Dancing on the Grand

This article was originally published in the Grand Haven Tribune in June 2015, written by Meredith Meyer, Collections Manager

The summer season is upon us and many rejoice in returning to the outdoor activities that were missed during the winter months.

Our streets and beaches are starting to flood with local residents and visiting vacationers alike, but sunbathing and swimming aren’t the only ways to enjoy the waterfront and gorgeous weather this season. Dancing has been a treasured and long tradition in the Tri-Cities and it will continue to be for new generations introduced to Big Band through Dancing on the Grand, Wednesday night dances on the waterfront.

Dancing, as a social activity and way to enjoy music, has been popular for generations. But in the 1930s and 1940s big band music and dance halls flourished in the Tri-Cities. Teenagers and young adults were already drawn to the beaches of Lake Michigan, and with the popularity of big band music, it only made sense that dance pavilions were a part of nearly every beach community from Saugatuck to Ludington. The Tri-Cities area had three major dance halls; Hyland Gardens, The Barn, and the Fruitport Pavilion.

Hyland Gardens was located on the beach in front of the Hyland Park Hotel, where the condo building now sits on South Harbor Drive near Bil-Mar Restaurant. The dance hall was two floors, with roller skating on the main floor and dancing up above. The shutters would be opened during dance nights revealing a remarkable view of the lake.

The Barn was created in 1925 when Nathaniel Robbins converted a warehouse he had previously used for coal storage. It was located on the Grand River Channel, where Bicentennial Park is now. Robbins owned and ran the popular dance hall for nearly a decade when he sold it to Joe W. Davis, the former manager of Hyland Gardens. Davis continued to bring in popular bands, and in the late 1930s, made changes to attract even more of the younger crowd. A juke box, roller skating rink, bowling, and a soda bar helped create a popular teen hangout.

The Fruitport Pavilion was built in 1901, and sat along the Spring Lake shore, extending out over the lake. The more notable of the area dance halls, the Fruitport Pavilion was built as a destination point by the Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and Muskegon Electric Street Railway Company when the interurban first started. Though the interurban was later replaced by the automobile, the dance hall remained popular. Nationally renowned bands like Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington were booked as they passed through from Milwaukee to Detroit or Detroit to Chicago.

Nearly all of the dance halls were constructed of wood and eventually succumbed to devastating fires. The 1950s and television brought changing styles of music and the demand for dance halls started to wane. Dances began moving to smaller venues like the Armory and the Elk’s Club. And though the Big Band Era and its accompanying dance halls has given way to new music,
new dances, and new generations of teens and young adults, there is still a place to enjoy dancing and rekindle the joy of Big Band on the waterfront in Grand Haven on Wednesday nights June 17th through September 2nd. 

Join in this celebration and long standing tradition of the Tri-Cities area! For more information about dates and featured bands of Dancing on the Grand go to visitgrandhaven.com.

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