State News

Fire destroys Fayetteville venue that hosted jazz, rock pioneers

Posted December 28, 2014
Updated December 29, 2014

— A Fayetteville building that once housed a ballroom that hosted jazz and rock pioneers has burned down.

The structure on North Water Street that used to be Breece's Ballroom burned and collapsed early Saturday. Firefighters arrived on the scene at about 3:25 a.m. to find the warehouse-sized building engulfed in flames.

Investigators said Monday that the extensive damage to the building has prevented them from determining the cause of the fire, but they added there were signs homeless people were living in the abandoned building near the bank of the Cape Fear River.

Breece's Ballroom was built in 1940 and refurbished and expanded after a flood in 1945. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Little Richard and Fats Domino, among others, played at the venue.

"It was kind of like the civic center before there was a civic center," said George Breece, whose uncles, Ernest and Oscar Breece, operated the ballroom and a nearby river dock.

"I spent some time there when I was young," George Breece said. "All the other boats there (in a photo) are people in the Fayetteville area who parked their boats there at Breece's Landing."

Breece's Ballroom pioneered the concept of an integrated concert hall in the South after black and white audiences began mingling there as early as the late 1940s.

A rope used to separate blacks and whites on the dance floor, but George Breece said the rope would often come down.

"They'd have a party," he said. "One (race) would be on one side, and one would be on the other. Of course, that all kind of broke down there at Breece's Landing, and that's where you would see blacks and whites socializing together."

The hall's status as a social hub declined in the 1960s, and the building later housed a women's clothing manufacturer and other businesses. It had been vacant since 2000, and the city of Fayetteville now owns the property.

The fire could rekindle the city's interest in developing the area into riverside park featuring an amphitheater, playgrounds and picnic areas. That vision is part of a plan from the 1990s that also called for developing a boardwalk with water features along the river and possibly an indoor freshwater aquarium. There are no plans to rebuild the ballroom, however.

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  • jimcricket15 Dec 29, 2014

    "It hosted Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton and Fats Domino, among others."

    Ah yes very excellent entertainers.