Big Pavillion - Saugatuck MI

Address: 48 Water St
City: Saugatuck
State: MI
Zip: 49453
County: Allegan
Number of visits to this page: 505
General Information:

This place also housed a theater, the entry for that is HERE

I am using the address of the Singapore Yacht Club as their parking lot is where the pavilion stood.

Saugatuck and Douglas businessmen, hoping to cash in on the popularity of the 1904 dance pavilion in South Haven, decided to build the largest venue in the Midwest. They formed the Saugatuck Amusement Company and purchased dockside property just south of Leindecker’s Inn (later the Hotel Saugatuck, and now part of Coral Gables). They opened in 1909.

Work began on Saugatuck’s Pavilion in late April, with a deadline of the Fourth of July holiday for its grand opening. Over 300,000 board feet of lumber arrived on huge barges. Pilings had been driven to support a new dock, and a concrete surface of 200 feet by 105 feet was laid down. Workmen assembled the steel arches that would stand 68 feet tall, raised and bolted them into place.

Carpenters finished the walls with siding, with the main entrance facing north and special arched windows above it, plus windows on each side. After four corner turrets were added, the entire outside was painted barn red. Workers finished an interior vestibule of 38 by 16 feet and laid a special dance floor of 100 by 60 feet. A bandstand for the orchestra was added as well.

Despite the village not having electricity, a generator was built to power the 10,000 electric lights. Half were strung along the exterior arches, sides and corner turrets, and could be seen by ships at night steaming across Lake Michigan. The red, blue, green, amber and white interior lights blinked on and off depending on the music’s timing, corresponding to a more lively two step or a sedate waltz.

Although crowds remained large throughout the first summer until the pavilion closed on Labor Day, creditors could not be paid due to $25,000 in debts from the mortgage and building costs. The Pavilion still opened the following year, with an eye on maximizing profits. Everyone, dancers and watchers alike, paid admission and "dance tickets" were sold at eight cents each or seven tickets for 50 cents.

By 1913, the Pavilion added a motion picture house presenting shows during the week. Community events were held at the pavilion: picnic dinners served by church ladies, piano recitals and dance lessons. Special dances were held at times, similar to musical chairs, where dancers would wait for the orchestra to stop playing and rush to stand on numbers painted in a row in front of the bandstand.

The Barbino Orchestra from Chicago arrived in 1916, which raised the Pavilion’s popularity. Once America became involved in World War I, however, the number of orchestra musicians was severely reduced. "Over There" was shown on the Fourth of July in the movie theater. During some cold winters, several Great Lakes passenger ships stored gear and furniture inside the Pavilion for a fee. Insurance companies soon ended that idea in the early 1920s after a huge hotel fire in Holland. With so many structures made primarily out of wood, the chances of a fire spreading were too great.

In 1938, "The Dock" restaurant opened in the Pavilion’s lower level, boasting a liquor license and "charcoal broiled" dinners. It became the "posh" spot in the village with a great view of the docks and yachts visiting Saugatuck. In order to extend the season, management installed a new maple floor and temporary pipe railing for roller skating. Skates could be rented, the old clamp-on style with straps, and ‘skate boys’ used shoeshine boxes to help patrons…for a dime tip.

The early 1950s, however, brought flood to The Dock and liquor license wars for it and the Pavilion. The restaurant had to be moved to the ground level, on the village side, with annexes for a kitchen, garage and storage. The Pavilion’s movie theater remained popular. Improvements included seats for 700 people and a Cinemascope screen. Dancing, however, had been reduced from every night to only weekends. The Saugatuck Association hosted wrestling matches, talent contests, fund-raising dinners, bazaars, antique shows, skating and card parties. The First Annual Saugatuck Jazz Festival in 1959 brought in Dizzy Gillespie and his band.

Since the Pavilion had long been showing its age, the Chicago owner finally decided to hire painters to prepare for opening in the spring of 1960. On May 6th, around noon, residents across the Kalamazoo River saw smoke rising from the Pavilion. By the time the fire department arrived with their equipment, flames had engulfed the Pavilion. Douglas’ fire department arrived to help, along with trucks from the surrounding towns including Allegan, Fennville, Holland and South Haven.

Within one hour, the wooden building’s roof caved in and the firemen frantically tried to keep the fire from spreading to the village. The wind shifted southeast, although embers threatened some cottages across the water. The Saugatuck school principal bussed older students over the bridge to stamp out any small fires in the slopes and hills. Only one cottage burned. The Hotel Saugatuck (now Coral Gables) had a few broken windows and blistered paint. Most attributed the fire’s cause to a short in the wiring, and an investigation into arson was inconclusive.

Once the debris was cleared — including four pianos, 400 pairs of skates, melted steel, glass from thousands of broken bulbs — the owner and the Village Council sparred over rebuilding. Eventually, a parking lot was constructed. You can currently see the site in Saugatuck, just past the Village Hall near the curve of Water Street.

Sources: Meg Mims Feb. 2011 Saugatuck’s Big Pavilion. Kit Lane. The Commercial Record, 1977. Saugatuck/Douglas Historical Society: Society Publications MemoirShop: The Big Pavilion A Short History of Saugatuck

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 Photos:11
Big Pavillion - OLD PAVILLION WITH STEAMER
OLD PAVILLION WITH STEAMER
Big Pavillion - OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POST CARD PHOTO OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - OLD POSTCARD OF BIG PAVILLION
OLD POSTCARD OF BIG PAVILLION
Big Pavillion - 1955 AERIAL PHOTO
1955 AERIAL PHOTO
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