the history?”
“How sad is this?? It’s a sick feeling for my family. Living so close we could hear the music, living there for 57 years. Where do all these people come from? Then they want to complain about the music. WELL TIN HALL WAS THERE WAY B4.!! All u new people have driven out the old folks that have lived their whole life working to keep Cypress like it was. THE new people have successfully made it to be like Houston.!! Hope you enjoy cuz now my family is leaving too. Leaving our life memories ….”
And some acceptance:
“Spent many nights enjoying the Texas spirit in Tin Hall. One of my most favorite places in the world. Both of my sons were most likely conceived after a night at Tin Hall.”
“Tin Hall on Saturday, Bill Mraz [Dancehall] on Sunday. Met my wife there in 1993.. Met my Ex at Bill Mraz in 1981. Should have gone to Church. ;-(”
“My grandfather went there on horse & buggy; my parents met there & our oldest son’s wedding reception was there.”
For old-line Cypressites, Tin Hall the focal point for social life from the womb to the tomb and all points in between. One Tin Hall lifer remembered falling asleep on wooden chairs against the wall while her parents whirled and boot-scooted nearby. On other benches, mothers breast-fed infants. Teenagers had their own section, and between band sets little kids would run and slide across the slick wooden boards on the dance floor. Unlike honky-tonks, dancehalls are for the whole family.
And therein lies another source of Tin Hall’s decline. In the old days, pretty much everybody from meemaw down to the toddlers listened to the same music. Nowadays the elders cling to classic country, their forty-something kids are into Garth Brooks and Clint Black, a slightly younger cohort prefers the rowdier Texas sounds of Kevin Fowler, Randy Rogers, and Sunny Sweeney, and many of the kids are into hip-hop over anything with a twang. Tin Hall’s reliance on older sounds ultimately kept it from popularity and profitability.
“[Tin Hall] had has-beens like Gene Watson and Tracy Byrd that struggle with most venues in getting a crowd,” says a veteran Houston honky-tonker who asked not to be identified. “People wail about the dance halls closing but they want to revive them using music that appeals to an age demographic that is focused on grandchildren and making money for retirement, or already is retired and pinching pennies. They are not people that go see live music regularly or spend a lot on booze. I would have liked to have seen the acts that currently receive Texas radio airplay take over the dance halls, just so that they could stay active, but it hasn’t happened.”
Tin Hall’s heyday as a live venue lasted from the 1970s through to the early 2000s. Around that time, county planners rerouted its main of entry—Huffmeister Road—away from the club, marooning it at the end of what amounted to its own little driveway. Shortly after, the hall ceased booking regular shows and became more of an event venue, open to the public only once a month. And some of those have not been so well-attended, according to one poster on its Facebook page:
“Wife & I went there last Halloween. Very small crowd, hence no profit to keep it rolling. How about everyone who hates to see it go, actually go there and give them your support instead of saying what a shame to see it go.”
Sadly, it is too late for finger pointing like that to do much good, on-point as it may be.