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Beacon Senior News

Dances in the desert: Relive the heyday of dance halls in the Grand Valley

Aug 04, 2018 02:58AM ● By Eileen O'Toole

Dance ads published in the Daily Sentinel, courtesy of Museums of Western Colorado.

“We built a dance pavilion in our backyard,” William Coulson wrote in a letter to a faraway relative on December 23, 1925.

At the time, dance halls were a prominent source of entertainment in the Grand Valley, fulfilling many people’s desires to be part of the Roaring ’20s despite Prohibition. Radios were rare, expensive and required electricity, so dance halls granted many people with opportunity to immerse themselves in music and dance.

Gotta dance

Dances were often hosted at small community centers like Fairmont Hall or the LaCourt Hotel Green Room, as many dancers were restricted by memberships to clubs and fraternal orders, such as the Grand Junction Country Club and the Elks.

Coulson and his wife, Grace, entertained residents at their Orchard Mesa home with dances two nights a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Built in 1924 and located at 2799 C Road, the Orchard Mesa Pavilion, as it came to be known, sported a 32-by-58-foot maple dance floor that carpenter John Lehman arranged in a circular pattern to allow dancers to follow the woodgrain. There was an entry lobby on the north and west side, and a musician’s stand offset with a piano on the south side next to a large kitchen/concession stand.

Many outlying areas of the Grand Valley didn’t have electricity, so wood or coal stoves and kerosene lamps were often the sources of heat and light. Bathroom facilities were outhouses. The Orchard Mesa Pavilion had two heating stoves in the lobby and a large kitchen range that afforded heat from the other side. Coleman lamps illuminated the hall in the lobby and around the dance floor. Local boys would go around seeking dead trees that they’d cut up and deliver to the dance hall in exchange for admission, which was 10 cents per dance, 25 cents for three dances or $1 for the evening.

Dance hall ads

Dance ads published in the Daily Sentinel, courtesy of Museums of Western Colorado.

Dancers could get soda pop, candy bars, peanuts, ice cream bars and gum for 5 cents each, and cigarettes for 15 cents a pack. Drinking wasn’t allowed, although that didn’t stop those who brought their own and frequently ducked out to their cars to take a swig.

Five-piece bands were the usual, made up of drums, saxophone, piano (provided by the Coulsons), violin and accordion. They hired local musicians like Armand deBeque and his wife, Ruby; the Hap Harris family; and Monte Taylor with his mother playing piano.

Soon the Mile-a-Way and Copeco ballrooms entered the market, as well as the Prohibition speakeasies people whispered about. Like the Pavilion, the Mile-a-Way was built as a dance hall near the intersection of 25 and F Roads (now Patterson Road). The Copeco, however, began as one of the major fruit farms in the valley with the ambition of becoming an industrial-sized operation. It originated with the name Copeco—the Colorado Pear and Orchard Company—but failed to earn what it had promised.

The company made use of its large two-story barn near 23 and J Roads and the wonderful hardwood floor on the second level. This level became the ballroom, and most people never minded the animals on the floor below.

Both Copeco and the Mile-a-Way drew in big-name musicians like Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman as their big bands traveled from Denver to Salt Lake City.

Changing times

Although these commercial dance halls still entertained locals after the end of Prohibition in 1933, the Orchard Mesa Pavilion, the Mile-a-Way and the Copeco never sold liquor.

The dance halls struggled when the boys went off to war during World War II. Ladies didn’t go out alone or in women’s groups. The Orchard Mesa Pavilion closed in 1944 and the Mile-a-Way closed sometime after 1947.

The Copeco might have met the same fate years earlier if it hadn’t been for local businessman Mike Stranger, who kept it swinging from 1942 to 1950. Afterwards, it became a country western dance hall, hosting entertainers like Jim Reeves as well as many up-and-coming country music stars.

Copeco finally closed its doors on New Year’s Eve 1962. Nightclubs took over as the popular spots for drinks, dining, dancing and live music in the 1960s, which attracted local couples to places like the Café Caravan and its Jungle Bar, Marks Macongan and the Uranium Club.

Put on your dancing shoes!

Tuesdays & Fridays - The Moose Lodge in Grand Junction is hoppin’ every Friday night from 7:30-10 p.m. and Tuesdays at 7 p.m., but you have to be a member to dance there. Call 243-4754 for more information.

Thursdays - Enjoy live music and dancing at the Senior Recreation Center, 550 Ouray Ave., from 8-10 p.m. Admission is $3.

Saturday, August 25 - Monthly contra dances are held at the Margery Building Ballroom, 523 ½ Main St. in Grand Junction. The next dance is Saturday, August 25. There’s a workshop for new dancers from 7-7:30 p.m. and dancing continues from 7:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Cost is $8 for adults. For more information, visit www.fifthreelmusicanddance.com or call 260-5852.

Thursday thru Saturday - Dance to country-western at Central Station, 2993 North Ave. in Grand Junction. For more information, call 628-4530.