Arnolds Park again has a Roof Garden Ballroom. We bought tickets to hear the Glen Miller Orchestra.
Wow! I remember dancing to his orchestra in 1940 at the Roof. For those of us who grew up in this area, it is a dream come true to have the new Roof Garden. We have so many wonderful memories of dancing and socializing over many years. My parents, Ray and Jean LaFoy, loved to dance and we spent many happy times parking below the Roof Garden after we ate supper in the summer. Dad would drive up and hopefully secure a parking spot near the Roof Garden ticket office and the Funhouse. My parents would buy some popcorn and I was free to roam the Park.
From our parking spot, they could watch the promenade of the crowds and even hear the music from the Roof Garden. Several times in the summer we would all go up the many steps to the Roof Garden dance floor. My sister and I were parked in seats on the lakeside of the floor and my parents would go out and dance. My sister and I got in free and my parents paid a small amount.
After we were situated, my parents would pay a dime ticket, go out on the dance floor and dance three numbers played by the band. After the three musical numbers the "rope girls" would herd the dancers from the dance floor and after it was cleared the dancers would again pay their dime and converge on the floor. My sister and I watched the dancers and especially our folks dance. Oh! Such wonderful music! Three sets of dances was the Roof Garden limit for us, then we would go down the many steps to our car and go home. That was my introduction to the music of the 1930s.
When I was in high school I worked at the Milford Mail. Because the Mail did a lot of advertising for the Roof Garden, we were issued two season passes. One of the passes was used by the editor and staff of the Milford Mail and I grabbed the other. With that pass in hand, it allowed me to go to the Roof Garden almost free. The only money I had to put out was when they had a big-name swing band. You can believe me when I can write that not many nights could be found when I missed the dance. The big names bands were great. The not-so-well-known bands were called territorial bands but they could play wonderful music.
I recall going overseas on the troopship U.S. S. Mount Vernon (8,000 military personnel) in 1944. We crossed the Pacific Ocean on beautiful moonlit nights lounging on the open decks listening to great bands' records. In fact, we slept on the deck floors rather than go below and sleep in our bunks, especially near the equator. We crossed the equator twice going to India. The ship tuned into Tokyo Rose from Japan. She played the records of Harry James, Dorsey Brothers, Glen Miller, Woody Herman, Lawrence Welk, etc. It was so refreshing but made us homesick. While listening to the music I could visualize myself dancing at the Roof Garden. The only problem was that we always had our eyes and ears open for Japanese submarines. Tokyo Rose really got our attention one night when she personally greeted all the soldiers and sailors out on the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. Mount Vernon. Wow! How did she know we were out on the ocean?
Fast forward to the summer of 1953. Connie and I were living at Terrace Park along with our one-year-old son Randy during the summer vacation from teaching school at Greeley, Colorado. Connie tutored some kids and I painted farm buildings and houses with Uncle Jack LaFoy and Dan Burger. Many times that summer we would get a babysitter and go to the Roof Garden to dance to a big name band on Wednesday night.
Darlowe Oleson and Bernie Storck were the owners of the Roof Garden that year. The Roof Garden was open five nights a week throughout the summer with name bands on Wednesday nights. Oleson and Storck could schedule the top-rated bands because they owned a number of ballrooms. This gave them some clout to attract and book name bands. They had the Roof Garden in Arnolds Park, the Laramar Ballroom at Fort Dodge, the Ridotto Ballroom at Havelock and the Alhambra Ballroom at Twin Falls near Rockwell City. Sometimes the Surf at Clear Lake and the Cobblestone Ballroom at Storm Lake were included in the Big Bands engagements. Dancing to the music of the big name bands in that era was very popular and drew huge crowds.
We have lived our winters at Leisure World in Mesa, Arizona for 25 years. In 1992 there were three big dance clubs in Leisure World and each had a waiting list. Connie and I joined two of them and about the year 2000 became the leaders of the Moonlight Serenade Dance Club for three years. It was wonderful and the dress code was formal and the bands played "our kind of music."
The Roof Garden had competition here at The Lakes. The Casino at Terrace Park, the Central in Arnold Park and the Orleans Ballroom were in operation at the same time. They all kept busy and had good crowds of dancers. The Roof Garden and The Casino were opened the same year, 1923. Naysayers predicted that they could not survive, having two dance halls, but that was not the case as each had many dancers. My mother, Jean LaFoy, told me that she thought the Casino dance floor was the best and the same naysayers were not excited about the Roof Garden dance floor being "safe." I recall attending a dance one night when a great drummer was performing and we were gathered around the dance band platform keeping time to the drumbeat; the floor also kept time to the drumbeat. It survived the critics. The setting of breezes from the lake, lights twinkling on the ceiling and soft music playing will long be remembered. Great memories. We hope the new Roof Garden will cultivate fond memories for the young people when they get our age (93 and 94).
We remember the "last dance" held in the old Roof Garden in the summer of 1988. The Okoboji Yacht Club booked the Roof Garden, hired a large band that played “swing” music and we had a wonderful time dancing and reminiscing. Wow! Soon after that dance, the original Roof Garden was no more.