Westview Park’s Danceland for sixty seven years was one of the Pittsburgh’s favorite places to dance to the music of the big bands and the latest hit songs. Dancing cheek to cheek to Glenn Miller’s romantic Moonlight Serenade, couples capped off their fun filled days of roller coaster rides and picnics at the West View amusement park. Families packed a lunch, rode the Trolley up Center Avenue in Bellevue to spend their day of sunshine on the rides of West View. In the evenings they filed into Danceland to dance to the live music of Vaughan Monroe, Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Louie Prima, Sammy Kaye, Baron Elliott and other popular dance bands. In the 1950s and 1960s the Friday night teen dances drew thousands who listened to the latest Doo Wop and Rock hits spun by local radio DJs and performed live by touring pop groups. The Rolling Stones made one of the first U.S. appearances at Danceland. West View Park gave generations of Pittsburghers fond memories of school and company school picnics and "Danceland" evenings where couples meet and fell in love.
T. M. Harton bought 18.5 acres of swamp land in the West View valley in 1905. He dammed a stream converting the swamp into a 5-acre pond that he named Lake Placid. Around the lake he built an amusement park. West View Park opened on May 23, 1906 to become one of Pittsburgh’s favorite attractions. The first rides opened were the midway carousel, the Mystic Chute mill ride, and a figure eight roller coaster. a penny arcade, a pony track, and row boating on the lake. One of the West View’s major attractions was the new open air dance hall named “Danceland”. It was the largest outdoor dance hall in western Pennsylvania at that time. Danceland was open during the summer amusement park season for roller skating and evening dancing.
West View was located on the Bellevue trolley loop along Perryville Road/Route 19. It was called a “trolley park” as most visitors traveled by trolley car to attend. By 1910 the park featured the Dips roller coaster, The Katzenjammer Castle fun house and a bandstand. West View's largest ride the Racing Whippet wooden roller coast was built in 1927. It rivaled the Cyclone coaster at Coney Island as one of the most exciting coasters in the world. As time went by the park was expanded to 55 rides that included the Loop-O-Plane, the Cuddle-Up, Round Up, Rock-O-Plane, Tilt-A-Whirl, the Caterpillar, Boot Hill, the Alpine, the Ferris wheel, a miniature railroad, bumper cars, Kiddeland, a haunted house, two carousels and more. The lake was filled in to move room for more rides and parking in the 1970s. With its many rides West View became a popular destination for annual school and company picnics. On its busiest days as many as 4,000 people enjoyed the rides. .
Gus Kant who managed Danceland from 1931 to 1933 described the early days of the venue in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. During the Depression Danceland was packed to overflow. Dancers paid 5 cents for a trolley ride to the park and 35 cent admission to Danceland. They flocked the hear the music of the popular Pittsburgh dance bands of Don Bestor, Benny Burton, Danny Nirella and Ralph Harrison. They danced face to face and arm and arm but were not allowed to swing or jitterbug.
Danceland’s became a year round attraction when it was enclosed and air conditioned in 1948. Its half acre maple dance floor accommodated 5,000 dancers surpassing the Pythian Temple as the largest indoor ballroom in Western Pennsylvania. It was billed as “One of the Nation’s Great Dance Centers. The new exterior was adorned with bright Art Deco neon lights. The interior, illuminated with soft diffused lighting and a sparkling chandelier that shot brilliant beams of light everywhere had a 60 foot soda bar offering drinks and sandwiches. Residents of West View called it a beautiful building. Open year round seven days a week it became the place to dance to the music of big bands during the late 1940s into the 1960s. Baron Elliott and his Orchestra played for the grand opening on May 18, 1948. Sammy Kay appeared on Memorial Day 1948 followed by performances of the bands of Vaughn Monroe and Tex Beneke in June. Admission to dances was $1.50. Danceland announced in August of 1948 that in an effort to combat juvenile delinquency it was beginning a series of “Teen-Ager-Dances” for “good clean healthful fun” every Friday and offered a “Milk Bar” for refreshments.
During the big band era nationally know bands headlined at Danceland including Les Brown and his band of Renown, Harry James, Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Claude Thornhill. Ray McLinley, Billy May, Lee Kelton, Bill Brandt, and Sauter-Finegan, Lawrence Welk and Henry Mancini. Midwestern regional territory bands played regularly. The Baron Elliot Orchestra, the house band of WCAE radio appeared weekly along with the bands of Russ Romera, and Tommy Carlyn. Country and Polka bands also played their brands of dance music. Slim Bryant, the host of KDKA radio’s daily Farm Show, led a weekly square dance playing with his band the Wildcats. Polka King Frankie Yankovich and Ray Henry brought their polka bands to Danceland.
Teenage bandleader Bobby Vinton, billed as “the up and coming young maestro” made his first appearance at Danceland on December 5, 1953. Bobby and his band the Tempos performed at at Danceland’s Wednesday night teenage dances throughout the 1950s.
In the 1960’s George Bodnar, the manager of West View Park and Danceland, initiated the “Over 19 Record Dance. Teenagers of 19 and older flocked to the Friday Night dances that ran from 9 PM to 1 AM. The Over 19 dances were also held on Tuesday nights during the summer seasons. Popular radio DJs like Mad Mike hosted the dances which drew over 2000 teens. KQV radio, then a top 40 pop station also promoted the Over 19 dances. Using Danceland as a showcase venue George Bodnar presented up and coming bands at the Over 19 dances. One such band was the Dynamics, whom he managed and recorded on his Impala Records label.
Baron Elliott and his Stardust Memories show continued to perform at Danceland on Saturday nights during the 1960s. The dance bands of Lee Kelton, Gus Dolfi, Johnny Murphy, Hal Curtis, Jack Purcell, and Ric Maroni and the Jets also performed during that period. The Four Freshman appeared in 1963.
The Rolling Stones Underwhelm Danceland
On June 17, 1964, the Rolling Stones on their nine-date first U.S. tour headlined at Danceland appearing with Bobby Goldsboro, the Pixies 3, and Patti and Emblems. At the time the Stones were a little known up-and-coming act who had released a cover of Buddy Holly’s "Not Fade Away” that peaked at #48 on the charts and who had been sneered at by Dean Martin when they appear on his television show. George Bondar took the word of a concert promoter that they were next big thing and booked them for about $500. Station KQV promoted the show on air, but there was no mentioned of the Stones in the Pittsburgh newspapers. Tickets were only $1.50 but some people were let for free to try to fill the room. Only 400 people attended. The Stone performed one 20 minute set opening with a cover of "Hi Heel Sneakers" before playing blues covers from their album "England's Newest Hit Makers.” The music was raw. The dance crowd who were fans of oldies and R&B weren’t very receptive the British Invasion sound. Pittsburgh music historian Dave Goodwich who attended the show told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette "Here's a British band trying to do blues. Kids were looking at them, like, 'What the hell's this?” The Stones went on finished their tour at New York’s Carnegie Hall driving the crown insane. Returning to Pittsburgh in November of 65 the Stones with their number one hits "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "Get off My Cloud" drew 9,131 crazed fans to Civic Arena.
On September 4th 1965 West View Park became the last trolley amusement park in the United States when PAT Transit ended operations of the #10 West View and the #15 Bellevue trolley lines. Picnickers who drove the West View parked in the new parking lot that was built atop the filled in Lake Placid.
Battle of the Bands Contests
Danceland hosted battle of the band contests during the 1960s. On Sept 7, 1960 Danceland manager Jack Stoll announced a Band Contest in the Pittsburgh Press. saying that winners will go to a regional competition with a shot at a national contest. The bands in competition in 1960 were Bobby Vinton, Hall Curtis and Jack Purcell. The winner of the 1966 contest Peter’s Pipers featured the 16 year old singer/guitarist Pete Hewlett who went on the perform with Billy Joel, Carly Simon, Joe Jackson, Julian Lennon, and Novo Combo. Winning the Danceland contest Peter's Pipers qualified to compete in a national battle of the bands. Finishing in 6th place nationally, the Pipers came to the attention of Phillips Mercury Records who signed them to a record contract. The released three singles on Phillips in 1967.
West View Danceland manager, George Bodnar, left in 1966 to become the manager of White Swan Park, He started the I.S.D.A Dances at Riverview Park and became the manager of White Swan Park. Bodnar managed White Swan until 1989 when it was torn down to make way for the new Route 60 highway. Thomas 'Skip' Morrow took over as Danceland’s manager when Bodnar left.
Danceland continued to host dance bands and the popular team dances into the early 1970s. The Marcels performed at Danceland in June 1973. The music and dancing came to an end on Oct 1, 1973. Five hundred people were in attendance at the North Boros Police Association dancing to Tommy Payne’s 9 piece band. Shortly after midnight as the band played the Harry James hit “You Made Me Love You” fire ignited in the electrical wiring above the dance floor near the front entrance. Flames quickly engulfed the layers of double ceilings. Everyone got out safely but the fire raged on for 12 hours completely burning Danceland to the ground. Eight fire departments fought to keep the fire from spreading to the amusement park. Facing an estimated $1 million reconstruction cost, the owners of West View Park choose against rebuilding the historic dance hall.
West View Park continued to operate its amusement park during the 1970s. But as school districts and companies merged fewer picnics were held at West View. The new larger school districts moved their picnics to the larger Kennywood Park, which was making million dollar investments in new rides such as the Log-Jammer. West View did not have enough space or funds to add new larger rides needed to compete with Kennywood and Cedar Point. On September 5, 1977 West View Park ended its 71st season. The patrons did not know that they had made their last rides on the Dips and Racing Whippet coasters. The park’s owners, the T. M. Harton Company, announced on September 30 that the park would never reopen. West View Park’s rides were dismantled and sold to other amusement parks. Some rides were scrapped. The park was more values as real estate. The West View Park Shopping Center was opened in 1981 on the site of the grounds of the amusement park and Danceland.