in the day we didn't have to go the distance to Galveston
for fun on the beach
neighbor across the Houston Ship Channel -- Sylvan Beach at La
Porte -- offered so much fun that it earned the title of "Coney
Island of Texas."
Erna Foxworth, in her book "The Romance of Old Sylvan Beach," described
the park as "everything rolled into one, sports arena, carnival,
picnic grounds and whirling dervish of dance and music."
Or, as La Porte
business leader Cecil Sisson once stated, "There was never a need
to exaggerate about dear old Sylvan Beach. The truth was good enough."
The Sylvan Pavilion, like the Balinese
Room in Galveston,
booked an impressive number of famous orchestras from coast to coast.
Unlike the Balinese Room, Sylvan
Pavilion didn't have a gambling room. At Sylvan, it was all about
the music and dancing. Although not a permanent arrangement, for
a while the bandstand stood smack in the middle of the dance floor
as many hundreds of happy feet swirled all around.
Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Les Brown, Benny Goodman, Rudy
Vallee, Artie Shaw, Freddie Martin, Herbie Kay and Ozzie Nelson
were among the many famous band leaders booked for the dances at
Sylvan Pavilion and that's just the short list. There were many
Howard Hughes used to sail his yacht to the end of the pier to listen
to the band music. Although he was never known to go inside and
join the crowd, he sometimes would pay a band to stay over after
the pavilion was closed. He and his friends then would have their
own little private dance party. (Doesn't that sound just like Howard
Probably the most popular celebrity to visit Sylvan was movie star
Dorothy Lamour, then in her prime as the sarong girl of Hollywood.
Her breakthrough film, "Jungle Girl," happened to be playing at
the time in a movie theater in downtown La
Lamour came to the dances at Sylvan to be near her husband, orchestra
leader Herbie Kay, and she soon became the center of attention.
A long, long line began forming around the dance floor as her male
admirers would "cut in" to get to dance with her. From all accounts,
she was most gracious and patient with her fans.
A young Clark Gable was a frequent visitor at Sylvan during the
1930s when he was acting in plays at the Palace Theater in Houston.
Not a visitor -- but a worker -- at Sylvan was a San Jacinto High
School kid from Houston
named Walter Cronkite. The future broadcast icon sold 10-cent hamburgers
at the park.
author of "Romance of Old Sylvan Beach" grew up in La
Porte and of course spent countless hours at Sylvan Beach, sailing,
swimming and dancing.
Erna Foxworth always liked to write, especially about the Houston-Galveston
area. Her first newspaper job was with The Baytown Sun (then called
the Daily Sun) in the 1930s. She later worked at the Houston Post.
Daughter of Ernest and Laura Bell Seammen, she was born in a house
on 8th Street in La
Porte. Her father, who came to America from England, was an engineer
involved in the dredging of the Houston Ship Channel.
|Erna met her
husband, John Howard Foxworth, at - you guessed it -- Sylvan Beach.
In the midst of the Great Depression, they married in a wedding ceremony
on the stage of the Arcadia Theater in Baytown
- a venue that proved to be prophetic. Their son, Robert Foxworth,
became an actor, best known for his leading role in the TV series,
"Falcon Crest," and his wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, starred in the
TV series, "Bewitched."
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist
24, 2015 columns
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