George Jones and Tommy Sands also entertained there along with numerous other
big names and biggies-to-be in country and rock. Tillman even recorded a song,
“The Magnolia Gardens Waltz,” in which he laments a lost love. While not as well
known as most songs by the Country Music Hall of Famer, it’s still worth a listen.
Young folks today respond with blank looks when you ask if they know anything
about the place. Really, it’s not a fair question, because this haven of riverside
rockabilly reached its peak of popularity in the Fifties.
that’s my era and I grew up in Baytown,
I have a gap in my recreational history. I never went to Magnolia Gardens. I regret
that and especially hate having missed the opportunity to see Elvis.
asked Norman Adams, who grew up in Highlands and graduated from Baytown's
Robert E. Lee High School in 1953, if he remembered Magnolia Gardens. Located
off Highway 90 and meandering around a bend in San Jacinto River, the park was
an easy commute from Highlands, Crosby, Channelview and Sheldon.
the right man because Norman went there often and – oh, yeah -- he got to shake
hands with Elvis. “I thought I was in high cotton,” he said, recalling his encounter
with the then-future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. “He seemed like a real nice guy.”
Norman recalled many good weekends at Magnolia Gardens. “We would go there
Friday evening and stay there until after the Sunday matinee.”
He and his friends would begin the weekend barbecuing on the picnic grounds, and
they stayed overnight in the camping facilities. A safe and wholesome place for
families, the park was well supervised, and there were no fights, no crime. “It
was ideal back then,” Norman said. “You could have fun and not worry about getting
Beckoned by a wide beach, swimmers enjoyed access to the river,
and the park had facilities for boating, fishing and volleyball.
with those varied recreational facilities, though, music remained the main attraction
at Magnolia Gardens.
talking to Norman, I searched Magnolia Gardens on the Internet and found a lot
out there, including videos of Elvis singing plus stories and photos about the
An ad reprinted from the Houston Post Aug. 4, 1954, features a young
Elvis and spells his last name wrongly with a double S. It stated. “Elvis Pressley,
one of the most sensational entertainers in the nation today will make a personal
appearance at Magnolia Gardens this Sunday … Each Pressley appearance seems to
hale greater throngs of people because of his style in entertainment.”
singer Johnny Bush, in his autobiography, remembered Magnolia Gardens as the place
to go on a Sunday afternoon. He said people would sit around in their bathing
suits on a sandy beach and take in shows by all the biggest country and early
rock ‘n’ roll stars.
By the way, I read that Elvis claimed Magnolia Gardens
was one of his favorite places to perform.
Dang, I wish I'd been there.
© Wanda Orton -
June 1, 2012
Baytown Sun Columnist
Topics: Music | People
| Columns | Texas