09-12-2019 Tri-City Area History Page

The Paw Paw River Journal

Echoes from Crystal Palace

Just recently Sandy VanDrasek stopped by for a visit. She and husband Gordon live in splendid retirement on their fruit farm over near the big lake. She said they have a question for me… when am I going to write another column on Crystal Palace? They loved that place, as did many others. Every time I’ve done a column on Crystal, I’ve had more reader reaction than just about anything I’ve ever written. For almost 40 years it was the place to go on Saturday night! That iconic ballroom was the brainchild of a Chicago contractor named Frank Dlouhy. He built it in 1925, but fire destroyed it before the grand opening. With the help of local well-wishers, Frank rebuilt immediately. It was a grand success and at the peak of the big band era (WWII) was enjoying its best times. One Saturday night in 1946, Eddy Howard’s band played to a record crowd of 3,460 people. Many of us were just back from World War II (including me). Marion and I were part of the crowd. I can remember some of the songs we were dancing to, and singing along with… To Each His Own and It’s Been a Long, Long Time. It had been a long, long time; and we had three years to make up for. We were covered with glory dust from winning a war and were ready to celebrate. It would be some time before the cold reality of peacetime would set in and we would be back to worrying about mundane matters. Meanwhile, on with the dance and spending the separation pay in our pockets. After a period of time adjusting to civilian life, something became apparent to me… Crystal Palace was the place to go to meet other guys and girls. We were starting to settle in and many of us had found our life’s partner. But guys still wanted to hit on our girls, so going to Crystal became less and less important. But the place was still popular as ever with young people. Marion’s brother Bob was just coming into his own. He was now graduated and had bought a new Chevy. And he was going to Crystal! He heard that it was getting popular to smuggle a bottle into the place… you know, bring your own! They would do it by buying a pint (which was flat). It would fit just inside your belt, covered by your suit coat. Well, Bob thought he’d try it, only he bought a fifth, which is round, and much harder to hold up with your belt. He got his ticket for admission all right, but as he walked through the door he felt it start to slip… going down inside his pants. The only thing he could do was grab his leg to keep it from going any farther. And thus he hobbled down to the safety of the Men’s Room where he could retrieve it. For a period of time they opened Crystal to anyone of all ages. And they had a section closed off where you could get admitted if you were 21 and buy alcoholic drinks. That area was called The Cage! Thus it became popular to try to outwit the bouncers who were burly guys and always on the lookout for underage drinkers as they guarded the portals. For so many years that was just the place to go. Saturday nights the Paw Paw Lake area was sprinkled with gold dust. Crowds so thick they spilled out into the streets, making driving difficult. It was definitely a place for young people to meet, flirt, and find someone who would become that one special person. One Saturday night when we were in high school, Marion and a bunch of girls went to Crystal to celebrate one girl’s birthday. No dates, just a girl’s party. The band in session was Harry James. He was most popular as a trumpeter, and furthermore was married to Betty Grable, who became one of the most famous ‘pin-up’ girls of World War II. GIs all over the world had pictures of her in a swimsuit adorning barracks rooms, tanks and airplanes… even foxholes! Anyway, that night someone sent a note up to Harry James, telling about the birthday girl. So he invited her up on the stage to sing a number with the band. She did a creditable job too! That’s the kind of stuff of which legends are made for young people. Another popular thing was to get an autographed picture of whichever band was playing. Marion had a whole stack! But they came to a sad ending. I mentioned how Marion kept our house rented to pay the mortgage while we were moving around. We always kept one upstairs bedroom for our stuff that we couldn’t take with us. Somehow that box of pictures got mixed up with one of the renters’ boxes, and we never saw them again. That whole time before, during, and after World War II was in a way sprinkled with gold dust. In spite of the horrors of war we were all most alive! We felt we must live as much as we could and whatever time we had. Life had an urgency… we had to get through the war part, which most of us did. We lost friends, and we lost couples who could not survive the transition to civilian life. I have told our kids, “Each generation thinks they invented it all. But our generation really did!” And one of our girls said if she could grow up in any time period it would be ours! War ended and life just burst out. We were living it! And weaving threads into the Golden Tapestry of Life in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River.

Library News WATERVLIET National Library Card Sign Up Month

Anyone signing up for their first Watervliet District Library Card this month will be entered in a raffle for a library newcomer packet of prizes! Teen Table Projects: September Classics 101: Give the contest a try & earn yourself a Snickers’ Mini! In Stitches Knitting Group Friday, Sept. 13, 2:30 – 4 p.m. Take your current project or your interest; they’ll help you get started! Third Monday Book Club Sept. 16, 7 – 8 p.m. This Month: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Family Movie Night Friday, Sept. 20 – 6 p.m. Start your weekends off with a treat! The third Friday evening each month this fall means: Movies! Popcorn! Crafts! This week – The Original Toy Story; Sporks! Yoga Mondays 9 – 10 a.m.; Wednesdays 7 – 8 p.m.; Fridays 10:30 – 11:30 a.m.; Chair Yoga – Wednesdays 6 – 6:30 p.m.

COLOMA Book Club

The Coloma Public Library Book Club is meeting on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “The Book of Dreams” by Nina George. Storytime Weekly storytime for toddlers and preschool-aged children has returned to Coloma Public Library starting Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 10:30 a.m. No preregistration is required to participate in this weekly interactive experience that includes books, music, and fun. Miss Alicia is looking forward to meeting the children! Hartford New “STEM & Lego Build” program every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. This drop-in program is to be creative with the library’s Legos. With each Lego creation, the creator’s name will be placed in a drawing box. There will be monthly Lego prizes. Wednesday, Sept. 25, 4:30 p.m. is an “Ice Cream Social”. Help them create the tallest paper ice cream cone. Parents and children can learn about the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Program. No registration is required. This event is free for all children and parents.

Cast of high school play from November 1967. Do you recognize anyone, know what high school they attended, or know the name of the play? Please contact North Berrien Historical Museum at 269-468-3330, office@northberrienhistory.org, or stop by Tues-Friday 10am-4pm. From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum 300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma


100 years ago – 1919 Schools opened with high school enrollment at 67. In order to be considered an honor student the pupil must have no demerit marks and be making a passing grade. All the boys that went into the service of Uncle Sam, in the World War, will pass in review at the Armistice Day demonstration. They will be grouped according to the division in which they fought. Show your support to the sons of Berrien who made the world safe for democracy. 60 years ago – 1959 Residents along the Ellinee Bay complained of reckless maneuvering by water skiers. Supervisor Roger Carter explained that the township has no jurisdiction over the lake. Mrs. Warren Adams became the victim of bogus magazine salesmen. They took advantage of her near-sightedness and pocketed $50. Dawn Stevenson, 11-year-old, was runner-up in the Singer Sewing contest. She modeled her dress in a fashion show. Mrs. Virginia Stevenson will offer piano instruction. She resides in the new Leedy subdivision and can be reached by phone HO 8-5266. Marine Pfc. John R. Marcucci arrived at Naha, Okinawa for 15 months of duty. He previously served 15 months at Camp Pendleton. 30 years ago – 1989 As city administrator, John Hodges gets accustomed to his new office and first day on the job. “I am glad to be here,” Hodges said. Coloma teachers and certified staff receive a 6% salary increase. Bus drivers and teacher aides were given a 7% increase. A fuel tank was removed at Washington School as part of summer maintenance. Fall planting for springtime beauty at Limberlost Nursery… trees, shrubs and bulbs – Jackie Hammond, Owner. The Department of the Treasury reminds us of the new federal law. Government issued checks are void after one year. Remember to cash or deposit your check. Submitted by volunteer Sandi Musick Munchow at Coloma Public Library from the Coloma Courier newspapers donated by the Tri-City Record. Hours: Mon & Fri, 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Tue, Wed & Thur, 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Sat, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Phone: 269-468-3431


100 years ago – 1919 E.R. Fitch has sold his farm of 80 acres in the southwest corner of the township to John H. Eder, who will take possession in the spring. Mr. Fitch and his family are planning to move to Dowagiac. George Olds has moved into rooms over the W.R. Ward cigar store, and George Kime is moving into the residence vacated by Mr. Olds. Jacob Geisler and family will soon occupy the residence which they purchased of Mr. Kime on Hillsboro Street. 75 years ago – 1944 Businessmen, high school students, farmers, housewives and residents of Hartford in general worked overtime last weekend to solve, what threatened to be, a glutted peach market at the Van Buren County Fruit Exchange. Dick Levy, manager of the Exchange sent an SOS to Ward Plants, head of the farm labor office here. Volunteers recruited from among Hartford village and rural residents, many of whom left other business duties to lend a hand at the fruit exchange joined with students from the Hartford school to help process the fruit and send it on its way to city markets and army camps. Hundreds of bushels of peaches were thus saved that otherwise would have spoiled. The Hartford Art Study class met at the home of Mrs. Minnie Fox on Church Street Monday afternoon. The subject of the lesson for the day, as presented by the president, Mrs. Blanche Watson, was the French painter of nearly two centuries ago, Madam Vigee Le Brun. 50 years ago – 1969 The Modern Mothers club will meet tonight, Sept. 14, at the home of Mrs. James Chappel with co-hostess, Mrs. James Empson. Roll call to be answered with “ideas for programs you would like this year.” Bill Barlow of Hartford was the grand prize winner in the House of David final Chic Bell talent show held on Labor Day. Barlow received $100 first prize from Jack King, producer of the show. In competition he sang, “Shadow of Your Smile” and “Exodus” accompanied by Miss Ruth Ann Davis of Hartford. Submitted by Librarian Stephanie Daniels at Hartford Public Library from microfilm copies of the Hartford Day Spring. Hours: Mon, Tue & Wed, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thur & Fri, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Phone: 269-621-3408


90 years ago – 1929 Eugene Packard and family have moved from an apartment in Mrs. Shorey’s building on South Main Street to Mrs. Morris’ house on Forest Beach. Mrs. Chas. Hyde was hostess on Sept. 25, 1929 at her residence on Lewis Street, at 1 o’clock for a bridge luncheon. Five tables were arranged for cards, following the delicious repast. Allen Cutler is substituting on mail route no. 1 while Carrier C.D. Doolittle is serving on the jury. 60 years ago – 1959 Miss Bonnie E. Bradford, Route 2, Watervliet, and Richard R. Ross, Watervliet, will enter Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan, this fall. They both arrived on the campus on Sept. 13 for the orientation program for new students and will begin classes on Sept.18, 1959. Mr. and Mrs. Harold Fulton are the proud parents of their baby boy, Gerald Joseph, born Sept. 10, 1959 and weighed 7 pounds and 12 ounces. Mr. and Mrs. Richard Petzak are the proud parents of their baby girl, Pamela Marie, born Sept. 11, 1959 and weighed 7 pounds and 13 ounces. 30 years ago – 1989 Sara Robinson, an 11th grader at WHS is our “Student of the Week”. The WHS faculty is proud to have Sara as a student. She is well known to the staff and students as a person who is always pleasant and easy to get along with. She has been active in several school sports throughout the years. Sara has been a member of the Watervliet Youth Outreach organization for three years and is always ready with a helping hand. The 46th Weston Reunion was held Aug. 20, 1989, at Hays Park, Watervliet. The weather was unsettled in the morning but turned out to be real nice. Games played by the children were planned by Faye Rose. The men enjoyed playing baseball, and everyone else had a good time. Watervliet Public Schools and North Berrien Adult and Community Education are sponsoring a “Stay Out of Reach” self-defense class for children 5th grade and below. The class, which is being presented by the Young Olympians from Grandville, will be held on Thursday evenings at South Elementary School. The class promotes self-defense and self-discipline rather than aggressiveness. Submitted by Sally Q. Gonzalez from files at Watervliet District Library of the Watervliet Record newspapers donated by the Tri-City Record. Hours: Mon & Wed, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Tue, Thur & Fri, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Phone: 269-463-