George Jones and Tommy Sands also entertained there along with numerous
other big names and biggies-to-be in country and rock. Tillman even
recorded a song, “The Magnolia Gardens Waltz,” in which he laments
a lost love. While not as well known as most songs by the Country
Music Hall of Famer, it’s still worth a listen.
Young folks today respond with blank looks when you ask if they
know anything about the place. Really, it’s not a fair question,
because this haven of riverside rockabilly reached its peak of popularity
in the Fifties.
Although that’s my era and I grew up in Baytown,
I have a gap in my recreational history. I never went to Magnolia
Gardens. I regret that and especially hate having missed the opportunity
to see Elvis.
asked Norman Adams, who grew up in Highlands and graduated from
Robert E. Lee High School in 1953, if he remembered Magnolia Gardens.
Located off Highway 90 and meandering around a bend in San Jacinto
River, the park was an easy commute from Highlands, Crosby, Channelview
I asked the right man because Norman went there often and – oh,
yeah -- he got to shake hands with Elvis. “I thought I was in high
cotton,” he said, recalling his encounter with the then-future King
of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “He seemed like a real nice guy.”
Norman recalled many good weekends at Magnolia Gardens. “We would
go there Friday evening and stay there until after the Sunday matinee.”
He and his friends would begin the weekend barbecuing on the picnic
grounds, and they stayed overnight in the camping facilities. A
safe and wholesome place for families, the park was well supervised,
and there were no fights, no crime. “It was ideal back then,” Norman
said. “You could have fun and not worry about getting shot.”
Beckoned by a wide beach, swimmers enjoyed access to the river,
and the park had facilities for boating, fishing and volleyball.
Even with those varied recreational facilities, though, music remained
the main attraction at Magnolia Gardens.
talking to Norman, I searched Magnolia Gardens on the Internet and
found a lot out there, including videos of Elvis singing plus stories
and photos about the park.
An ad reprinted from the Houston Post Aug. 4, 1954, features a young
Elvis and spells his last name wrongly with a double S. It stated.
“Elvis Pressley, one of the most sensational entertainers in the
nation today will make a personal appearance at Magnolia Gardens
this Sunday … Each Pressley appearance seems to hale greater throngs
of people because of his style in entertainment.”
Country singer Johnny Bush, in his autobiography, remembered Magnolia
Gardens as the place to go on a Sunday afternoon. He said people
would sit around in their bathing suits on a sandy beach and take
in shows by all the biggest country and early rock ‘n’ roll stars.
By the way, I read that Elvis claimed Magnolia Gardens was one of
his favorite places to perform.
Dang, I wish I'd been there.
© Wanda Orton
1, 2012 column