Before opening as Persian Gardens
from OMCA Collections. Gift of Mr. Martin J. Cooney. 8

Ali Baba postcard (circa mid-1950s)
(found on eBay)
The Ali Baba Ballroom (1933–1981) was a luxurious dance hall, formerly located at 111 Grand Ave. It was Sweet's Persian Gardens from 1933 until 194x?. It was used by the U.S. Army during WWII, then remodeled and re-opened as the Ali Baba on May 17, 1946.

The building was decorated in an ornate Arabian-art theme and featured the only permanent house band in the Bay Area, Sid Hoff and His Orchestra. Upon entering the two-tiered palace, visitors would drop their ticket stubs into a treasure chest for a nightly drawing of prizes. Mounting a set of carpeted stairs, they would arrive at a 10,000-square-foot polished oak dance floor—one of the largest on the West Coast.

Ali Baba postcard reverse (circa mid-1950s)
(found on eBay)
The Ali Baba featured theme nights and mood lighting—red for Latin numbers, blue for waltzes—and a well-known nook nicknamed the “make-out corner” by its frequenters. The Ali Baba became the West Coast’s last remaining ballroom, surviving all through the 1970s disco years, until ordered to close by the City of Oakland in 1981. Patrons tried to save the historic ballroom by staging “dancing picket lines” in front of the building, but the city soon tore it down. 1

Sid Hoff led the band there for 21 of the 30 years between 1947 and 1977, the other nine years being on the hotel circuit, including the Claremont and the Lake Merritt Hotel. 2

Kirk Hayes operated the Ali Baba Ballroom from its opening in 1946 until (at least) 1951. In the 1970s, it was owned and run by Tony Martin.

The ballroom was considered a safe place for single women to go, and it was supervised and people were well-dressed. More than one person met their future spouse while dancing there, 3,6,7 including Jim Knuppe.

However, for many years it was also a "whites only" ballroom; people of color had to go to Sweet's. 5

from May 16, 1946 Oakland Tribune. Fair use.1973 ad. Note Sid Hoff and His Orchestra, and prize drawings1966 ad

Links and References

  1. KQED | Big Band Magic!: Ali Baba
  2. Lure of the Ali Baba Ballroom Oakland Tribune March 13, 1977
  3. Anne Hopkins Obituary Contra Costa Times May 29, 2014
  4. Berkeley Bohemia by Shelley Rideout
  5. Samurai Among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life by Diane Carol Fujino
  6. The Jim Knuppe Story by Marc Grossman
  7. Rose Eiden Obiturary dignitymemorial.com
  8. Photo A66.95.3028 at OMCA.com