August 3, 2001
Ruminating about a few Perry area dance halls the other day in one of these columns, I listed a few that came readily to mind but I knew that inevitably some people’s favorite hangouts would be overlooked. My personal knowledge of these pleasure palaces was limited owing to my tender age when many of them were experiencing their heyday. Still, I remember them very well today because many of the young adults who used to hang out at our drug store in the 1930s talked about them a lot when I was in earshot. The teens and their peers of that generation loved ballroom dancing and jitterbugging to the big band sounds. The dance halls mostly were rather rustic, but the floors were level and well-lubricated with corn starch, and popular music of the day was provided by live bands or a coin-operated nickelodeon. Dance halls were great for relaxation and socializing. Saturday was the big night, but some of the smaller places also were open during the week. Some people thought such places were sinful, but to my limited personal knowledge they were just there for innocent fun.
One of the ballrooms omitted from my column the other day was Kirchner Hall, a second-story location on the south side of the square. The building has had several owners in recent years, but for a few decades it was the home of Monroe-Lang Hardware & Appliances, operated by Charles Monroe Sr., his son, Charles Jr., and son-in-law, J.E. (Tiny) Lang, a former catcher for the Perry Merchants semipro baseball team. The store handled a complete line of hardware, furniture and household appliances, including some of the first RCA television sets seen in Perry. Also featured was a plumbing department and a crew of service specialists who repaired anything the store sold. At that time, the upstairs portion served as a warehouse. A freight elevator raised heavy crates from the lower floor to the second story. I am told that the elevator is still there. The building is now owned by Glenn and Jill Zimmer, who are converting the upstairs to a residence while they live in an apartment on the lower floor.
In the early 1930s the building was owned by the W.H. Kirchner family and the second story was a large ballroom known as Kirchner Hall. Patrons entered by making an exciting walk up a steep steel stairway on the west exterior wall. The stairway is still there. Except for the freight elevator, it is the only way to reach the upper floor. When public dances were held, guests were met at the top of the stairs where entry tickets were purchased. A rubber stamp imprinted the back of guests’ hands to prove that they had already paid if they needed to leave and return during the evening without paying an additional fee.
Kirchner Hall, with its wide open spaces, also was used for other purposes. My sister, Jeanice, took dancing lessons there from her friend, LeOla Dotts. Jeanice was graceful and flexible, a natural-born dancer. She eventually was teamed with one of the muscular Patton boys for a rather violent form known as apache dancing. Her partner’s main function, as in ballet, was to hold her while she executed a variety of steps and movements. The team performed in the courthouse park for some of the Cherokee Strip celebrations and were offered a contract to tour with the 101 Ranch Show, but my mother nixed any such thoughts because she felt Jeanice was too young. LeOla’s sister, Bonnie Dotts, also was a dance student.
So, that’s some of the story about another one of Perry’s numerous dance halls. Perhaps you had a favorite that hasn’t been discussed here. If so, let me hear from you.