By Joe Swanke
©2006 All rights reserved by author
Back in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, us hometown folks in Elmira, New York enjoyed the entertainment of our own nightclubs, dance halls, public dances, taverns, and restaurants. Some excellent show business celebrities visited from the big cities of Rochester, Buffalo, Binghamton, and Syracuse, as well as traveling entertainers from throughout the country who would stop by to do a few shows. We had our own entertainers who sang to us, set our feet to moving, and made us laugh.
Clarence “Curley” Johnson of 758 Spaulding Street and his orchestra played at many venues, including the Majestic Ballroom. The Majestic’s advertisement read; ‘The Atmosphere of the Majestic Ballroom is enjoyed by hundreds of dancers. We suggest you pay a visit to the Majestic soon. Admission: Gentlemen 40¢, Ladies 10¢.
Marshall Terry was a coal dealer by day, but by night he was an Elmira show business celebrity. He could really make the crowd dance at the Rock Springs pavilion (not to far from today’s Exit 57). Also, at Rock Springs, you could have heard Earl Hines - “America’s Foremost Jazz Pianist.”
Sometimes Elmirans drove out to Salubria Lake Park near Bath, New York to hear “Howard Tresp and his Californians.” Do not let the name fool you - they were really from Buffalo!
Born and bred in Elmira, the Reilly Brothers’ (James, Michael, Thomas, and William) Orchestra was popular at the Glen Eden restaurant on the Watkins-Montour Highway. The “8 Bandoliers” played jitney dances at the Ritz Ballroom. “The “Harmony Kings” often played at the Shappee School of Dance.
When Ray Dunn, of East Second Street, came home from the United States Army, he made Elmirans laugh at the Melody Garden Restaurant (near the west entrance to Eldridge Park). He billed himself as “Ray Dunn, The Stuttering Comedian.”
Clubs and fraternal organizations had their own musical entertainment. The Masons had their “Masonic Quartette” with Claude Denson as the manager. The Grotto Club had the “Grotto Band” with Frank Hauver as the manager.
The Majestic and Lyceum Theaters had their own orchestras for their productions.
Nothing was too good for the Chateau Artuso at Horseheads Junction (near today’s former Toshiba plant). Owner Joseph Artuso sometimes brought in entertainers from outside our county. “The Sunshine Sisters” came all the way down from Rochester. Artuso also starred “Earl Stebbins and his Musical Saw.”
Whenever they played, local acts were well supported. Acts included “The Cotton Club Pickers” who called themselves “The Hottest Colored Band in the Southern Tier,” and “Louis Steeple and his Cotton Pickers.” Elmira’s own Helen Monroe of East Market Street sang some great songs. “Smith’s Dance Band” always got the crowd on its feet. Don Redman and his Orchestra often played in our area. Don claimed his band was the “most popular colored dance band in the world.” If you lived in Millport, “The Collegians” often played the dances at Alco-Haven.
On Fridays, you could eat a fish fry and listen to music by “Ed, Rose, and Stub,” at the Eastside Restaurant on Sullivan Street. Southsiders might remember the White House Tavern, known as “Elmira’s Little Nite Club.’’ “Uncle Seth & Company” played there often. Andrew’s Restaurant on Grand Central Avenue often featured the musical stylings of “Rip and Babe and their Guitar.”
Back in the 1920s, a well-known dance band for high schoolers was “The Five Melody Boys.” The band was favored at local proms and school dances. They practiced their tunes in a garage on West Clinton Street.
If you wanted to see something different, the Crystal Tea Room in Elmira Heights heldover Charlotte Gilchrist, an “Oriental” dancer, for an extra whole week because “…the crowds just won’t let her go.” The Crystal Tea Room also billed the “Silver Moon Orchestra.”
You could smell the corned beef and cabbage a block from the Collins and Mahany Restaurant on Davis Street, and inside you could hear the music of “Jiggs and Maggie.” “Shufflin’ Sam and his Gloom Busters” were the frequent attraction at the Garden Hotel on the corner of East Water and Fox Streets.
Ross Hammond of Davis Street was a machinist at the Eclipse plant by day. In the evenings, he would musically entertain the folks at the Collegiate Tavern at the corner of college and Thurston Streets. The Coney Island Restaurant on South Main Street often presented Betty DeVere, singer, and accordionist.
Accordionist Charles “Chuck” Leone was around a long time. He played throughout Chemung County. He also worked by day at the Eclipse plant. When Chuck was not a solo act, he performed with his band “Chuck Leone and his Neapolitans.”
How about a delicious barbecue sandwich while listening to Mann’s Orchestra? They often played at the Brookside Inn on upper Lake Street. “Harry Springer’s Orchestra” often played at the Mayfair Club in the Rathbun Hotel. Harry lived on Fourth Street. The Newtown Inn on West Miller Street hosted the “Taverneers.” The Ideal Restaurant on South Main Street often invited vocalist Betty Kennedy to perform. “Foster Clark and his Musi-casters” liked to play at Jerry’s Grill at the corner of Orchard and East Water Streets. Another entertainer there was the well-known Miss Ida Lamb of Dewitt Avenue. If you liked “cabaret-style” dancing and music, every evening you could go the Comfort’s Inn on West Miller Street. Every Saturday they had an oyster supper.
Clubs also needed entertainment. The International Order of Odd Fellows sometimes hired the “4 Aces Orchestra.” The Eagles’ Club on Lake Street liked to be entertained by the “3 Scamps.”
If you liked “cabaret-style” dancing and music, every evening you could go the Comfort’s Inn on West Miller Street. Every Saturday they had an oyster supper.
So remember, even though we didn't have big time show biz types - we did our part to entertain ourselves in the days before TV.