Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dorney Park Fun Facts #13

Castle Gardens At Dorney Park 1935-1985

Castle Gardens, pictured above in an old photo, was quite a place back in the day. Located at the bottom of Dorney Park, around where the go-carts and part of the log flume are now, this event hall had a long and colorful history.

The facility hosted a wide variety of entertainment over the decades, everything from live music, to discos, country swing dances with a riding bull, roller skating, nightclub activities, even aerobic classes that drew over a hundred people a session.

The facility itself was around 8,000 square feet in size. The ballroom structure was actually built in 1923, and known as the Al-Dorn Ballroom, but didn't find it's niche until '35 when it opened as a dance hall under the name Castle Gardens.

The owners actually had a naming contest, much like parks still do today for new rides and attractions. A local man suggested Castle Gardens, and won $25 when his name was picked. Can you imagine offering a prize of $25 for a contest now? Even using an inflation calculator, that's still only equal to $363 today ... but I digress.

As mentioned in his recent obituary, Robert F. Ott often went to the dances held at Castle Gardens when he was a young man, and this is where he first met Sally Plarr, daughter of park owner Robert Plarr in 1936. The rest of that story, as we know, has a long and beautiful history.

Improvements to the structure were made over the years, including enclosing the building and adding better dance floors and such. The 1930s and 40s were a big time for the facility, as it was one of the most popular places to check out the hot Big Bands of the time. Names such as Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, singers like Peggy Lee, and many others were some of the names to play Castle Gardens.

When the later 1950s rolled around and rock'n'roll was growing in popularity, Castle Gardens was certainly not going to be left out in the cold. They went by the name Castle Rock, and hosted such acts as Freddy Cannon, Annette Funicello, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, and even Kenny Rogers took the stage once.

When that phase died down, housing discos and the aforementioned country events kept things moving at the Gardens. The popularity continued on into the eighties with dances and other concert series being hosted, that is at least until Thanksgiving eve 1985.

A fire broke out in the building near its main entrance in the early morning, and quickly moved through the all wood structure. Without warning, the entire facility was lost in the later ruled 'suspicious' fire. Park owners vowed to rebuild and open a new Castle Gardens, even saying in '86 that they planned a two story structure with seating for 5,000. Unfortunately, like so many plans, the rebuilding never materialized.

I just got done writing this using several old newspaper articles and realized that the Dorney Park Images of America book, actually co-authored by Bob Ott, has an entire chapter on Castle Gardens. So, for a probably much better written history and some really fantastic pictures, check out the book.