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Oregon Historical Photo: The Floating Ballroom

OPB | April 21, 2014 midnight | Updated: April 21, 2014 9:24 a.m.

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The Cotillion Hall, circa 1914. The Oregon Historical Society, OrHi# 11744

The Cotillion Hall, circa 1914. The Oregon Historical Society, OrHi# 11744

Every week, Oregon Experience shares a photo highlighting the state’s diverse, exciting history. All photos are courtesy of The Oregon Historical Society.

Michael Ringler got the nickname “Montrose” — the name of an ancient Scottish warrior — for the athletic prowess he exhibited at an early age. For example, at 17, he entered the 100-yard international swimming meet at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He finished third.

In 1897, at 21 years old, Montrose Ringler headed west to take on the new position of physical director for Portland’s YMCA. In time, he left to open his own athletic establishment — Ringler’s Academy. Over the course of 10 years, Ringer honed his dance skills. And thanks to his athletic ability, he excelled in the sport. He was so taken away by it he eventually stripped away all other activities from the academy. Under his tutelage, it emerged as the place in Oregon to learn the newest dances of the time, like the foxtrot and tango.

In 1913, he found a new location for his ballroom — SW 14th Avenue and Burnside, where the Crystal Ballroom now stands. Together with a close friend, German architect Robert F. Tegen, they created a $100,000 multipurpose structure called The Cotillion Hall. As McMenamins Historian Tim Hills wrote in his book “The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom,” the crowning jewel was the open ballroom. It was designed to project weightlessness.

Tegen and Ringler’s ballroom had a light and airy feel that inspired dancing. The Ballroom’s placement on the third story extracted dancers from the bustle and noise of street level and conveyed a sense of floating in midair. Similarly, the ballroom’s high ceilings, skylights, full-lengths mirrors, over-sized arching windows, french doors and murals portraying expansive meadow and garden views all contributed to an enhanced perception of open space …

Taking their conceptualization of airiness to an uncommon level, Tegen and Ringler incorporated a special “floating” floor into the ballroom’s design. This unusual floor consisted of a layer of beautiful maple boards, under which were laid a series of rockers (like those of a rocking chair). Ball bearings were attached to the two ends of each rocker. The action of this mechanical device was a very fluid, up-and-down movement, which could be adjusted by a ratcheted gear to best suit different dance styles.

Tegen went on to create three other ballrooms with “floating” floors. But the Crystal Ballroom is the only one still intact. You can still dance on the “floating” floor today.

Tim Hills’ “The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom” was used as background for this article.

See the Oregon Experience documentary on Lola G. Baldwin, the nation’s first policewoman. Baldwin was not too keen on dance halls like the The Cotillion Hall.

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