Monday, August 17, 2009

Apache Junction Dance Pavilion

August 17, 2009 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The recent press coverage about the legality of outdoor dancing at San Tan Flats (Pinal County at Ellsworth Road and the Hunt Highway) reminds me of the interesting times in the early days of Apache Junction.

In 1923, George Cleveland Curtis started his roadside business at the “Y” of U.S. Highway 60 and the Apache Trail when there wasn’t much out here but Creosote bushes, Palo Verdes, Saguaros, Jack rabbits, coyotes and rattlesnakes. Curtis depended on the traffic along the Apache Trail and U.S. Highway 60 for his business.

Curtis eventually sold gasoline, towed broke-down cars, served food, cold drinks and sold trinkets to make a living for his wife, Aruroa and their three daughters. The highway was paved in 1928 and this changed things considerably and brought a lot more traffic down U.S. 60. The construction of Mormon Flat Dam (1923-1925) and the Horse Mesa Dam (1925-1927) increased business for Curtis.

Curtis was always looking for another ingenious way to generate revenue for his business. First it was a zoo of desert wild animals, then sometime in the late 1920s he decided to build an outdoor dance pavilion. The dance pavilion became a very popular weekend site for young couples from Mesa and Tempe. Curtis invited many different bands to play at the Pavilion. One of the most popular bands was Merrill Robbins’ “Flat and Sharps” western band from Glendale, Arizona. For many years I was led to believe Merrill Robbins was related to Marty Robbins even though Marty Robbins’ real name was Martin Robinson. Marty Robbins was born in Glendale in September of 1925. Yes, Merrill Robbins could have encouraged Marty Robbins as a young lad to become interested in the guitar. However, others have reported Marty taught himself the guitar while he was in the Navy during World War II.

Again this is what legends and myths are made of.

Now back to outdoor dancing in Pinal County. Many people have questioned the situation that developed at San Tan Flats. Others have presumed outdoor dancing was legal for years because of the outdoor dance pavilions at such places as Riverside Park, Encanto Park and, of course, the Apache Junction Pavilion in the late 1920s and through most of the 1930s. Most individuals with common sense understand how disturbing loud outdoor music can be for a home in a residential area. However, when a business has been approved and then new rules are applied to control or shut down that business it is very difficult for the general public to accept. The noise issue in residential areas becomes quite moot when dealing with other factors that create noise.

What about airplanes, noisy exhaust systems on cars and motorcycles? Motorcycle exhaust systems are known to vibrant the walls of homes as they go by. Sometimes the noise decibels far exceed hearing safety standards for those individuals impacted.

Some of the earliest outdoor dancing occurred here in Apache Junction on Curtis’ dance pavilion in 1920’s and 1930’s. Also outdoor dancing was performed at the “Theater in the Hills’ in 1935. More than 5,000 people attended the 1935 production of “The Legend of Superstition Mountain.” Outdoor dancing was common at the Top of the World, a once popular place half way between Superior and Globe. Even the Mormon town of St. Johns had an outdoor dancing pavilion for dancing in the middle of town.

My wife and I love to dance and we have been dancing off and on for almost fifty years. We often dance to several western bands in the valley, also up at Globe and even St Johns occasionally. Dances were often scheduled in Superior and the Martin’s often took old Hermann Petrasch to the dances so he could play his fiddle. His ties to the Dutchman’s Lost mine are well known by historians.
Outdoor dancing still occurs in Arizona and it is still popular.

Dancing has been around since human beings have existed and outdoor dancing in Arizona has been popular since pioneer days, even in Apache Junction at the base of Superstition Mountain. Well, old time prospectors attended these dances in Apache Junction and told stories about the mountains. Curtis’ dance pavilion was probably the first gathering place for storytellers of the Old Lost Dutchman mine in the Apache Junction area. My father and mother attended some of Curtis’ outdoor dances and listen to old timers tell stories about the old “Dutchman” and the gold he allegedly found in the Superstition Mountains.