HISTORY HERE AND NOW Aug. 21, 2009
Dance halls in full swing until WWII started
As always, my dear friend Billee Abell makes our designated shopping day, Friday, a great day.
This past Friday was a toe-tapping swing down memory lane of the dance halls in Grand Junction.
Billee wanted to see the new veterinarian clinic that Mark Ryan — she has known him since he was a little boy — and his partner are building on Patterson Road.
I turned to head west on Patterson and as we got to the corner of 25 1/2 Road my Friday morning fun began.
Billee told me about late summer of 1935 when Benny Goodman came to town and played at the Mile-Away Ball Room. She described the building as being a square structure, rather like an armory, adding that it most likely burned down later. The inside consisted of a dance floor in the middle with a railing a few feet out from the wall for the crowd to lean on to rest when not dancing.
There had been a contest to name this dance hall and someone entered the name Mile-Away because it was a mile away from Grand Junction, just past where the pavement ended.
She said the night Goodman performed there was not much dancing. Everyone stood around on the dance floor in a semi-circle just to listen to the band. It was fantastic — there was nothing else like it in those days.
When Billee talked about the dances popular at the time — the waltz, foxtrot and two-step — I was wishing that I had a big band CD to pop in the car stereo.
Admission was a dollar, which was a lot of money in those days.
No alcohol was served inside the building even though Prohibition had been repealed.
There was a drink counter, but only soft drinks were served, so people were always going outside to their cars for a little nip from the bottle.
Billee giggled and shared that sometimes people went out to the parking lot for something other than a nip from the bottle.
She said in those days people didn’t go to these events as a group. You had dates.
I could almost hear the rustle of fancy dresses when she described how everyone got all dressed up to go out dancing on Friday and Saturday nights at the dance halls.
Gene Krupa was another big band that played Grand Junction. Charlie Carana from Pueblo came to Grand Junction often. Arman De Beque, from the town of De Beque, had a local band.
Billee said that Charles Lumley, the sheriff at the time, would come out to the Mile-Away, or any of the other dance halls, look around and check on everybody and say, “Your momma told me to make sure you were being good” or “I’ll take ya home if you get a little rough.”
Mile-Away wasn’t the only dance hall, or ballroom, in Grand Junction.
The Copeco was a popular dance hall. The dance hall was in the top floor of the stables, which had been built into the side of a hill, at the old Craven Mansion and had one of the nicest dance floors in the area. The mansion was in the area of roads J and 23. It closed New Year’s Eve, 1962.
Billee said her group of friends would dance at the Elks Club, at Fourth and Ute, until it closed, then head out to one of the dance halls.
The dance halls started to close as World War II got into full swing, Billee said, what with so many young men going off to war.
So to borrow a phrase from a Benny Goodman song — “Thanks For The Memory” — thanks, Billee, for sharing your memories with me.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the Avalon Theatre, the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.