Apr 19, 2006

obslogo.jpg (10497 bytes)

The orchestra in
full dress rehearsal

An advertisement in the
Fennville Herald 1923
The way it looked in 1909


In last winter installments of the Big Pavilion story we recounted the plans, the whirlwind construction and the grandiose opening in July 1909. By early 1910 it was revealed the owners had built the place with shoestring financing and unpaid lien holders were ready to force bankruptcy. But with confidence inspired by the first summers success, more capital was obtained and the owners sailed into the future loaded with optimism.

The Big Pavilion was on a run – built at the right time, in the right place, an awesome dance hall with big city orchestras, brand new electric lighting (colors even), and most importantly, eager customers looking for a good time. For a small admission charge gawkers and hopeful wallflowers could watch from seats behind the railing. Dancers bought tickets for eight cents each or seven for fifty cents. Deac Weed and Frederick Limouze – managers, part owners and masters of cermony – ran the operation and the dance floor. Unattached males and females in particular were subjected to strict house rules of decorum. Dancing partners had to maintain a “proper” distance. Buttoned suit coats were a requirement. On busy nights, the length of each dance was monitored by Weed with a stopwatch.

The Commercial Record reported: “Crowds are great. The crowds continue to increase at the big pavilion and special cars (Interurban) bring large numbers from Holland and the Black Lake (Lake Macatawa) resorts nearly every evening especially on nights when special features are presented. Last week Wednesday there were 1800 paid admissions and this week Wednesday fully as many.”

Innovative and new entertainment schemes were devised. Theme dances and parties were favorites. Prizes were plentiful for winners. On the floor in front of the stage were painted numbers used at special dances. When the music stopped dancers would rush - ala musical chairs - to get a number. Popular parties were the annual Farm and Barn Party, Mardi Gras night, Ticklish Party (feather ticklers for all) and the Pajama Party.

In 1912 the first movies came to Saugatuck in the form of open air arcades and by 1913 the Pavilion had its own on the south end beyond the dance floor. This was the beginning of a love affair between the public and the Pavilion Movie Theater that was to last for half a century. Eventually the building was extended to include a theater that could seat hundreds and showed a new feature every night. In 1918 the building was repainted red with white trim and lights highlighting the towers, doors and windows. This color scheme remained the trade mark for the entire life of the building. There were six flag poles – two on the roof and one on each tower.

In 1927 with the radio craze sweeping the county, a radio broadcasting station was installed to pick up and broadcast dance floor music. Music live from the Big Pavilion was a show carried by many new stations.

More Big Pavilion is on the way. Stay tuned.                      by Jack Sheridan

My thanks to Kit Lane and her book “Saugatuck’s Big Pavilion:
The Brightest Spot on the Great Lakes”.


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