La Villita Dance Hall, which became known as the “Grand Ole Opry” of Tejano and conjunto music, was located on the edge of the city of Alice, Texas, and was originally nothing more than a big outdoor patio. However, it was soon transformed into a dance hall, designed by an architect from Monterrey, Mexico. La Villita was a large hall, at 15,000 square feet, and could hold 650 people seated and another 350 standing. The venue was established by Armando Marroquín and his wife Carmen. Armando also founded the pioneering Tejano company Ideal Records, whose earliest releases were made on a small recording machine at their kitchen table. Carmen and her sister Laura Hernández Cantú became well-known Tejana singers—the duet of Carmen y Laura. In the 1940s and 1950s Armando Marroquín recorded and made artists like Narciso Martínez (known as the “father” of conjunto music) and Beto Villa (the “father of orquestas Tejanas) well known due to the distribution of their recordings.
Armando and Carmen discovered the need for a large dance hall to showcase Tejano performers as an alternative to school gymnasiums. La Villita opened in 1952 with an admission cost of $1.20 for men and 65 cents for women. The opening featured orquesta leader Beto Villa. In the following years, all the major vocalists, conjuntos, and orquestas of early Tejano music performed at La Villita, which became the first major center for Tejano music and one of the earliest large dance halls in the Coastal Bend. Names of artists and their groups who played there included Narciso Martínez, Isidro López, Balde Gonzáles, Tony de la Rosa, Paulino Bernal, Juan Colorado, La Mafia, Emilio Navaira, Roberto Pulido, Ruben Naranjo, Eligio Escobar, and many others. Mexican stars such as Antonio Aguilar and Vicente Fernández performed there as well. La Villita was the site of weddings, quinceañeras, birthdays, and anniversaries for thousands of residents in the Alice area. Carmen selected pink to be the color of everything in La Villita, from the exterior to the cashbox.
Alice resident and longtime patron Juan Manrique recalled memories of his time there in the late 1960s. “In the old days, the girls would stand along the wall on one side and the guys on the other side. We would make signs with our hands like ‘You and me? Take a twirl?’” Armando Marroquín died in 1990, and his wife Carmen continued to operate the dance hall by herself and earned the reputation as one of the most talented and hard-working women in the Tejano industry. Due to age and failing health, however, she eventually decided to close the historic venue. The hall was packed on the night of June 26, 2004, to hear the last two groups at La Villita perform—legendary Los Dos Gilbertos and a young group, Ricky Naranjo y Los Gamblers.
After its official closing, the hall continued to host the annual induction ceremony and dance of the Tejano R.O.O.T.S. Hall of Fame for several years. Carmen Marroquín passed away in 2010. Efforts to reopen the hall as a Christian music venue in 2013 failed, and as of 2018 La Villita was still closed and for sale.