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The City of Walled Lake is about 25 miles outside of Detroit, and was an easy drive up Grand River Avenue. So named because of an apparent series of "walls" on the bottom of the lake, it was the closest beach to the Detroit area and was a perfect place for people in the city to swim and picnic. The early 1900's was certainly the heyday of the Amusement Park and this is when the notion of building a park at Walled Lake came to be.
Like many other parks around the state, the first phase of the Walled Lake Amusement Park was a small dance hall and bathhouse. It was built by Jake and Ernest Taylor in 1919 near their general store at the south end of the lake. The dance hall was soon attracting up to 1000 patrons per night who came to dance to the Detroit-area "big bands" like Finzel's and Stone's Orchestra. At the same time Herman Czenkusch was building the Cenaqua Shores subdivision consisting of several 30 Walled Lake ft. lots along the lake.
Although the lots were meant to be sold in pairs and built upon as 1 large lot, several people would build on one side of the lot and then sell the other lot to someone else who would also build a cottage which resulted in a string of smaller places that were just a few feet apart. Although some of these earlier dwellings have been remodeled or torn down, there are still numerous examples of them lined up along East Lake Drive today.
Czenkusch also constructed a large bathhouse and a huge, 2 story wooden water slide. The slide was designed such that you would sit on a wooden toboggan and slide down into the lake. Noticing the steady business the Taylor Dance Hall was bringing in, Czenkusch added the Cenaqua Shores Dance Pavilion across the street in 1921 which was larger, fancier, and contained a restaurant. He also began showing motion pictures on the site. In November of 1921 the Cenequa Shores bathhouse and water slide burned down, only to be replaced by Czenkusch with a bigger and better facility soon after.
The Taylor's were having difficulty competing with the larger Cenaqua Shores complex and decided to sell their bathhouse and dance hall to Detroit grocer Louis Tolettene. Tolettene opened the re-modeled dance hall under the name Casino Shore Dance Pavilion in April 1923. Czenkusch countered by giving away a free car at the end of the season.
Tolletene upped the ante again and built the huge "New Casino" in 1925. The steel frame for the building was constructed by the Smith Company. With the help of Tolettene himself, local carpenter Art Harris finished it off and added the elaborate latticework ceiling. There was also a 120' x 140' hardwood dance floor. The ceiling of the place was decorated with specially-designed wooden and silk stars that were hand-painted and lit to create the effect of the night sky. It was opened on April 13 1925.
This new development caused Czenkusch to rent his facilities to Howard S. Stamon, who had run an A&P store and wanted to start his own business. Unfortunately, Howard did not have the experience needed to make a go of it and Czenkusch took it back and made another attempt at competing with Loius Tolettene before leasing his dance hall to Tolettene in 1927.
It appeared to be smooth sailing for Louis Tolettene, who now controlled both dance halls. Unfortunately, Oakland County Sheriff Frank Shram got an injunction to stop Sunday dancing citing an old "blue law" that had been on the books for years. This caused Louis to hire a prominent Detroit attorney named Frank Garrett to argue his case. To bring the situation to a head, Louis had his daughter dance with a friend on a Sunday knowing that Frank Shram would padlock the place. This event forced the matter into court where Louis Tolettene would prevail. The result was the re-instatement of dancing in Oakland County on Sundays for good.
In 1928, Tolettene installed a mirror ball in the dance hall with colored spot lights. He also began booking out-of-town bands starting with the Broadway Collegians Orchestra from New York with fantastic results. This continued for 3 years until the now ailing Herman Czenkusch converted his smaller dance hall (which he still owned) into a successful roller rink. This set the stage for an exciting new phase of development for Cenequa Shores.
In 1929, a roller coaster was built by Fred W. Pearce. Pearce had previously built 27 roller coasters around the country. This new coaster, christened "The Flying Dragon", was his crowing achievement. Because Pearce had an interest in having a park of his own, he made a deal with Czenkusch to lease his property and went to work on constructing the Walled Lake Amusement Park, which included rides like the "Pretzel" and the "Tilt-a-Whirl". The park opened on May 9, 1929 (Memorial Day) and was an instant success. Unfortunately, Herman Czenkusch never witnessed this enormous success due to his passing in August of 1929 at the age of 64.
That same year, the stock market crashed on October 24, which marked the beginning of the Walled Lake Great Depression. Louis Tolettene received news on a Friday at 5:00 from a Mr. Chaffee at the Walled Lake Bank that there had been a run on the bank and very little of his money was left. He took what little there was and transferred it to a bank in Farmington which immediately failed as well, which basically wiped him out.
In order to open for the next season, Louis was able to secure a loan from a Mrs. Richardson of Walled Lake. Despite the depression, the Dance Hall, now known as the Walled Lake Casino Pavilion, continued to flourish with a weekly radio broadcast that was heard nationwide. This put Walled Lake on the map and established it as a premier entertainment center for the mid-west.
The amusement park and casino had their own beach with the large wooden slides. Unfortunately, there were frequent injuries on the slides, and tragically, the death of a little girl from Detroit. This led to the slides being closed down and dismantled soon thereafter. Some of the other attractions were speedboat rides which were available for 15 cents.
Tolettene soon added a second stage and began booking 2 bands per night which gave the dance hall a needed boost. The big band era began soon after that and bands from all over the country were appearing at the Casino, including Tommy Dorsey, Red Nickels and the Five Pennys and Benny Goodman.
Louis Tolettene died in June of 1936, as he had been seriously ill. He left the casino to his wife Leona. His nephews, Albert and Elmer, along with the rest of the family continued on and ran the business from that point. There was a period of continued success in the Casino until WW II, which caused the Casino to be closed for the duration.
The Casino re-opened in 1946 with the Orin Tucker Band. Many more acts followed like Johnny Long, Tex Benecke, Harry James, Ross Murrow, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Kay, Wayne King, Guy Lomardo and Les Brown. Lawrence Welk came in and played some of the last radio broadcasts from the casino. He also bought a cottage on the lake for himself and his family.
The amusement park continued to flourish into the 1950's, even though the beach traffic was slowing a bit due to the numerous other lakes in the area and the advent of backyard pools. There were also concerns about waste from the park restrooms leaching into the lake. The picnic business was still booming at this time and there were also military exhibitions which featured tanks and armored vehicles.
In 1957, Ralph Flannigan set attendance records at the Casino with his large band. But soon after, as television became more popular, attendance at the Casino and amusement park began to decline. In response, the Tolettene brothers booked The Four Freshman, The Four Aces, The Kingston Trio, Theresa Brewer and Mel Torme. Unfortunately, attendance continued to decline until the Casino was closed in 1960. This even though Walled Lake Casino did out-last most of the other ballrooms throughout the country.
Leona Tolettene sold the Casino 2 years later to the Kramer's who re-opened the place and began booking the big bands again. After a couple of weeks however, they changed the bookings to rock and roll and installed heat for year-round dancing. Local radio DJ's like Lee Allen were also brought in to do their shows from the casino. The new rock and roll format was bringing in huge crowds doing all of the latest dances.
Many famous rock acts of the day appeared there including Fabian, Stevie Wonder and Chuck Berry, who appeared there directly after being released from prison for violation of the Mann Act. Chuck arrived late and demanded to be paid in cash before going on stage.
In 1965 the Casino was sold once again to Detroit club owner Irving Meckler who changed the name to Club-a-Go-Go. Tragedy struck however, on Christmas night 1965. Just after 11:30 the casino burnt to the ground. The cause of the blaze appeared to be a smoldering cigarette that was swept up off the floor and placed in a cardboard trash can. This was the end of the dance hall era in Walled Lake as it would have been too costly to rebuild.
With the death of Fred W Pearce in the early 1960's. Fred Pearce Jr. took over operations of the park although his heart wasn't in it. He later sold the park to the Wagner brothers who were the owners of Edgewater Park at 7 Mile and Berg in Detroit. After a few more years, the park fell into disrepair and was closed at the end of the 1968 season. Many of the rides were dismantled and relocated to Edgewater Park. This was the final hour of the great, 50 year history of Walled Lake Amusement Park and Dance Hall.
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