Henryetta’s Teen Town

HENRYETTA’S TEEN TOWN

Earl Goldsmith


Henryetta teens from 1947 through 1971 had a great “Teen Town” where they could meet friends, dance to a juke box on most nights, enjoy a soda fountain, play ping-pong, spend time in a study or reading room, sometimes dance with live orchestras, and have four formal dances each year.  Beginning in 1950, Junior/Senior Proms were held at Teen Town.

There were places to dance before Teen Town, but they weren’t as good.  There were dances at the American Legion Hut at about 13th and Main, with a few formals and live orchestras, and almost always juke box dances after Friday night ball games.  On occasions like Valentine’s day, dances were sometimes held at the IOOF Hall on North Fourth Street.  There were also occasional dances or birthday parties (like Jerry Nell Hart’s 16th birthday) at the IOOF Hall.  While most were informal, teens always wore better clothes to them, except to the annual Sadie Hawkins dances.  (Sadie Hawkins Day was featured in the “Lil’ Abner” comic strip as a day when, if a girl caught a boy, he had to marry her.  Daisy Mae chased Lil’ Abner for years.)   Sadie Hakins dances were girl-invite boy dances, and most of us tried to dress like country bumpkins. 

During the 1940s, there were two girl’s social clubs.   Each year, one club had Senior and Sophomore members, and the other, Junior and Freshman.  Formal dances were held by one club or the other. 

There were no proms back then.  Instead, a Junior/Senior Banquet was held at the IOOF Hall each spring.  Seniors were guests of the Juniors, who did all the work on arrangements, decorations, program, etc. and raised the funds to pay for the banquet.  It was the top social event, and largest Junior class project, each year.  Sophomore girls served the meals, which were cooked by members of the IOOF Rebecca Lodge.  Each year’s banquet had a distinct theme.  When I was a Junior, it was a Western theme with western decorations, western songs by a Junior girl’s trio and a Junior boy’s quartet, including me, (Tumblin’ Tumbleweed), and a friend recited “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” 

So that was the situation before Teen Town.  What follows is partly from my memory, and partly based  memories of Rube Reingold and Elgin Rayburn, members of the 1947 HHS class (I was in the 1948 class), and a 1971 issue of the Free-Lance.

The Henryetta Booster Club just after the war was headed by Jim Riffe, whose office was over Bryan Tiger’s Garage at the north end of the old Elks building.  The two story Elks building was on the west side of Sixth street, from Broadway across from the old Methodist Church, to the alley south of Main.  The Elks lodge had once been in the upper floor.  I think the Elks had abandoned the building in the early 30s  during the depression, and its abandoned space was in poor condition.  The front of the building – on Sixth Street, was occupied by Grover Bynum’s law office, the tag office where teens went to take driving tests, Gilbert Lewis’s Justice of the Peace office, and Maud Ham’s flower shop. 

In late 1947, Mr. Riffe asked some HHS students if they were interested in having a Teen Town where they could socialize in a good place that’d be “run” by them and recognized as theirs.  It would be in the space  once used by the Elks. They gladly accepted, but it was understood that the teens would have to do nearly all the restoration work – little in the way of helping funds could be expected.  A lot of plaster had fallen.  Some boards on the floor of the main hall (the later dance floor) had buckled up four inches or more.  Trash was everywhere.  The main hall and  stage took up about  half of the building’s second floor, and there were several smaller but good size rooms at the South end. 

Everything needed work, so work we did, cleaning, mopping, painting, caulking, doing minor plastering, etc.  There’s no way to name all the boys/girls, Freshmen through Seniors, who worked on the restoration.  I worked a lot, but many worked more.   We worked nearly every night till 9 p. m. or so.  Basketball players helped after practice.  While I don’t know, the facts, it could be that HHS academic performance suffered more that semester than at any other time.  Gradually, things began to look better.  We couldn’t handle the buckled floor though, so Guy Flescher’s employees got it back down and sanded it and the other rooms.   

Earl Russell, owner of the Post Office Drug Store (his daughter, Earlene, was a Junior), donated a soda fountain he’d replaced.  The rooms at the South end were made into a library and reading room, and a room with a ping-pong table.  The large old pews or backed benches that’d been left by the Elks (each seated about six people) were arranged along the walls as booths on both sides of the dance floor.  I don’t know where we got tables for the booths, but we got some.   With as many teen workers as there were, I doubt if it took more than seven or eight  weeks to get Teen Town ready to open.   During that period, Jim Riffe left town and his place was taken by O. M. (Scoop) Robertson. 

Elgin Rayburn was elected Mayor, but he lived with a family that opposed dancing.  He didn’t want them to know he was involved with Teen Town, and couldn’t take the position, so Rube Reingold became the first Mayor to serve.  I wish I could remember other officers, but I can’t.  Rube said Jack Miller, one of my Junior classmates, was the first Chief of Police.     I’ve forgotten what it cost to join, but it couldn’t have been much – maybe a dollar a year, maybe just half of that.

I think Teen Town began functioning within a week or two, one way or the other, of Easter, 1947. 

It was open until about 9 p. m. most evenings, and entrance by members was free.  There might’ve been a 10 or 15 cent fee on weekends and maybe quarter if we had an orchestra.  We danced to a juke box on other nights.  Some teens brought homework to do in the library or study rooms.  If you weren’t dancing, studying, playing ping pong, or bothering the soda fountain girl, you were usually just hanging around with friends.  I don’t recall any behavior problems at Teen Town, but with Jack Miller as Chief of Police and Harold Prewitt as his deputy, that wasn’t surprising. 

Nightly operations were handled by teen volunteers who monitored activities, put things away, and cleaned up.  The busiest were the girls  who worked the soda fountain.  Cleaning up after dances was a chore, but most teens gladly pitched in.           

I recall two live orchestras at Teen Town in my time, but the only one I recall by name was Ernie Grant’s orchestra that played a lot of Glenn Miller pieces like “In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Pennsylvania 6-5000,” etc.  Two slower pieces I recall were “How are Things in Glocca Mora” from the Broadway show, Finnians’ Rainbow, and “All by Myself in the Evening.”  I’ll spare you the words.

I don’t recall our initial chaperones, but given the adults tht seemed to have the most interest in the activities of teens at the time, I have to think Mr. & Mrs. Earl Russell, and Mr. and Mrs. Nick Hamra were among them.   

I left after graduation in 1948, but I’m sure HHS teens continued to enjoy Teen Town.  I understand that the first Junior/Senior Prom was held there in 1950 and Nick Hamra personally hired a Tulsa orchestra for it.  I’ve learned that chaperones over time included Rube and Sari Reingold, Clarence and Lois Smith, Nick and Virginia Hamra, Dr. & Mrs Carllton Smith, Elmer and Elizabeth Tippie, and Carl and Juanita Steckleberg.  There had to have been many others through the years. 

Before dawn on Saturday, August 21, 1971, disaster struck, the building was a total fire loss, and Teen Town was no more.  There was a hint that it was the result of arson and that a “mystery” car was seen in the area at about the time the fire began.  I don’t know how that was resolved.

The building, still owned by Mrs. Grover Bynum, widow of lawyer Grover Bynum, still housed Bryan Tiger’s garage.  Oklahoma Tire and Supply used some space to store merchandise, including tires, rotor tillers, water coolers, refrigerators and cooking ranges.  Bryan Tiger lost all his tools and equipment, and four cars were lost in his garage.  The building also had a lot of hospital records, some of which were salvaged.  Telephone service was interrupted, but was restored by  evening.  Beth Waugh, HHS 1971, was a patient in the Henryetta Hospital at Fifth and Broadway at the time and caused a bit of excitement when she went to see the fire dressed in her hospital gown.  The Free-Lance had a picture of another hospital patient watching it.  Maybe Beth hadn’t arrived yet.  Damage from the fire was so great that the remaining walls of the building were knocked down.

I don’t know if Teen Town was still as active in 1971 as it was back in 1947-48, but it was still there, and I suppose teens were still enjoying it.    The teens of those 24 years enjoyed something special.

These picture were in the Free-Lance

Teen Town August 21, 1971< View from the building’s northwest corner and shows the  back side of the building along its right.  Bryan Tiger’s Garage was on the lower floor.

 

Teen TownView from closer to Bryan Tiger’s Garage, which was across the north end of the building.       >

 

 

 

Teen Town< View faced south with the building ‘s back (west) wall still standing before it was knocked down, and the old Methodist Church in the background

One thought on “Henryetta’s Teen Town

  1. The Teen Town story and the pictures were submitted by Earl Goldsmith. They have appeared in the Free-Lance and the Historical Society Exchange Newsletter. I think the article has run online in The Henryettan, also.
    Earl is an alum of Henryetta High School, now living in Texas.

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