Paw Paw River Journal
More Big Bands
Just recently I wrote a column on Crystal Palace and other places… but I never really got around to the other places. So here goes with a few. Back in the day our weekends were made just for fun. Most of us went to school and worked all week… but when Friday night came it was play time.
I have written in the past about Steve’s Roller Rink and the Friday skating parties that high school classes would sponsor. Of course that was when there was not a Friday night game. Often the Student Council would sponsor a dance after a home basketball game. It was then Marion and I got together before she was old enough to go on car dates. She would arrange for her folks to pick her up after the dance, and we had time together. If there were no game or dance on a Friday night, after she was older we might go to one of the local movie houses. Almost always a double-feature playing and we could sit in back where we could hold hands and our heads could be together without someone in back complaining.
How different that was from our sophisticated entertainment centers now… either at home or in our vehicles! If we had a radio in our car, it was an AM band only, because FM had not yet come into being. And there was usually one speaker, on the instrument panel right inside the windshield. But that music rivaled listening to the best systems we have now. And we did not play it as loud as kids do now. I have actually seen vehicles that were trembling with the sound coming out of them! I am sure that audiologists are preparing for the many people who will have damaged hearing in the future.
And in the days before we were married, we danced – taking for granted the best music in America, provided by the greatest bands this country had ever produced. They all came to this part of Michigan… Crystal Palace on Paw Paw Lake, Shadowland Ballroom at Silver Beach and a couple of places out at Sister Lakes. One was Ramona. This was a roller rink during the week, but on weekends it became a dance hall, drawing name bands.
I can remember one of our friends, a pretty big guy, was a bouncer at Ramona. When Marion and I went out there, he liked to have us get a table near his area, so he could sit with us while he was keeping an eye out for troublesome people. And he did not have a lot of problems, because most people were there just to have a good time and dance with the girl of their dreams.
Also in the Sister Lakes area someone had opened a race track for midget cars. We would go there once in a while on Saturday night to watch those little cars zoom around. The place was called Rendezvous Bowl, and not time, nor can distance dim the golden glow of a long ago Saturday night when Marion and I were not yet married. We went to the Midget Races out there. After the checkered flags and smell of hot exhausts, our whole grandstand moved out into the center of the track. There on an open air dance floor we were cheek to cheek, our arms about each other … slow dancing to the music of Billy Butterfield and his band.
Overhead a black velvet canopy with stars and in my arms the most beautiful girl in the world, and the music… that great trumpeter and his band playing. To this day when I think of the marvel of those times, it hits me right in the pit of my stomach!
Sunday nights were for going to Shadowland Ballroom down at Silver Beach. To get to it, dancers walked down the midway, past the roller-coaster, Fun House, merry-go-round, Palm Reader’s booth, restaurants, ice cream booths, etc. Right at the end on the left was Shadowland. This was before Silver Beach closed.
People entered under a large canopy along a walk with benches on each side. In the hall on the left was a snack bar, and men’s room. To the right, another snack bar-beer garden combination. The dance floor was huge and polished until it glittered. The floor was encircled by brass plated stanchions, through which red velvet ropes were stretched. The north side, opposite, was terraced with low walls, tables and booths. At the left end, next to the band stand, the ladies’ room. A lot of local bands played there, and one of the popular groups was Del Pino’s Band.
By the last dance, which was ‘Goodnight, Ladies,’ couples were getting ready to walk back through the midway. By this time the attractions were closed. People streamed along, shouting goodnight… making future dates, and saying, “See you next Sunday!”
At the end of the midway, next to Shadowland there was usually parked a motor boat. A Chris Craft, I think, and for a nominal sum the driver would take you out and around in Lake Michigan. One night Marion and I decided to try it. When we got out on the lake there were huge swells and spray breaking over the bow. We sat behind the driver, arms around each other in the black dark of night… we were young, in love, and if something had happened to us then and there… well, we were together!