This presentation is part of the Dance Halls, Juke Joints, and Honky Tonks Symposium, March 22-23, 2016. This symposium focuses on the issues associated with the preservation of dance halls and similar sites throughout the rural South. Some of the constant threats include relevancy, development pressures, deterioration, and financial viability. This symposium brings together experts and enthusiasts to discuss history, architecture, and culture associated with these buildings.
Ghosts of Good Times — South Louisiana Dance Halls Past and Present by Philip Gould
Philip Gould: Anyway, my name is Philip Gould. I’m a photographer. I’m based in Lafayette here. I live about a mile from here and I have been here since the 70’s. I came from California, New Iberia worked at the Daily New Iberia, first job out of college. It was a newspaper in a town where there was no news, so you had to learn the art of beating the bushes and looking for things to photograph. They let you do anything. It was wonderful. Then I left and went to Dallas, Texas, and moved back in ’78, started freelancing and doing cultural documentary work, online South Louisiana subjects, including the Cajuns, and you name it. All kinds of things. Cain River. Did a book on the Capitol buildings in Baton Rouge, just you name it. Awhile back I was talking with a gentleman named Herman Fusille who’s a writer for the Daily Advertiser, and also very much a cultural enthusiast and he got through the interview and I said, “Herman what are you doing these days?”
He said, “You know, there’s this project I’d like to do. All these old dance halls are shut down and the buildings are barely standing,” and I looked at him and said, “Herman, that’s amazing.” He and I have been working on it ever since. The photographs I’m going to show you are from the project, they are photographs of places that are gone or barely there or what have you. There are also a number of them that are open at the end. I think the premise of the book is that this is not a death of anything in terms of traditional music, traditional music is alive and well in South Louisiana. It’s just that the venues have changed and a lot of the classic old dance halls are outdated dinosaurs. That’s just the brutal truth, but they’re beautiful.
Nature has taken their toll- its toll, and so let’s gets started. First place I went, it was the first weekend I was in Louisiana in 1974. A reporter and his wife took me to a place called the Blue Moon Saloon Dance Hall. Blue Moon Club, which is over in Iberia in a Cajun area called [inaudible 00:02:29]. I walked in there and first of all that building just struck me at how it almost seemed to lean. I walked in and this gentlemen here was playing and in between songs shouting out rapid-fire Cajun French and you can see one of the more regular bar patrons there. The amazing thing was how this wave of heads, everyone’s dancing, the Cajun Waltz is sort of a lock-step. The husband, or the partners are moving as one and there was a whole sea of these people and it was just an amazing sight.
The other thing that was really scary, I came from California and to help with the … You had security people, you had a deputy sheriff and you have a city policeman and what shocked me was that they were helping the waitresses serve drinks. I just thought that was a little strange, but slowly the logic of it dawned on me. There were no fights, the waitresses are overworked, the least they could do was help deliver drinks to the tables. Anyway. There’s one of them over there. Yeah that gentleman over there, he was one of the deputy’s.
Audience: Did he dance?
Philip Gould: Oh I’m sure he does, but not when he’s working.
Audience: Was that [inaudible 00:04:10] in that first picture?
Philip Gould: This guy?
Audience: The guy with the accordion.
Philip Gould: That’s [inaudible 00:04:18].
Audience: [inaudible 00:04:19], okay.
Philip Gould: [inaudible 00:04:21], in the daytime was a hairdresser, but you can kind of tell, half the band was his clients here. Anyway, this is a daytime … The place had 4 foot or 5 foot wall fans, no air conditioning, there’s no point, and so it would just blow air in there like crazy. This is Aldus Roche, who some of you may know, and this is a benefit for a cancer survivor and they were auctioning off all these items here. You can see, of course beer, wine, Coca-Cola, that’s all good and fine. Whiskey. They had Jesus on the cross and they had this couple here, I don’t know what that was about. I’m not smart enough to make this up, this only happens in real life. The place was really cool, it had a very low ceiling and it had some sort of shiny surface on it so it was a real trick to photograph. You had to put the light out there and hope for the best. This is one of my favorite pictures from there, this is 2 widows dancing off to the side.
This is a place called Bradford’s [Wine-Hole 00:05:55]. When Herman Fusille talked about the idea that he had, his inspiration came from this place. This is in Opelousas , it’s an old R&B dance hall. Had [inaudible 00:06:41] on the [inaudible 00:06:42] circuit. People like Ray Charles or Bobby Blue Blend or Sam Cook. Folks like that would come through there all the time before integration and Herman, his parents were friends of the owners, so the parents would come over there and they would let Herman stay next door in the living room with their kids in the evening watching TV while the parents were out partying here. You could only imagine the imagination running wild in the 10-year-old kid about this place. That’s the front. Side door. This is a place down in Cut Off, Louisiana along by Bayou Lafourche. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bayou Lafourche. It’s Lee Brother’s Dance Hall.
This was owned by a family and it was the community gathering point for the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, a little bit even further past that. The family just kind of stopped, people die and stuff. So it sat there for I don’t know how many decades. It’s heartbreaking because you look at it and you say, “Just a little bit of extra electricity, a little wiring, a little touch up here we’d have this place up and running.” It’s harder than that. The codes, you get killed by the codes and there’s no parking. You go in there and it breaks your heart to see it.
Audience: What’s the name of this place again?
Philip Gould: It’s call Lee Brother’s Dance Hall.
Audience: Lee Brother’s?
Philip Gould: Yeah.
Audience: In what town?
Philip Gould: Excuse me?
Audience: In what town?
Philip Gould: It’s in Cut Off, Louisiana.
Audience: Cut Off.
Philip Gould: Yeah.
Audience: Do you know if it’s still there?
Philip Gould: The building’s still there. Oh yeah, you can drop down and see it. It’s on the party side. This is an example of the electricity they had. A wonderful light bulb still there. This is another view of the dance floor. They had these benches all the way around so people would sit and stuff. This is the view of the dance hall from the other side of the Bayou Lafourche. Let’s see, here we go, this is a place called the French Club. This is up near Leonville and it was open for about 2 years, 1959 to 1961, by this guy and the place was a little too close to a catholic church and the priest started working the situation and some bad things happened and he thought it might be the hand of God so he just shut it down. Now it sits in the middle of this new forest. You have to do the Louisiana explorer routine to get to it as you can see. It’s just amazing. That’s all abandoned, that’s all the chairs that were there, been there all along. The bar stools. Just beautiful.
Audience: Never leaked I guess? The roof.
Philip Gould: That’s a great question, maybe, but not a lot.
Audience: It’s in great shape.
Philip Gould: This was bizarre. It’s like a time warp. You recognize that brand of beer? Maybe.
Audience: Oh yeah.
Philip Gould: Those are unopened bottles of Jacks Beer, from the 1960’s. You can see all the liquor licenses from 1960 to ’61 that he still had on the bulletin board. This is a place called Magnolia Hall, or St. Joseph’s Hall. It’s on the River Road, near Vasherie, close to where Old Gallery is. It’s a beautiful old structure, I just love it. It served as a community hall for benevolent associations and they had dances there, you name it. You can see, this is the inside. It’s pretty modest, but you can see there’s holes in the floor and it’s in relatively good shape. People in South Louisiana know this place, it’s called the Purple Peacock. It was a half football night party, beer bus joint slash nightclub. This is the interior of it.
Audience: What town?
Philip Gould: In Eunice. This is a photograph of a place on St. James, further up the river on the West Bank and just nice brick. I love the almost the [inaudible 00:11:54], various layers of signs that were painted over and rusted off. Le Rendezvous Lounge probably, and then something else before that and before that. This is a place up in Mamou, y’all know where Mamou is? Called Papa Paul’s. It’s a Creole place, long closed. And this is the entrance. And then this is little Ann Goodly, who was an up and coming Zydeco star at one point, and her grandfather, who owned the place.
He also served as the security and the law all in one. Y’all know where Pierre Park is? You ever heard of Pierre Park? Pierre Park is a River Rat community on the West side of the Atchafalaya Basin, north of Morgan City. This is a place that’s pretty famous there, called the Rainbow Inn. Sadly it’s closed and sits there like an edifice, if you will. This is the front door and these are the owners, before the place closed. Mother and daughter. Bourques Club, you might have heard of Bourques Club, an old Cajun dance hall, long closed. This is the classic case where the parents, this is Bourques, I can’t remember her name. Paul do you remember her first name?
Philip Gould: Elaine. Yeah. Did she die? She died and then he just decided to stop. He was running out of gas. A lot of these places just, the business gets so slow the people just stop, they give up. This was a beautiful place. No longer. I was up there yesterday, and this is the state of it now. The sign here, which was a classic. [inaudible 00:14:23] at Bourques Club. Tuxedo, ballroom dancing, it was kind of like that. Somehow the image stuck to the place. If you have any questions, you’re welcome to interrupt me, I won’t mind. This is the interesting thing, I was there one time years and years ago, I photographed this picture. These are 4 couples, all at one table. I look at this and I say this is a Cajun quadruple date. If there was a car that had 4 seats wide, then men would be in the front and women would be all in the back.
I just remember this, the tablecloths, all there. When this place finally closed, I think what happened is that they closed the door, they locked and they just walked away. The place slowly deteriorated to the point where it looked like that. Which is a bit heartbreaking. I suspect it’s even worse now. You can see the floor’s rotted out and it looks like the earth is swallowing up the chairs and everything. The red tablecloths are doing pretty good, they actually look like they might make it. This is a place, if you all know Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge is a good, semi-Presbyterian Protestant town so the bars close early, but across the river in West Baton Rouge Parrish, unincorporated, you have places that will be open at all hours. This was one of them called Nick’s. It’s closed obviously and nature is slowly getting the final word.
Audience: How do you spell that?
Philip Gould: Nick.
Audience: Oh Nick.
Philip Gould: Yeah. This is a close up of the martini glass, or whatever it is.
Audience: That was a light?
Philip Gould: Excuse me? It was a neon light, yeah. When I say dance halls, I’m taking a semi-loose view of it. Clubs, dance halls, [crosstalk 00:16:49]. French Casino Club, which is out in Mamou, outside of town. There it is. It’s next to another place, which you’ll see, in … What’s his name? I can’t think of his name, T.M. Emmanuel was the owner. Very famous in the area, he ran all the juke boxes all over South Louisiana, but he also had several clubs in Mamou. Mamou was a pretty free-wheeling town at the time. It had a big Army base, Fort Polk, which is maybe 75 miles away. On weekends a lot, that area was dry, so they would all come to places like Mamou, Vieux Platte, what have you. This was all a very Cajun area so they had no issues about drinking and dancing and all this. This was the inside of it, it’s now used as storage, if you will.
Audience: Those are worth a fortune in Austin.
Philip Gould: If this was in Austin, somebody would have found it. Just backed them up and said, “That’s weird.” This is a place in, near St. Martin Hall, called Club Leon. Although that was the name of it only when it was run by this couple. They gave up, and the owners are now opening it back up sometime in the spring and they’re going to call it Club Chateau Charles. It’s going to be an old-time Zydeco place. This is one of my favorite places, this is called Auto Club which is on, if you know where New Iberia is, it’s on the road from there to another village called Lowerville. It was a community called [inaudible 00:18:50] Community and this was a club that was there. You can see that nature has really had its toll on this building, but it’s still, to me it’s beautiful. Ya’ll went to this place I understand, the Southern Club, and what is interesting to me about this is that it is so big, this is huge.
If you think about the economics of trying to make this place work and how many people you would have to have inside on a regular basis and how far it is from population bases right now and everything, it just can’t be done. It’s beautiful nonetheless. I don’t know if you recognize that view from the stage. Chairs and tables. This is another view I took at the front of the club, which the whole place, the last thing that’s going to fall apart are the aluminum doors that he put on there at some point. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Hamilton’s Club, which is in Lafayette here. It was a great place, it was a Zydeco place, but they also had bright night so you would have various bands come play for that. I never understood why Hollywood never discovered this place, it is so classic, straight out of central casting, but you never see it.
Anyway, this was at dawn. It closed in 2005. This was the final night. [crosstalk 00:20:44]. [inaudible 00:20:48]. This is the interior of it. This is a place, Dreaming Club near Franklin. Which I think is nicely named, long closed, I’ve never been inside of it, but I just saw it and said, “That’s too good.” In Plaquemine, there’s this old 1940’s place, Dancing and Cocktails. One night I was over there and it just … The place just became beautiful.
Audience: What town?
Philip Gould: It’s in a town called Plaquemine. Plaquemine is south of Baton Rouge along the Mississippi on the West Bank. We get to [inaudible 00:21:42] Waiheke, which is the exterior of the place there. Another place, another sad story, because it was going strong. This is the stage. Hawaiian motif. Chairs with the old fashioned wall fans. This is Terrance Simien as a young boy, first starting out playing [inaudible 00:22:10] Waiheke and then, what’s his name, [inaudible 00:22:13] …
Philip Gould: Tony. Tony [inaudible 00:22:17] behind the bar. He shut it down in the last 6 months or so. This is a place called the Bonnes Chance Club, obviously, it’s north of Pierre Carr along this curvy highway that runs through a swamp. I think the owner had a bit of a sense of humor when he named the club. He put up Christmas lights to announce the club. This is, you’ll see the side in a little bit, this is Mr. [inaudible 00:22:57], his daughter Lidia and that’s a customer. He’s one of those guys who was not very talkative, but a lot of fun. The dance hall, it was dance hall inside there and it is … If there could be a Cajun dance hall museum, this would be an excellent candidate. It’s just beautiful. It was all kind of worn out and run down, but at the same time, it’s immaculate.
Audience: Yeah, it looks like the outside is falling apart and the inside is pristine.
Philip Gould: Yeah. Well, sort of.
Audience: Based on your photo.
Philip Gould: Well, the photo’s not lying. It’s in really good shape. The variety of table styles and tablecloths and chairs. Moving along. Yes, this is the Holiday Lounge. It’s T.M. Emmanuel. T.M. Emmanuel was the juke box guy, a very powerful figure in Mamou, who was very good with our Cajun governor Edwin Edwards and he was very proud of being associated with that, he wanted to show his pride and that included putting the governor’s portrait on top of a building next to a stripper. It kind of fit. This is the inside. The hair-do’s are priceless. This is the dance floor, old-fashioned Zydeco Disco complex. For all you people who wanted to start a Cajun dance hall, this building is for sale. It’s near Opelousas, it’s called Happy Landing Club. Most recently is called Woodmen of the World Watch, but it’s just there. It’s beautiful. It’s a classic of construction. This is the inside. All set to go. Electricity’s there, everything. One problem is it’s out in the middle of nowhere so that’s …
Philip Gould: I think about $45,000. I know, I know. This is a place down south of Houma, towards Petite [inaudible 00:25:42] called the La Bonton Roule Club. L-A B-O-N-T-O-N R-O-U-L-E Club. It too is closed and barely standing. This is a place called the Levi Club which is near Abbeyville, close to a Creole community called [inaudible 00:26:06] and the owners of the club live in the houses next to it. It’s beautiful, it looks like a barn to me. This is the inside. This is a club I just discovered the other day called RC’s, it was an old Cajun dance hall in Ridge. Have any of you seen this club before?
Philip Gould: I was over there talking to the chief of police in Dussant about another club and I said, “Is there any other country/western places?” He said this one so … To me it’s beautiful, I love it. Now it’s used for storage of everything. It’s no longer. They’re going to tear it down at some point. This is the Triangle Club, which is in Scott, no longer there. It too was a classic. Very popular with the local community. This is a wedding dance they had there. This is Clifton [inaudible 00:27:20] Club, which is built by Clifton [inaudible 00:27:23], actually his wife, and out in the middle of nowhere. Once again, near Waterville. I love the sign. [inaudible 00:27:38]. Ferdinand. This is the place. Every year they would have a birthday party for Clifton in it and a lot of people came. This year they had Andre [inaudible 00:27:55] playing and this is … I don’t know if you ever heard the woman’s, but she’s a granddaughter of [inaudible 00:28:01], who’s the [inaudible 00:28:03] player for Clifton.
Now which leads us to Lafayette, there are several clubs in Lafayette that are closed or open, and this is a view of 2 of them. This is Grant Street Dance Hall, which is kind of closed. This is a newer place in an old building called [inaudible 00:28:29] and this is [inaudible 00:28:32] before dawn. Then, this is the inside of [inaudible 00:28:38]. This is a new place called Club 535. Built by a guy named Mark … It’s actually a converted warehouse house, Mark [inaudible 00:28:55] and it has a beautiful, long porch. People gather on that all the time. Then this is the inside. El Sido’s Nightclub, you all probably know about El Sido’s club. They would have a Thanksgiving benefit and all kinds of people would come play and I was lucky enough to get a photograph of all kinds of folks here. Whoops. I think this is Curly Taylor, [inaudible 00:29:28], Buckwheat, Terrance Simien, [inaudible 00:29:34], Nathan Williams and then this is Nathan’s son, Nathan Williams Jr. Who was probably 12 at the time. We get to La Poussiere, La Poussiere was hit by a tornado and suffered a fair amount of damage.
Business was slow and Lawrence [inaudible 00:29:58] the owner just said, “Oh forget it, I don’t want to do it.” Everyone came to him and said you better reopen it, and so they had a grand opening night/day, and there are several photographs from it. People gathered, La Poussiere is now integrated and it became integrated at some point several years ago and so blacks and whites were there, Steve [inaudible 00:30:25]. This is a place, Lakeview Dance Hall, which is up near, north of Eunice camp ground. Then this is not the dance hall, this is a barn which they converted into a dance hall, this is the inside here. The dance hall is a big old structure that they have not been using a dance hall, but they hope to one day. Which I don’t have a photograph that’s worth a dime. Let’s see, you know Richard’s Club? This is the old Richard’s Club. This is the new built one. Millers Hall.
I think this is the last photograph, this, you may recognize, is [inaudible 00:31:15] and make the case that [inaudible 00:31:18] is, the performance center is a dance hall. Which leads to the whole notion, I know we’re all interested in the conservation of dance halls and all that, there are a lot of places where people do dancing that are customized, if you will, this being one. This is about history and culture, preservation. The Blue Moon Dance Hall is a bed and breakfast, Mulotte’s is a restaurant, so the function happens in different venues now, but it is still a very viable function.
My talk to the Dancehall Conference, will be based on material from the above book to be published by UL Press this Fall 2016.
My presentation will begin where my dance hall life in Louisiana began in 1974, with the Blue Moon Cajun Dance Hall in New Iberia, which closed in 1978.
I will show photographs from that early period and discuss personal experiences. I will also touch upon other places where I have photographed during my four decade career in Louisiana. In most instances these places have closed or are long gone.
In the program, I will also present images from the closing night of Hamilton Club, a Creole establishment in Lafayette. And the grand reopening of La Pouissiere Dance Hall in Breaux Bridge.
The presentation will also include images of closed clubs. Photographs from the project blend the building’s architectural stature with a patina of decay, which can reveal a more profound sense of the buildings’ history and allure.
I will discuss the role of those dance halls still open today, point out the few that have obviously persevered and discuss why. I will also discuss the historic role of the dance hall as a social epicenter for communities and opine as to why such a role has faded. There is also the question of size to the times. The Southern Club for example is by today’s standards an uneconomical monstrosity. It could not survive in these times I feel because of its size.
The demise of the clubs is by no means a sign of the music’s fading popularity. Cajun and Zydeco, are more popular than ever. The venues have just changed. People see these groups at festivals, on trail rides, in modern, often smaller clubs. Interspersed with a presentation of dancehall images, I will read passages from folks who have written about personal experiences and remembrances for the book.