Tuesday, November 9, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Yarmouth's Hidden Dance Hall

    More than a half a century ago entertainment options for young people were far different than in the 21st century. Drive-in movies, hanging out at a pizza parlor or other causal restaurant, or simply meeting at friends’ houses were common tropes. However the main form of entertainment revolved around music and dancing. Night clubs and dance halls were the most popular meeting spots for the younger generation in the years after World War II.

    Cape Cod was no different. In the 1950’s Places like the Rainbow Ballroom, Mill Hill Club, Pilgrim Club, Storyville, and more attracted young people with the promise of fun nights of dancing and music. These places were good business ideas which led to people looking to establish their own dance halls to bring in the younger generation. Some of these places were successful like those previously mentioned. Some came in with a bang and quickly fizzled out with a whimper. Others tried several different options in an attempt to find success and this is the story of one such place.

    In the 1950’s Yarmouth’s Higgins Crowell Road was a fairly barren two-mile stretch of road in between Route 28 and Willow Street. These were the days before the police station and two schools were built along this road. An idea was hatched to create a safe spot to entertain teens and young adults with dancing and music in a spot surrounded by woods.

    The project was named Sherwood Forest Recreation Center and was the brainchild of young Yarmouth builder Anthony Alosi. He had already built up several residences on the south end of Higgins Crowell Road and saw potential in a 25-acre parcel of land he had recently acquired. Alosi went to the Town of Yarmouth in April 1957 with his idea of building a dance hall in the area that had only recently been zoned for business or industrial purposes. The fact that it was a newly designated area meant that Alosi had to go through a few hoops to be approved, some in town were still getting used to the industrial zoning distinction of the quiet area on Higgins Crowell Road.

    Alosi’s project was approved. The town saw his intentions as good with the dance hall being alcohol-free. After some initial delays work began on Sherwood Forest in September 1957. Alosi was joined by Joseph Massi in clearing land and prepping for the construction. Massi was to be the leader of the house band that would play at Sherwood Forest upon its opening.

    The winter was spent clearing and prepping the land so that beginning in February 1958 work could begin on the building itself. Sherwood Forest when all was said and done, was a 200x60 foot building reinforced by steel trusses. It had a flat roof and the siding was covered in stucco. The building was to have a maximum capacity of 1,500. Out back was a patio and a fountain while the interior saw a large dance floor and a pair of snack bars on either side of the main entrance. Alosi wanted Sherwood Forest to have a gothic look.

An ad for Sherwood Forest from Yarmouth Register July 11, 1958

    Alosi and his crew worked tirelessly throughout the spring. The establishment had strict guidelines. No one under 17 could attend unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Women had to wear dresses or skirts, men had to wear button-down shirts with sports jackets and slacks, no jeans allowed. Hours placed it open from 8pm to 1am every day except Sundays.

    Opening night of Sherwood Forest came on July 3, 1958 with a special guest night. It was led by Joe Massi and his fifteen piece band. The liquor-free dance hall opened to the public on July 4th. It was a huge success attended by hundreds of local youth.

    Not willing to rest on his laurels Alosi announced four major events that summer at Sherwood Forest. They were the Tommy Dorsey Band directed by Warren Covington, the Glenn Miller Orchestra directed by Ray McKinley, the annual Yarmouth Police Ball, and a semi-formal ball for Centerville’s Our Lady of Victory church. All signs pointed to a banner summer of safe and fun entertainment.

    However that was not the case. Despite all of the hype and the roaring initial success Sherwood Forest found itself closed in early August due to a lack of customers. Alosi sold the building to the John Hinckley & Son company. The dream of Sherwood Forest was not over though.

    In February 1959 a new idea was brought forth. Staying within the restriction of any establishment being alcohol-free Hinckley & Son proposed that Sherwood Forest become a roller skating rink. The proposition was accepted and the Silver Roll-A-Way was born.

    New owner Walter Juskiewicz took the former Sherwood Forest through a litany of renovations. This included a plastic non-skid skating floor and a new snack bar. A major selling point was that in addition to nighttime skates there would be skating instruction on Saturday mornings from 10am to noon for children ages 4-10.

    Much like Sherwood Forest despite a successful beginning the project did not last. The large spacious building on Higgins Crowell Road was shuttered after one summer. It lay dormant throughout 1960 until another investor saw potential in the building. This time it was Ruth Feeley who operated a successful dance studio in South Yarmouth.

    Feeley planned to turn the property back to a dance hall. She planned on local dances combining live bands and vinyl records. There were also plans for special junior high school nights, fashion shows, and dance competitions. The Prom Ballroom Club opened for business April 9, 1961. After a few successful months the establishment quickly fizzled out. Once the summer ended Feeley’s Prom Ballroom became the third business to fail inside the expansive building. It would not be the last.

    In the summer of 1962 Donald Putignano of Brockton took a swing. He reopened the building this time under the name of the Cape Cod Tropical Ballroom. This fourth incarnation of Anthony Alosi’s structure was able to stamp its name in the annals of Cape Cod history based around one night.

    On July 3, 1963 more than 2,000 people crammed inside the building which was zoned to hold roughly 1,200. The reason? They wanted to see the iconic Ray Charles and his band play. There was little advanced notice given and despite that people came from as far as New Bedford and Provincetown to hear Charles play among the woods of West Yarmouth. It was a legendary night. That being said, it was par for the course, as banner single nights did not a successful business make.

    The Cape Cod Tropical Ballroom did not last. Ironically there was never an issue with disorderly conduct in the area throughout all of its incarnations. It was the lack of profit that caused such constant turnover. The fifth time was not the charm either.

A concert poster from A Go-Go 1966 (Record

    In June 1965 Charles MacKenney and Jimmy Troy took their shot. The dance hall was reopened as the A Go-Go. It featured more mainstream music for the time, long hair, electric guitars, and still no alcohol. Club membership passes were sold to give patrons a discount in admission from $2.50 down to $1.75. Boston-based band the Barbarians frequented the A Go-Go while outside acts such as Roger Pace and the Pacemakers as well as Joey Dee and the Starlighters graced the stage during that first season. The Animals and The Velvet Underground played there in 1966 and 1967.

    The issues with the establishment came quickly. Averaging 600-700 people during the weekend dances led to issues between rival towns. Alcohol use by minors in the parking lot and at home before coming to the club led to numerous fights inside and outside of the A Go-Go. This in turn led to an increase in the police presence in the area.

    Although relatively successful for a few years the problems at the A Go-Go proved to be too much. It became the fifth business to try and fail at the Higgins Crowell location in a decade. The building remained closed for a few years before a permanent resident came along.

The former location of Sherwood Forest/A Go-Go. (Google Maps)

    Interestingly despite five attempts at entertainment in the building it was the New Testament Baptist Church that gave the property stability. After the building and property was taken by the town by eminent domain in early 1972 a buyer was sought. The church purchased the property in October 1972. Major renovations were done to the property and the organization has called it home for nearly fifty years.

    A decade of turbulence saw five business try and fail in a location that was a blessing and a curse. Quiet and secluded to keep any noise localized, and yet so secluded that it had trouble bringing in customers. Though Sherwood Forest, the A-Go-Go and the others have been lost to history, a mere blip on the radar, the building itself designed by Anthony Alosi is still standing and still entertaining people, albeit in a far different way than he initially intended.


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