Swingin' back in time
Even during the Depression, ballrooms flourished in the Walworth County area.
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The interior of the Twin Lakes Ballroom, which once featured band leader Lawrence Welk as its resident musician. Photo submitted.
DELAVAN — In the 1930s, there was more than one happenin’ place in the Walworth County area. Even during the Depression era, people looked for diversion from daily life, flocking to Delavan, Lake Geneva and Twin Lakes to dance the night away to the sounds of big bands. Big names, including Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Wayne King, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa, all played in this area.
A string of ballrooms and pavilions once circled Delavan Lake, including Lake Lawn Resort’s Victory Ballroom, built in 1929.
The ballroom hosted big band dance music and many of the nation’s top orchestras during the 1930s and 1940s. Lawrence Welk and his champagne music headlined on numerous weekends.
Other dance halls included, on the north shore, Woodlawn, Hollandale (later Manhattan), Delavan Gardens, Highland, the Yacht Club, Log Cabin, Irvingwood, Lakeside and the Capitol Ballroom (on the cusp at Highway O and South Shore Drive). On the south shore, dancers flocked to Riverdale, Dutch Mill, the Spring Lawn Log Cabin, Island View, Guirnaida, Mettowee, Fountain House, the Country Club, Kenilworth and Hall’s Park.
At one time, it’s believed there were more ballrooms per capita on Delavan Lake than any other place in America. During the summer months, up to 2,500 people were to be found dancing in these venues, to music of nationally known bands. Music by those orchestras was broadcast through radio remotes across the country.
Beloved band leader Lawrence Welk got his start just down the road at the Twin Lakes Ballroom when he became the resident musician there in 1931. In fact, Welk and his new bride, Fern, spent their honeymoon in a small room off the ballroom.
It was in Twin Lakes that Welk developed the “champagne style” of music made popular on his television show, which began airing in 1955, making him a household name. In the ’30s, however, he began making a name for himself in Twin Lakes, branching out from there to perform in other nearby ballrooms.
One such ballroom is the Riviera, which now anchors downtown Lake Geneva to the lakefront. The Riviera began in the 1930s, flourished through the 1940s to 1970s, then faltered and almost ended in the 1980s. Because of the efforts of historic preservationists, the swing era ballroom remains in use today, occasionally hosting the big bands and hordes of ballroom dancers that made it so popular in its heyday.
Before the Riviera, a wooden dance hall called the Northport Ballroom stood at that location, as did a merry-go-round, water slides and the base for hydroplane rides.
Click on the photo gallery, left, to see more area ballrooms.
Read the story of a Walworth County man's research on the former Wagon Wheel Resort in Rockton tomorrow online at Walworth County Today.