TexasEscapes.com  
HOME : : NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : TEXAS HOTELS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : BUILDINGS : : IMAGES : : ARCHIVE : : SITE MAP
PEOPLE : : PLACES : : THINGS : : HOTELS : : VACATION PACKAGES
TEXAS TOWNS
Texas Escapes
Online Magazine
Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

And the bands played on at Sylvan

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton

Back in the day we didn't have to go the distance to Galveston for fun on the beach

Baytown's neighbor across the Houston Ship Channel -- Sylvan Beach at La Porte -- offered so much fun that it earned the title of "Coney Island of Texas."

Erna Foxworth, in her book "The Romance of Old Sylvan Beach," described the park as "everything rolled into one, sports arena, carnival, picnic grounds and whirling dervish of dance and music."

Or, as La Porte business leader Cecil Sisson once stated, "There was never a need to exaggerate about dear old Sylvan Beach. The truth was good enough."

The Sylvan Pavilion, like the Balinese Room in Galveston, booked an impressive number of famous orchestras from coast to coast.

Unlike the Balinese Room, Sylvan Pavilion didn't have a gambling room. At Sylvan, it was all about the music and dancing. Although not a permanent arrangement, for a while the bandstand stood smack in the middle of the dance floor as many hundreds of happy feet swirled all around.

Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Les Brown, Benny Goodman, Rudy Vallee, Artie Shaw, Freddie Martin, Herbie Kay and Ozzie Nelson were among the many famous band leaders booked for the dances at Sylvan Pavilion and that's just the short list. There were many more.

Howard Hughes used to sail his yacht to the end of the pier to listen to the band music. Although he was never known to go inside and join the crowd, he sometimes would pay a band to stay over after the pavilion was closed. He and his friends then would have their own little private dance party. (Doesn't that sound just like Howard Hughes.)

Probably the most popular celebrity to visit Sylvan was movie star Dorothy Lamour, then in her prime as the sarong girl of Hollywood. Her breakthrough film, "Jungle Girl," happened to be playing at the time in a movie theater in downtown La Porte.

Lamour came to the dances at Sylvan to be near her husband, orchestra leader Herbie Kay, and she soon became the center of attention. A long, long line began forming around the dance floor as her male admirers would "cut in" to get to dance with her. From all accounts, she was most gracious and patient with her fans.

A young Clark Gable was a frequent visitor at Sylvan during the 1930s when he was acting in plays at the Palace Theater in Houston.

Not a visitor -- but a worker -- at Sylvan was a San Jacinto High School kid from Houston named Walter Cronkite. The future broadcast icon sold 10-cent hamburgers at the park.

The author of "Romance of Old Sylvan Beach" grew up in La Porte and of course spent countless hours at Sylvan Beach, sailing, swimming and dancing.

Erna Foxworth always liked to write, especially about the Houston-Galveston area. Her first newspaper job was with The Baytown Sun (then called the Daily Sun) in the 1930s. She later worked at the Houston Post.

Daughter of Ernest and Laura Bell Seammen, she was born in a house on 8th Street in La Porte. Her father, who came to America from England, was an engineer involved in the dredging of the Houston Ship Channel.
Erna met her husband, John Howard Foxworth, at - you guessed it -- Sylvan Beach. In the midst of the Great Depression, they married in a wedding ceremony on the stage of the Arcadia Theater in Baytown - a venue that proved to be prophetic. Their son, Robert Foxworth, became an actor, best known for his leading role in the TV series, "Falcon Crest," and his wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, starred in the TV series, "Bewitched."


Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" October 24, 2015 columns

Related Topics: Texas Towns | People | Columns | Texas |
Texas Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories, and vintage/historic photos, please contact us.
Custom Search
TEXAS ESCAPES CONTENTS
HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | HOTELS | SEARCH SITE
TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS | TEXAS COUNTIES

Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | FORTS | MAPS

Texas Attractions
TEXAS FEATURES
People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
Vintage Photos

TRAVEL RESERVATIONS | USA | MEXICO

Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes. All Rights Reserved