June 1, 2006

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Friday morning, May 6, 1960, a persistent breeze waltzed briskly from the west, then the southeast. The Big Pavilion’s fifty-first season opening loomed three weeks away. Manager Jack Repp was out to tell village maintenance boss Newnham to turn on the water and to negotiate summer advertising rates with the Commercial Record. From his Chicago office, owner Herb Shutter ordered red paint for the summer paint job. Somewhere among the thousands of light sockets and miles of 1909 wiring, a cancerous short had sparked ... maybe.

The Big Pavilion had minutes to live. In the Hotel Saugatuck next door, Viola Fox tallying last nights receipts answered the phone. From across the river, the caller could see smoke coming from the building. Vi punched the in-house direct-line alarm button to the Village fire hall. But it was already too late, as fire chief Bill Wilson smashed through the Dock Bar door, flames churned skyward and inky smoke boiled over the eaves of the towering dock-side wall.

The beloved barn was already a funeral pyre. The only doubt was how much of Saugatuck would survive. Luck of the draw wind swept blast furnace heat and burning embers westward, out over the river and ten fire departments, hoses streaming river water, were able to contain the conflagration.

So in mere hours, a Saugatuck legend, “the brightest spot on the great lakes” was distilled to blackened rubble. Symbolically, like her birth, death of the red dance hall was bigger than life, a brilliant burst of light and excitement, followed by the wonder of it all.                 by Jack Sheridan

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