Adelaide’s Wonderland Ballroom up for sale

The Wonderland Ballroom is for sale. Picture:
The Wonderland Ballroom is for sale. Picture:

One of Australia’s few competition ballrooms has come onto the market in the wake of the COVID-19 downturn.

Adelaide’s magically-named Wonderland Ballroom has swept locals up in the glamour and fun of dance for more than 50 years. It’s been the site of an annual national ballroom competition, the go-to place for a night of rock’n’roll, debutante balls and weddings, but with the sale its days as a dance venue could be nearing an end.

Set in the heart of the leafy, inner-southern suburb of Hawthorn, the building at 126 Belair Rd is within an Urban Corridor Living zone that allows for developments up to four storeys.

Commercial SA agent Evan Florinis has the 1534sqm site on the market for “in the vicinity of $3 million”. He told the property had predominantly attracted interest from developers, but other parties had discussed commercial usage that could require significant modifications of the large building.

Dancers pictured enjoying the Wonderland Ballroom in 1992. Picture: The Advertiser

“We may even see parties wanting to reconfigure the actual building to bring parking on to the site and still maintain some of the building,” said Mr Florinis, adding the property had driveway access out to George St.

In addition to the 967sqm ballroom and its special ‘sprung floor’, the building has a commercial kitchen, grand foyer, a separate hall and a number of offices.

The Wonderland Ballroom began life with a very different purpose. In 1963, it became the first Druze Hall in the world to be built outside of Lebanon.

The Druze community of South Australia wanted to create a community centre for the increasing number of people migrating from Lebanon to Adelaide. They raised donations and a group of 20 Druze families guaranteed the loan to enable the centre to be built.

In 2016, it was bought by the Australian Unitarian Druze Community Incorporated which continued it as a centre for community and cultural events, as well as hiring it out to dance schools and senior citizens groups. But last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic saw such events cancelled for months on end, it took a financial toll on the centre. Earlier this year, its owners notified hirers that it would be placed on the market.

State and national ballroom champions Rhett English and his wife Kym pictured dancing at the Wonderland Ballroom in 1992. Picture: Supplied by Rhett English

Rhett English, a champion ballroom dancer, co-director of Adelaide’s Dance Gallery and the centre’s most regular hirer, remembers his first dance performance at the Wonderland Ballroom when he was a 10-year-old – nearly 50 years ago.

He said it holds a special place not just in his heart, but in the heart of the local dance community.

“I’ve been hiring that venue for the best part of 10 years for social dances and it’s been hired for 40 to 45 years for dance competitions. It will be a shame if we lose it and lose somewhere a lot of people can go to dance, exercise and socialise,” he said.

“We have couples who come from all over Australia to compete at the championships and they all say this is one of the best ballrooms in the country. They say to me, ‘We wish we had a ballroom like this in our state.’ ”

Mr English said over the decades many locals had met their partners at Wonderland and later married. “They ring me to say they want to book in for one of our dances on a certain date because it’s the anniversary of when they met.”

Mr English hopes the venue can still be used by dancers. Picture: The Advertiser

He’s hoping people will rally and lobby the local council to consider buying the Belair Rd building so it could continue to serve the dance world and the local community.

Asked where the ballroom championships and other dance events would be held in Adelaide if the ballroom was demolished to make way for a development, he replied: “Good question. There won’t be anything that’s quite like the Wonderland anywhere.”

In the 40 years before Wonderland Ballroom opened, social dances in Adelaide were held at the Palais de Danse on North Terrace. Built in 1920, the art deco building was demolished in 1967. The site is now a car park.