The German migration to Texas during the mid-1800s helped shape the Lone Star State’s cultural identity in many ways, which included the introduction of German dance halls. In the twenty-first century some of these dance halls have remained popular gathering places, especially in Central Texas. Although most no longer offer traditional German music, they are quite active in featuring other popular genres of Texas music, such as country, Tejano, blues, and zydeco.
Located just off State Highway 21 in Uhland, Texas, between Bastrop and San Marcos, Club 21 was one of Texas’s oldest such halls. Constructed by August Garbrecht about 1893 near the Old Spanish Trail (Old San Antonio Road), the club originally served as a saloon and community center for local German settlers. By 1912 the saloon had been expanded to include a dance hall. In 1933 a four-lane, nine-pin bowling alley was added, although it was no longer in use by 2000; that space served as a storage room. In the 1930s the dance hall served a dual role. During the day it provided a gymnasium for local school children, but at night it remained a popular venue for music and dancing./p>
William Ilse, the dance hall’s last owner, inherited the club in 1989 from his mother, Martha Ilse, who came into possession of the hall from the Garbrecht family in 1964. In the mid-1990s the dance hall was expanded to help accommodate the large crowds who came for the annual Old Spanish Trail celebration.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Club 21 was its dance hall area. Covering the large dance floor was a high ceiling which was supported by a series of curved wooden trusses. In order to achieve the arched shape of the wood, the original builders bent the wooden beams by soaking them in a nearby creek. Club 21’s walls also were decorated with a variety of old farming implements, cow skulls, and neon beer signs. A special section of the wall contained autographed photos from many of the artists who performed at the club, including Jimmy Vaughan, Tish Hinojosa, and Reckless Kelly. Several humorous signs also decorated the club, such as one on the stage that said, “If you can’t sing good, sing loud,” and another near the entrance stated, “Hippies use the side door.”
Club 21 not only hosted many well-known musicians, but it was also featured in films and television. Country singer Keith Whitley taped music videos there, and Hollywood directors filmed scenes from the club in such movies as Resurrection (1980), The New Guy (2002), and A Lone Star State of Mind (2002). Beer companies made television commercials for Bud Lite and Coors at the club.
In the early 2000s Club 21 still featured live music on weekends and remained a popular gathering place for people in the Central Texas area and continued to draw large crowds for dancing, festivals, and local community events. In the early morning hours of October 24, 2010, Club 21 caught fire, the result of an automobile accident at the scene, and burned to the ground. With no fire insurance for the establishment, there were no funds to rebuild the club, though in 2011 attempts were being made to secure donations for a building fund. Some preliminary construction of a new hall took place in 2012, but due to limited funds, progress stalled.