Paw Paw River Journal
by Roy "Bud" Davis
Put on Those Dancin’ Shoes!
For most of our generation,
far and away the best place to go dancing was Crystal Palace on the
west side of Paw Paw Lake. Hard to imagine in our modern world a
Saturday night back there in the 1940s. The whole lake area was devoted
to summer resorts. Now when we drive around the lake, we are surrounded
by houses… and big ones mostly. The Illinois people who vacationed
there summers have now retired and built permanent homes.
On a Saturday night back in
the day, crowds were so thick in the area from Crystal Palace to The
Ellinee and Steve’s Roller Rink we could hardly drive a car along the
road. And Crystal was packed! In 1946, Eddy Howard and his band played
there on a Saturday night… and the crowd of 3,460 people made it the
biggest night ever at Crystal.
How did that venue become so
popular? Frank Dlouhy, a general contractor from Chicago, built it; and
the scheduled opening in April of 1925 never happened, because the
building was destroyed by fire a week before its completion. Volunteers
helped Frank rebuild, and he finally opened six weeks later in May. And
they had the summer crowds of resorters.
We have known Frank’s son,
Ray Dlouhy, for a long time and have enjoyed getting together with him
in recent years. According to him, the ballroom was able to draw big
name union bands because it opened the same year Julie Stein launched
Music Corporation of America, and the Dlouhys were among his first
customers… so they drew the big names.
Back in the early days the
ballroom operated on what was called a park plan. People could come in,
sit at the tables or booths, and order refreshments. There were arbor
gates onto the dance floor and, to get out there and dance, the
customer had to buy tickets.
Marion said that when she
and her sister, Dolores, were small kids, they went to Crystal with
their folks. They sat and watched while the big people twirled around
the floor… 10 cents a dance, or three for a quarter.
Before WWII, the ballroom opened up and admission was charged at the
door. For name bands, of course, the admission would be more. And they
drew the crowds. People were served at tables and booths that lined the
walls. Ray said that often when the music started, the patrons were
reluctant to be first out on the floor. So his dad, Frank, would tell
Ray’s sisters, Eleanor and Vi, to grab a guy and get things started.
Friend and former
Hartfordite, Bob Connolly, has corresponded with me many times about
those days. He said that in Hartford High School, one of the big kids,
Martha Myers, taught him to dance. She later married Vere Shindeldecker
and for years was my favorite fuel oil lady out at Shindeldecker Oil
Co. When I called for an order, we always talked about old times. Bob
Connolly said it was a wonder her poor feet were not all bruised from
his stepping on them as she taught him the latest moves.
But Bob became an expert
dancer… and he was one of the guys who used to twirl Eleanor Dlouhy
around the floor at Crystal Palace. Another Hartford friend, Tommy
Lyons, said it was a joy to watch Bob and Eleanor when they started
dancing. Back in those days, the rage was The Jitterbug. This was a
popular form of fast dancing that involved a lot of twirling around.
Some of the favorite tunes for this were “In the Mood” and “A String of
Pearls,’ both by Glen Miller. Our personal favorite for slow dancing
has always been “Moonlight Serenade.”
Several things combined to
hasten the demise of dance halls after WWII. During the war, the head of
the musicians union called a strike, and for a while in there we had no
new band arrangements. We went through that part of the war on the
songs already out. Then, when all of the veterans came back, Big Band
dancing was hotter than ever. But the sound depends on having a whole
bunch of musicians. It was getting to be a very costly affair to have a
really well-known group play.
Another factor was the birth
of all the baby boomers. When they came along, many of them were not
satisfied with the music of their parents. And then the birth of rock
and roll! In 1963, Crystal Palace had been sold and was being turned
into a skating rink when it burned down. Ray Dlouhy said that Eddy
Howard sent a postcard to Julie Stein saying, “Just heard that Crystal
Palace burned down… that was the daddy of them all!”
The Big Band Sound never died… but it did sort of go underground for a
while. The last one Marion and I listened to and danced to was Bob
Snyder’s outfit. We heard him at Mackinac Island and also danced to his
music at The Deck, near Naples, Florida. We understand that he has now
retired, but his music goes on with the continuation of his band and
I’m sure there are others
around… we just don’t see them in this area. Fortunately we have area
musicians who still play local venues. In a later column I hope to
discuss them, with contributions from still active musicians in our
Sometimes just for fun,
Marion and I drive around Paw Paw Lake… and when we go by the place
where stood the “daddy of them all,” we can hear echoes of that music.
It is golden… and it has been woven deep into the tapestry of our lives
along the Paw Paw River.