The story of the Historic Casino Hall is more than just a tale about a brick and mortar building. “Casino Gemütlichkeit!” was a slogan often used in reference to activities at the Casino Hall. Gemütlichkeit is a German word loosely translated to mean a situation that induces a good mood, with a connotation of belonging and social acceptance. The Casino Hall was meant to foster this spirit and for many generations it did.
The Early Years
The Historic Casino Hall was built in 1881 by the Casino Society, a social club founded in 1858 by a group of German immigrants in La Grange. The term casino in this context does not represent a place of gambling, but rather a gathering place for social endeavors. The German immigrants formed the society so that they could come together with others who shared their language, customs and pursuits in this new strange land.
After outgrowing their first meeting place, a wooden structure which was built in 1858, the Casino Society raised $12,000 to build the Historic Casino Hall. The two-story brick building was constructed to serve as a performance hall, gathering place and school. Although the Casino Society was originally established for Germans only, over the years the prejudice between the German immigrants and Americans faded. By the time the Casino Hall was built in 1881 it was used by the entire united La Grange community.
In addition to Casino Society events and traveling plays and shows, local groups such as the Knights of Honor, the La Grange Minstrel Club and the Ladies Cemetery Association had many events there. It was also the site of the Fireman’s Annual ball for many years. As reported in the La Grange Journal “when the Casino announces an entertainment it must be a first class one and all who attend will find mirth, music and merriment ruling the hour.”
The Casino School
By 1884 there were two hundred pupils, a mix of German, Czech and American-born students, attending the Casino School. Although there were still regular theatrical performances and balls, education had become the primary purpose of the Casino Hall. This focus intensified as the desire to provide a free public education to the entire community increased throughout the county.
After several public meetings on the feasibility of purchasing the building from the Casino Society for use as a school, the Casino Hall was sold for $6,500 to the City of La Grange. Amongst growing concern over the mixed use of the building, city council quickly passed a resolution stating that the Casino Hall could be used as a school and for no other purpose. So the plays and parties ceased and gave way to more intellectual pursuits.
By 1911, the La Grange Independent School District was created by act of the Texas State Legislature. The Act divested the City of La Grange of title to all public school property, including the Casino School. By 1924, LGISD moved into its new school building and sold the Casino Hall back to the city for $7,500 to be used for the Fire Department and City Hall.
La Grange City Hall and Fire Department
The fire department occupied the first floor of the building and made several modifications including installing large bays on the eat side of the building, replacing the small entrance door and windows in order to accommodate the fire trucks. City Hall occupied the second floor of the Casino Hall for forty years until it moved to its new location next door in 1968. The fire department then expanded adding a new bay for a fire truck and remodeling living quarters inside the station.
La Grange Senior Citizen Center
In 1992, after sixty-seven years in the Casino Hall, the Fire Department moved into its new headquarters directly across the street. The Casino Hall then became the La Grange Senior Citizen Center. The center was used for senior activities and was also used by the wider community for meetings, crafts and recreation until 2006.
Over the next eight years, the building remained vacant. Finally, in 2014, the renovation project began when the City Council voted and approved the City funding the multimillion dollar restoration.
The Historic Casino Hall, located at 254 N. Jefferson, is now a newly renovated, two-story building consisting of 9,615 square feet of space including a performing arts center. It is the home of the La Grange Economic Development Corporation and La Grange Main Street and Visitors Bureau. It also will include an exhibit space, gift shop, and visitors lounge.
One of La Grange’s oldest and most significant buildings, the Historic Casino Hall continues to represent the Casino Gemütlichkeit spirit and will provide a place of friendliness and good cheer for years to come.
See more of the Historic Casino Hall in CBS Austin’s Road Trippin’ video.