By Tim Ashley
It could be said the Lake Tippecanoe Dance Hall, also known at various times as Tippy Gardens or the Tippy Ballroom, has been sort of a living history museum. Multiple generations of love struck teens and adults spent many nights there dancing and socializing.
It is etched in the minds of many and several stories could be told about the dance hall near the corner of EMS T25 Lane and Forest Glen Avenue. Patrick Tynan lives at the lake now and remembers spending many Wednesday and Saturday nights at the dance hall.
Much of the history of the dance hall is documented in an article written by Jennifer Woodward in the Aug. 17, 1988, edition of ‘the PAPER’ for Kosciusko County. Carole Shelby’s book “Memories of Lake Tippecanoe” also has extensive information.
In 1904, the Arcadian Pavilion was built on the south shore of Lake Tippecanoe. John and George Smith of Gas City, owned the meeting and entertainment center for families of the lakes area. Dance music was first played at the pavilion by a gramophone wound by hand.
During the Prohibition era in 1923, the Arcadian Pavilion was sold to Walter and Dal Crooke. The Smiths decided to sell the business after hearing a rumor Sunday dancing would be banned by the state. But dancing continued with a live band and the new owners changed the name of the facility to Pottawatomie Gardens.
This was the place to be and big name bands regularly performed live at the dance hall. Tragedy struck, though, in 1934 when a cigarette was carelessly dropped in back of a seat on the porch of the fountain room. A fire started, destroying the entire dance pavilion along with the Ervin Hotel and an adjoining residence.
A new temporary dance hall was built quickly after the fire and opening night in 1934 was held under a starlit sky. A new pavilion, still standing today, was built during the winter of 1935. An inside dance floor and an open air dance floor with two stages was built to accommodate large crowds.
In the 1940s Paul Lowman bought the ballroom and the new name became Tippecanoe Gardens Ballroom, but instead of Tippecanoe it seemed everyone just called it “Tippy.” Concrete walls around the open air dance floor were replaced and the dance floor was extended over the site of the former Ervin Hotel. Lowman added miniature “twinkle” lights not commonly used in the United States, giving the effect of dancing under the stars even indoors.
Then in 1956, George H. Paton and his son, George R. Paton, purchased the dance hall. Ken Morris, who had been the manager of the facility under Lowman, remained as manager for the next 18 years after the Patons became owners.
The Patons, who were realtors, had considered building cottages on the lake front but eventually decided to keep the dancing.
Big bands such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and the Ray Charles Orchestra were brought in but times were changing and this type of music was no longer profitable. Morris made the decision to switch to teen dancing and record hops.
Crowds of up to 2,000 packed the dance hall and well known disc jockeys such as Jack Underwood from WOWO radio in Fort Wayne and Dick Biondi and Clark Weber came from WLS radio in Chicago to spin records for the sock hops. Tippy Dance Hall, if it hadn’t already, became firmly implanted as a dancing shrine. The Byrds paid a visit in the 1960s.
Eventually, though, in the late 1970s dancing and music faded away and just didn’t seem to click anymore. It was revived again in the 1980s and lasted until just a few years ago.
Although the building still stands, it is no longer used as a dance hall. It may be on the market for sale.
NOTES: Next I will write about the former Beer Nursery in Milford. If you have any old photos or information, please contact me at (574) 658-4111, extension 2306, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions for future article topics are always welcomed.