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Crystal Palace
Paw Paw Lake
Coloma MI

Crystal Palace Ballroom, built in 1925, was "the place to be" for big name bands and entertainers....Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Perry Como, Lawrence Welk and many more.  Hartford teenagers, planned all week for Saturday with an evening of dancing and socializing with friends at Crystal Palace.    

TriCity Record

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 Steves 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 Franks 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 Rays 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 Snyders 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 play dates.

Im sure there are others around we just dont 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 area.

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.

This one is for you, Bud and Marion


                            Moonlight Serenade

I stand at your gate and the song that I sing is of moonlight.
I stand and I wait for the touch of your hand in the June night.
The roses are sighing a Moonlight Serenade.

The stars are aglow and tonight how their light sets me dreaming.
My love, do you know that your eyes are like stars brightly beaming?
I bring you and sing you a Moonlight Serenade.

Let us stray till break of day
in love's valley of dreams.
Just you and I, a summer sky,
a heavenly breeze kissing the trees.

So don't let me wait, come to me tenderly in the June night.
I stand at your gate and I sing you a song in the moonlight,
a love song, my darling, a Moonlight Serenade.

In 1963, Crystal Place was sold and in 1965, the building destroyed by fire.   Sweet memories will always linger in the mind of those who made Crystal Palace a delightful part of their youth.

 If you have a special memory about Crystal Palace, please email the webmaster your comments will be added below. 

I can remember when Dick, Cindy and I were kids our Mom and Dad would park the car in the parking lot at Crystal Palace.  We would roll down our windows and listen to the great Big Band Music.  I have loved Big Band to this day.  What a great article.  Just loved it.   

Starr L. Becht

Some of my best memories of high school (1954-1957) were dancing at Crystal Palace, Louie Armstrong, Harry James, Stan Kenton, The Glenn Miller Band....lucky to have grown up during that Big Band Era. We couldn't wait to turn 21 so we could go into The Cage. But never did.

Karen Gobiel Slater. Benton Harbor class of 57

Photo contributed by Helen Dyer Hauck  4-2004

Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 

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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
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Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.

Revised: June 09, 2015