A 1950s Saturday night in Lacey meant going out to the Evergreen Ballroom to dance until the very last song, long past midnight. There were many dance hall venues in the South Sound area, but The Green, as it was familiarly called, had already made its mark as the ginchiest place to cut a rug in the presence of talented performers and singers. The ballroom booked the bands, both big names and local talent, to set the beat and entertain eager throngs of dancers.
Dancing was the main objective even when Walter Sholund first built the Evergreen in 1931. Violin player and leader of the family band, Sholund started what would ultimately be a 70-year run. People bought tickets at Lohr Brothers in Olympia for $2, and depending on how old you were, you may have asked your parents for a ride out and back. If you were a cool cat, you drove yourself, taking the Old Olympia Tacoma Highway east of Lacey. For a period of time, the Sholunds arranged for a bus to collect patrons.
The barn-style ballroom was known for some wild events, but it was also known for being a place where people had good old-fashioned fun: where everyone knew each other and watched out for one another. Area teens went to dance with friends, perhaps giving their ticket to Mrs. Van Allen, the county sheriff’s wife, at the window. Once inside, minors were not allowed to exit and re-enter. They were steered clear from the bar area and did what many generations of co-ed dance populations did, stood around the edge and waited to be asked to dance. When the limbo stick came out, the crowds bordered the dance floor again to cheer on participants.
“Everybody loved to dance in those days,” explains 1952 Olympia High School graduate Myrna Conine. “Everybody danced dances. You didn’t just pick up your feet up and put them down.”
The latest dance moves spread like wildfire across the country after the East Coast “Bandstand” expanded to “American Bandstand,” nationwide. The West Coast kids watched the show as it aired right after school and learned dance styles previously only known on the opposite coast. Furthermore, 1950s Evergreen teens made slight changes to their folk’s two-step choreography, doing the twist or the hand jive, and even made modifications to the jitterbug and country swing dances.
Weekend dancers saw many performers take the stage, some that would make great fame, and some that would remain local legends. The Green was a good stop along tour routes between Portland, Tacoma and Seattle. B.B. King, Ike and Tina Turner, and Marvin Gaye were headliners of the decade. Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Paul Revere and the Raiders excited the crowds. Richard Berry, opening for another group, introduced the crowd with his “Louis Louis” song, and the rest is history. James Brown brought his on-stage charisma. Facing a crowd of an estimated 800, he fell to his knees and sang out, “Baby, please, please, please, don’t go,” from his new song in 1956. Country and western fans drove out to dance a two-step or the schottische along with Texas Tyler and Bob Wills with his Texas Playboys. The Grand Ole Opry even made a stop bringing Hank Williams to the stage.
It was a big deal to go, and dancing until the wee hours was all the rage, a common feature in the region. In 1955, Thurston County commissioners drafted an amendment which would extend the current 1 a.m. closing law. Dance halls had been operating until 2 a.m. on a temporary permit. Irving Sholund, Walter’s eldest son who later ran the business, along with Ray Walker of the Musicians Union and Leo Smith of the Tropics show room all voiced their concern to the committee, claiming that a later time was necessary to stay competitive with neighboring counties. Clubs in Grays Harbor County had no mandated closing time at all.
The public made the most of every minute the dance hall was open over the years. Stories abound in conversations and in social media at the mention of the venue and even thoughtful reflections appear in some obituaries. Childhood memories, first dates, proposing to one’s future wife or chatting with an admired musician are not singular anecdotes. The dancehall, maple floor, stage and memorabilia were all lost to fire in July of 2000. All that remained was the concrete under the dance floor, and even it lives on.
“When they broke up the concrete floor to the building,” explains David Faro, connoisseur of used materials, “they put it in big piles of huge slabs in the back of the lot. I went there almost every weekend for two whole summers, with a sledgehammer, and broke off chunks to stack as retaining walls on my property. I had no idea what I was scavenging. It was the landowner who told me what I was pounding away at. For the rest of the time, I sweated away thinking about history.”
What was left of The Green was literally and figuratively foundational. It was the basis of fun and community entertainment in Lacey, and it was a foundational piece of history supporting the musicians that graced its stage.