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 p