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The Music Box

The Music Box

A brief history of The Music Box

Friday, January 27, 2006 – By Mark Barnhart Sr.

The Music Box in 1948

The Music Box was a Dance Hall located at the eastern end of Houghton Lake in Prudenville Michigan. It was started by Lee and Shirley Kelly in 1946 shortly after Lee returned from the Army Air Corp and World War II. Lee and Shirley owned land near the intersection of Michigan highways M-18 and M-55. They realized that the local teens didn’t have any place in the area to do anything for entertainment. They poured a cement slab and set up a juke box in a small building in the center and invited the teens to come dance on Saturday nights.

By 1948 they had enlarged the slab and put a partial wall and fence around the dance floor and began to charge a nickel entry to help defray the cost of buying all the latest records. At that point it officially became The Music Box. The popularity grew very quickly and young people from the surrounding towns of Roscommon, West Branch, St Helen, Grayling, Lake City, and Harrison were now regular customers.

In 1950 the dance floor was enlarged dramatically and a ten-foot high cinder block wall was built around this open area and painted white. Several trees were left inside in the dancing area and romantic lighting was added. There was an enclosed room added that included a fire place and a soda pop counter. This first enclosed room was painted blue and from that time on was called the blue room by all the employees. To decorate the blue room the Kelly’s hung photos of the Houghton Lake Homecoming Queens starting with 1946 around the walls. A second enclosed room was added with a coat check room and modern bath rooms and painted orange that was forevermore called orange the room.

By now, The Music Box was large enough the Kelly’s needed to hire some help. Lee and Shirley’s philosophy was to insure the young people really had a good time and felt comfortable at their establishment. They decided to hire mostly college age young people as ticket sellers and bouncers so that the help was close to the same age as the customers. That way the customers didn’’t feel like they had a bunch of high school shaperones watching them. The Music Box was now open Friday and Saturday nights and all through the three big summer holidays.

Untill 1953 The Music Box was only open summer weekends but the crowds kept growing and the local kids ask the Kelly’s if they could open up in the winter. So a smaller enclosed room, “the winter room” that was easier to heat, was added on the west side of the open area in 1953 to be used on winter weekends. In 1955, a tower was built to house sound equipment and the music collection as well as give the person playing the records a good view of the dance floor. The sound system was brought up to state-of-the-art when a commercial McIntosh 200 watt amplifier and very large Jenson folded horn speakers were installed. The records, both early 78’’s and 45’’s, were now played on three Thorns transcription turntables using three McIntosh C-4 preamps. This fabulous sound contributed to the enchantment along with the decor.

 

The Music Box outdoor dance floor in 2001

While Lee ran and managed the general operation of the Music Box, Shirley worked with him on the business management and she played the records. Any disc jockey knows how hard it is to keep the crowd dancing. Well, the blond in the tower, as Shirley was known to many of the customers, was the best of the best.


The Music Box in 2001

The Music Box continued to grow and to be the place that many, many young people remember as their “Summer Place” or the place they fell in love. It is impossible to put into words the feelings and memories that The Music Box brings to those who had the privilege of experiencing an evening there. It was truly enchanted. I enjoyed dancing at The Music Box as a customer from 1957 to 1962 and then worked for the Kelly’’s as a bouncer and helped maintain the sound system from 1962 to 1972. I continued to help with the sound system until the Music Box closed its doors for the last time, Labor Day weekend 2001

RPPC – Music Box – Houghton Lake – Prudenville, MI

When Lee & Shirley got a new St Bernard puppy they could not decide on a name for a couple of days. While Shirley was playing some new records one day to see if they were good dance numbers, she happened to play Chantilly Lace by The Big Bopper. As soon as the music started the puppy started howling. So they named the pup Bopper.

When Lee & Shirley got a new St Bernard puppy they could not decide on a name for a couple of days. While Shirley was playing some new records one day to see if they were good dance numbers, she happened to play Chantilly Lace by The Big Bopper. As soon as the music started the puppy started howling. So they named the pup Bopper.

Lee used to take Bopper for a walk around the dance floor about 11:00 every night in the 60s. Look to the left and you can see the white cinder block wall and one of the wood benches inside the Music Box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

46 years ago this holiday weekend…July 4, 1967…The Music Box had all-time record crowds, with over 7,000 tickets sold on the night of July 4th.

Music Box Diagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tower at The Music Box - Houghton Lake, Mi.

The Tower at The Music Box – Houghton Lake, Mi.

Remember Shirley’s Spotlight? It got shined on couples who were to Smoochy-Smoochy?!!

 

 

 

 

 

Some one commented about the tower where Shirley played the records. Here is what it looked like when we reopened in 1999.

Some one commented about the tower where Shirley played the records. Here is what it looked like when we reopened in 1999.

The console you see here is the same one from 1955 till we closed the last time. From 1955 to 1999 there were three turntables. When we reopened in 99 one turntable was removed and a pair of professional CD players were installed. The large gray Macintosh tube amplifier that sat at the closest end of the console was taken out in 99 and replaced with a Mackie 1,400 watt modern amp. The record storage was still above the the area you can see in this picture. Shirley always sat with the chair in the position you see so she could watch the crowd as she played the music.

 

All photos courtesy of Mark Barnhart Sr.

 

Facebook: Music Box -Houghton Lake -Michigan

 

Very Interesting Comments:

 

Clark Harder’s BIO Story: http://www.westmichmusichystericalsociety.com/clark-harders-bio-story/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Responses to The Music Box

  1. judy says:

    I am now 75 years old and the memories of THE BOX remain with me, nothing but fun. We would stay at Pat and Bobs cabins or The Corral, the highlight of our summer, also Luigis pizza, oh to be young again one more time

  2. Susanne Smith Ohman says:

    I have wonderful memories of going to the Music Box about 1960-63. My grandparents had a cabin in Prudenville and, when we would occasionally visit them, I would try to get to the Music Box. I met a boy there that I had attended high school with in Saginaw and had never met while in school. We dated for a while until I moved to Wisconsin. I remember dancing from the time I got there until the time I left, hardly taking time out for a pop. It was a safe place to go, dance and have a good time. I wonder how many teens today have a place like that to go to.

  3. Patrick Carney says:

    Great memories from the late 50’s until mid 60’s. I wish the young people of today could have the clean fun of that day.

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