Modern Meetings in Old-Fashioned Style at the Melody Event Center.
Over its long history the Melody Ballroom in Southeast Portland has played host to dances and school fundraisers, weddings and Quinceañeras,and up-and-coming bands. But new owner Alan Peters is hoping to shift people’s perception of how the 35,000-square-foot facility can be used—in part by asking them to look backward rather than forward when planning a meeting or event.
When the newly-christened Melody Event Center was originally built in 1925 it was the corporate headquarters of Woodmen of the World, a life insurance company. Peters hopes the building will once again become a place where businesses (as well as government agencies and nonprofits) want to host meetings, trainings, retreats and other events.
The Melody Event Center's main ballroom.
The Melody Event Center is a far cry from what most people picture when they think of a corporate meeting center. With soaring ceilings, large arched windows, old-growth timber beams and the original ornate décor, some would argue it is a vast improvement.
Peters, who previously owned two event centers in Northeast Portland, has poured close to $2 million into upgrading the building so it meets modern standards. The plumbing, HVAC system and electrical wiring have all been replaced. The ballroom has a state-of-the-art full-color lighting system that can be controlled from a smartphone. There’s now an elevator and full-service kitchen that provides for onsite and offsite catering.
“We want to be your ‘one-stop-shop’ so you can just come and enjoy your meeting or event,” said sales and events manager Kelly Carr. She also pointed out that the Melody currently has five separate meeting rooms and is building out more. That means groups can have a full-day meeting at one venue and not be traveling to different facilities for breakouts, meals and happy hour gatherings.
The Melody Event Center boasts state-of-the-art upgrades along with historical appointments.
Peters gives an example of what that can look like. The Melody recently hosted a large Portland-area corporation for a one-day training. They offered breakfast and lunch in one room and held their meeting in a second. After the day’s events had concluded they adjourned to the ballroom, where there was a bar and some interactive entertainment.
“We set up 14 table tennis tables in the ballroom,” Peters said. “We brought in a coach to give lessons and organize a tournament. At first people were very reluctant to sign up, but as the drinks began to flow, more people signed up, the tournament started and everyone had a blast!”
The Melody Event Center offers many versatile event spaces.
Another opportunity for a memorable experience at the Melody—and Peters’s other throwback to the building’s past—is provided by The Keep, a members-only bottle room, social club and whiskey bar in the building’s basement. Opening in October, The Keep features over 600 wine and spirit lockers for its member’s use, a whiskey bar serving premium spirits, a stage for performances or presentations, and 12,000 square feet of entertaining space.
Jeff Bernheisel is developing The Keep, an exclusive whiskey club, in the Melody’s basement. The area was formerly a speakeasy in the 1920s.
The Keep is being developed by former real estate technology consultant Jeff Bernheisel, a whiskey aficionado who enjoyed patronizing Portland’s other social clubs and wanted to put his own spin on one. “I’d been trying to find a location, and a buddy calls me and says, ‘My friend just bought this awesome building. He’s renovating it and he’s got this cool basement and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do with it,’” he said. “Alan gave me a tour, and the minute I opened the door and started walking down the stairs I got goosebumps because it was an old 1920s speakeasy. It just has that history to it.” They signed a lease two weeks later.
The partnership is ideal because Peters and Bernheisel are serving the same client base and can build off the success of their separate-but-connected facilities. If Bernheisel has a member who needs a large event space, he can walk them upstairs to the Melody. If a corporate event planner wants to offer a unique meeting or happy hour, they can arrange a private party at The Keep. (Bernheisel said he’s not opposed to occasionally closing the space to members if a Melody client wants to host a large private gathering.)
As he stood in front of the stage that once hosted legendary bands such as Nirvana and Alice in Chains, Bernheisel reflected back further in time, to when the building was still owned by the Woodmen of the World. “They called this their corporate center,” he said. “I don’t know what corporate centers were like in the 1920s, but when I come into this building I do not picture this as a corporate center. And then when you go downstairs and it’s a speakeasy and event room, and they had this huge soaking tub and a steam room… Just think of the parties that went on in this room. I’m excited to be able to take it back to that. We’re bringing the Roaring Twenties back to the building.” And giving the Portland business community an exciting new place to meet, learn and enjoy.
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