1951 … dancing at the TOTEM POLE BALLROOM
I spent my high-school, and most of my college, years living in Wellesley Hill, Massachusetts. The town of Newton was very nearby and it was home to a wonderful recreation area called Norumbega Park. It featured canoeing, picnicking, an outdoor theater, a penny arcade, a zoo, a colorful carousel and a huge Ferris wheel.
All of these attractions were enticing but the “icing on the cake” was the amazing dancehall called the Totem Pole. Virtually every famous swing band in the country appeared at that venue. These included, among others, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Harry James & the Dorsey Brothers. Music from the ballroom was broadcast nationally over the NBC, ABC & CBS networks.
A night at the Totem Pole was pricey so most of us in the teenage bracket had only dreamed of going. However, shortly after I turned 18, I met a college man (sigh!) who actually had the means to buy tickets and we spent a memorable Saturday night there.
As I recall they didn’t have a name band the night that we were there, but that didn’t dim our enthusiasm. I was mesmerized the minute we walked in. We were on the upper level of a huge hall. A large staircase led down to the main dance floor and couches and small tables were interspersed on the way down.
There were actually three dance floors…the enormous one in front of the live orchestra and two smaller, intimate, ones on either side of the seating arrangements. It was all very posh and incredibly romantic. The lighting was soft and the music was dreamy and just right for slow dancing. I doubt if I was as much enthralled by my date as I was by the idea of it all; but, it was certainly a night to remember.
Of course it all came to an end,,,not just that night, but the Big Band Era itself...and in 1964 the Totem Pole closed it’s doors for good. Today the area is the site of a large Marriott Hotel.
But the city of Newton has preserved ten acres known as the Norumbega Park Conservation Land. It has access to the Charles river and is a popular jogging and dog-walking site during the day.
During the night? I can’t help but wonder if it is occupied by “Totem Pole ghosts” of the past ,,,romantic couples on an enormous dance floor, swaying to the hypnotic swing tunes that dominated the 50’s and 60’s.