Tuesday, March 02, 2010

1951 … dancing at the TOTEM POLE BALLROOM



My blog vignettes are really an eclectic collection of memories and thoughts that I’ve gathered over the years and have posted since June of ‘06. For the fun of it I checked to see which entry had received the most comments and this one, (from 06/05/07) won hands down ! I repeat it here with apologies to Kenju, Cazzie and KG Mom who already commented back then.

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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.

7 Comments:

Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Bygone days. I was too young ... brag brag.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Lovely memories Ginnie. It reminded me of my grandmother, she used to go ballroom dancing every Saturday night. She is why I love ballroom dancing! Thanks for the memories!
Love Di ♥

10:26 AM  
Blogger Syd said...

Those great places, similar to the beach pavilions down here, are no more. Instead large hotels and office buildings have taken the space. I don't think that is necessarily progress.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Nice memory. A place to dance to a live orchestra is a rare place indeed these days. In Toronto, I went a few times to the dinner and dancing at the Empire Room of the Royal York Hotel. It was one of the last great dinner clubs to shut down.

Toronto had the Palais Royale at the Sunnyside Amusement Park on Lake Ontario on the west side. I vaguely remember Sunnyside. All the great bands came to the Palais Royale also, as they did at the amusement park and dance hall down at Crystal Beach on Lake Erie. It was before my time. The Palais Royale still exists as a lonely reminder of Sunnyside. There are still activities there but I am not sure of what kind.

I think ballroom dancing is coming back. Thanks to TV dance shows and contests I guess. My sister and her husband are taking some classes in ballroom dancing. I have wanted to take more lessons ever since I learned as a teenager but I could never find a partner. I may yet. Hope springs eternal.

11:45 AM  
Blogger kenju said...

No need to apologize - I didn't remember it before....lol
That would have been the kind of place I'd love to have gone to.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Mary LA said...

Such a nostalgic and beautiful post.

2:13 AM  
Blogger Chancy said...

Ginnie,
Atlanta also had a "big band" ballroom or two. One was called Robinson's Tropical Gardens. The other was Jennings Rose Room. Jennnings Rose Room was a large dance hall located right along side the Chattahoochi river. Of course the bands were local but they were good and played all the late 40's and early 50's hits. The music back then was great.
Mr C and I did a lot of our courting at Jennings Rose Room.

Fond memories.

Jennings Rose Room now houses an upscale restaurant called Canoe. The walls of the lobby hold black and white photos of Jennings RR as it was in the 50's with the band and dancing pattrons.

4:47 PM  

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