Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.
This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is people "going out.” If the stack of souvenir photos from the various night clubs around Norfolk and Virginia Beach is any indication, no one enjoyed going out any more than my mother Mary Eleanor Davis (Slade) and her best friend Betsy Ward when they were teenagers in the 1940s.
One particular night, the girls were waiting for their dates to arrive. The boys were running late; the girls were getting bored. So they stretched out across Betsy’s bed and started playing with her old paper dolls. When the dates arrived, Betsy’s mother greeted them saying, “Oh, the girls are upstairs playing with their paper dolls.” Momma said she and Betsy were sooooo embarrassed. I can’t imagine why.
Whether they were picking up ensigns or sticking with the hometown boys, Momma and Betsy enjoyed going to the dance clubs.
|High school sweethearts at the Palomar: Tommy Watson and |
Betsy Ward, Mary Eleanor Davis and Dickie Blanks
at the Spring Dance, Apr 23, 1945. Music by Tommy Reynolds
Palomar, which advertised itself as “Home of Name Bands,” was one of the main ballrooms in Norfolk, Virginia in the 40s. When the sale of liquor and dancing on Sunday were outlawed (gasp!), the Palomar made big news by experimenting with floorshows on Sundays. Palomar booked various groups that were on tour in the area. Despite the pleasure ban, crowds averaged around 600 on Sunday nights. Cover charge varied from $1.60 per couple to $3.00, depending on the attraction.
|Palomar -- Everyone signed this photo but not with their last names.|
Glenn Somebody, Cookie Spencer, Betsy Ward, Bill Somebody,
Mary Eleanor Davis. Surely there is a fellow missing.
|Mary E. and Betsy with 2 unnamed fellows at the Frolics|
In 1943, Art and Charles Lewis and Jock Greenspoon, who were well-known showmen-concessionaires, purchased Seaside Park in Virginia Beach for $275,000. They added rides to the already popular Ferris Wheel, Whip, Magic Carpet Ride, Merry-Go-Round, and Laff-n-Dark; they remodeled the ballroom, modernized the pool and bathhouses, and constructed four restaurants. Plans also called for a “modern, fireproof hotel and theater.” A fireproof hotel – what a concept! Their involvement was welcomed as a harbinger of great prosperity for the city. Judging by Momma’s hairdo, this picture was from 1946. She and Betsy and their dates probably danced to the sound of the Johnny Morris Band or Les Elgart, swing jazz bandleader best remembered for his “Bandstand Boogie” that Dick Clark used for his American Bandstand show.
|August 17-18, 1946 12:30 a.m. Ocean Club|
George Savage, Margaret Wall, Mary Eleanor Davis,
Tuff Brown, Betsy Ward, Ralph Joynes
Rain put a damper on the vacation season in Virginia Beach (get it? Rain - Damper? Ha – I kill me!) As a result many clubs closed Labor Day, but the Ocean Club at 16th & Atlantic Avenue continued its big band policy through the end of the month. After that they hosted small bands for dining and dancing. Momma and her friends were there in August 1946 when Ray Robbins performed. His band played music in the sweet style considered perfect for dancing and quiet conversation.
|Momma didn't identify these people, but that's Betsy|
in the center and Momma on the far right at the Surf Beach Club.
Surf Beach Club
The Surf Beach Club in Virginia Beach had been leased by the armed services during World War II. The club reopened in May of 1946 with a full roster of big bands. The following year Jimmy Dorsey and Carmen Cavallaro (“poet of the piano” who was a major influence on Liberace) were among the opening acts for a season that was already shaping up to be record-setting. In fact, hotel operators reported that there was so much interest in Virginia Beach they feared they would have to turn vacationers away. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Surf Club hosted Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Frank Sinatra. Louie Prima, who was a bandleader of a jazz band turned swing band turned big band, met Keely Smith in the crowd at the Surf Club and married her after hearing her sing.
To see who else is going out, go on over to Sepia Saturday.
“Best of Big Bands Vol 2.” Radio Archives. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
“Lewises Sell Interest in Seaside Park.” The Billboard (4 Oct 1947): 56. Google Books. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
“Seaside Changes Hands; $275,000 Paid for Virginia Beach Spot by Lewis, Greenspoon Combo.” The Billboard. (23 Oct 1943): 42. Google Books. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
“Sunday Floorshows Click in Ballroom.” The Billboard. (6 Nov 1943): 17. Google Books. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
“Surf Beach Reopens with Orks After 4 Yrs.” The Billboard. (25 May 1946): 47. Google Books. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
“Va Beach Hotel Operators Fear Turnaway Flack." The Billboard (31 May 1947): 47. Google Books. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
“Virginia Beach Notes.” The Billboard (14 Sep 1946): 80. Google Books. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.
“Virginia Spots Fall Behind 1945; Weather Main Reason.” The Billboard. (14 Sep 1946): 80. Google Books. Web. 20 Mar. 2012.