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Vogue Terrace overlooked in recent listing of nightspots

| Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Recent references to popular night clubs and entertainers who performed at those venues sparked inquiries from readers about one that we – in their estimation – overlooked.

“What about the Vogue Terrace?” a woman in Elizabeth Township asked. “It was a very popular place for many years but you obviously don't remember it. My parents went dancing there in the 1940s and my friends and I saw some great entertainment at the Terrace in the 1950s. Why the oversight?”

The reader is right. The Vogue Terrace did write some special chapters on the entertainment scene in western Pennsylvania.

But like others that weren't mentioned in the recent accounts – e.g., Bill Green's, the Ankara, the Holiday House – the Vogue Terrace was not located in this Mid-Mon Valley.

Newspaper stories and advertisements listed its location as North Versailles, East McKeesport and “just outside of McKeesport.”

A United Press International story on Page 13 of The Valley Independent on Wednesday, April 24, 1963, carried the East McKeesport dateline in its report of a fire that gutted the structure on Crooked Run Road.

“The Vogue Terrace Dinner Theater, recently remodeled and opened to the public just last week, virtually burned to ground level early today in an explosion-punctuated fire,” UPI reported.

It continued: “One man, listed as Truman (Gene) Miller, a stage manager from New York, was unaccounted for after the fire burned out. It was learned that he had been staying in living quarters on the third floor of the building.”

The wire service reported the next day (April 25) that Miller's body had been found about eight hours after the blaze swept through the structure, which it now said was located in North Versailles Township.

An official of the rambling frame building gave a preliminary damage estimate of $650,000 on Wednesday, UPI said.

He said the building, originally constructed as a convent, was valued at $500,000 and the new owners had spent approximately $150,000 on improvements prior to its official opening as a dinner theater last Wednesday (April 17).

The initial performance at the refurbished club was the musical “Annie Get Your Gun,” starring Ginger Rogers. Neither Miss Rogers nor any of the cast was in the establishment at the time since the fire broke out at about 5 a.m., the wire service reported.

“However, three members of the management staff who had been staying in quarters on upper floors had to be rescued from the roof of the blazing building,” UPI said.

A man working in the kitchen of the club discovered the blaze and sounded the alarm. He told authorities that he heard an explosion later. Other reports also attributed the source of the fire to a faulty furnace.

“We're digging through the debris to get into the basement and towards the furnaces,” Allegheny County Fire Marshal Anthony Ferraro told United Press International the day after the fire. He said there was no indication of arson “at this time.” Walter Dull, deputy fire marshal for North Versailles Township, said 15 fire companies from nearby communities responded to the general-alarm blaze. One fireman was reported to have suffered minor injuries in battling the fire.

United Press International recalled that the Vogue Terrace was “a landmark for years” in the McKeesport-East McKeesport area.

“It opened under that name as a night club on July 3, 1942,” the wire service said.

Other sources such as Jim Parmiter reference its genesis before that.

Writing on www.RootsWeb.com several years ago, Parmiter said Clark Hamilton brought the property on which the Vogue Terrace evolved “in the mid-1930s on Crooked Run Road and was turned it into a modern night club.” He said such top bands as those led by Lawrence Welk and Ted “Ted And My Shadow” Lewis were among the entertainers.

Others who patronized the club in the 1940s have recalled enjoying listening and dancing to the music of many other national and Pittsburgh area orchestras during the heyday of the Big Band Era.

“It was a step below the Twin Coaches, the Holiday House or the Ankara when it came to featuring the big names in show business,” one old-timer claimed. “But it was still a great place to go for a good evening out on the town. They had quality entertainment, excellent food and beverages and very reasonable prices.” With the advent of Rock ‘n' Roll in the early and mid-1950s, the Vogue Terrace began presenting entertainers that appealed to younger crowds. But according to Carl Janusek of Duquesne, author, writer and historian, the club did not hold dances for teenagers.

“To my knowledge and research, teenage record hops were never held at the Vogue Terrace,” said Janusek, whose excellent features on western Pennsylvania recording artists often appear in Echoes Of The Past magazine, “The club did have post-prom parties for high schools in the McKeesport area. I saw the Flamingos on stage there as well as many others.” Others from McKeesport recalled an excellent post-prom show by Ike and Tina Turner at the Vogue Terrace in 1957..

Janusek said he does not recall Bo Diddley performing at the club but remembrs a June 4, 1956, show at the Syria Mosque in Oakland that featured Bo with Bill Haley and the Comets, the Platters, Clyde McPhatter, LaVerne Baker, Big Joe Turner, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Teen Queens, the Drifters, the Flamingos, the Colts and Red Prysock and his Rock and Orchestra. McPhatter, former lead singer with the Drifters, was working as a solo artist at the time and had a hit with “Treasure of Love.” Bo Diddley also appeared at the VFW Hall in Irwin on Jan. 1, 1959, the Capitol Theater in McKeesport on March 27, 1960 and later that evening at the Central Fire Hall in Elizabeth Township and at the A.O.H. Hall in McKeesport with Porky Chedwick on August 28, 1961. Diddley of course made numerous appearances at dances in the Mid-Mon Valley.

By 1962, Janusek recalled, the Vogue Terrace “didn't have many attractions.” Among those appearing there that year were Farrar and the Dancin's Voguettes, Jan. 19-20; the Starliters, a local band, Jan. 28; the Fireflies, February 4; the Turbans, February 18; Marcy Joe (“Ronnie”), Feb. 25; Walt Harper and Farrar, March 10; Betty Barnes, April 14; Julius LaRosa, April 24; the Ink Spots, September 28, and the Everett Neil Orchestra, Oct. 18.

“The McKeesport area had many swingin' places that offered record hops,” he said. “They included the Casa Loma, Lincoln Manor, which was renamed the White Elephant, the Rainbow Room at the Irwin VFW, the Palisades, the Rainbow Roller Rink and the Palanese Hall. There were many other places and major stars and local talent were always to be seen.” Contrary to misconceptions on the part of some people, the Vogue Terrace and the White Elephant were two separate places. The White Elephant, also located “just outside of McKeesport,” was the place for teenagers to go on Sunday nights for dances featuring such disc jockeys as Porky Chedwick, Barry Kaye and Jay Michael. It ran as one of the most successful teenage dances in western Pennsylvania into the 1970s and was operated by Bob Mack, who also managed the popular hops at the Blue Fox in Monongahela.

The Vogue Terrace did figure in the branding of one of the most popular, successful and enduring singing groups from western Pennsylvania, The Vogues.

All hailing from the Turtle Creek area, the singers were originally called The Val-Airs and released their first recording, “Laurie, My Love,” under that name in 1959 on Willett Records, which was owned by the group's manager, Elmer Willett. The song was re-released and distributed nationally, again with The Val-Airs name, on Coral Records in 1960.

According to several sources, the group changed their name to The Vogues soon after that, the name being derived from the Vogue Terrace, which was the home of Willett Records.

The club faltered in the early 1960s and was taken over by new management early in 1963, United Press International reported, “with the idea of giving the district its first venture into dinner theater type entertainment featuring full length musicals and plays.” A preview performance of “Annie Get Your Gun” was presented on April 16, 1963, for an invitation only audience, UPI said.

“The following night, the dinner theater opened to the public,” the story continued. “It was reported that 900 reservations were taken for last Saturday night's show.” When the fire broke out early in the morning on April 24, Ginger Rogers and other members of the “Annie Get Your Gun” cast were staying at nearby motels.

The April 25 story by UPI emphasized that the death of stage manager Truman (Gene) Miller in the fire “deeply affected Ginger Rogers, who played the title role in ‘Annie Get Your Gun,' the first production offered by the club. She remained here until Miller's body was recovered and then boarded a plane for Los Angeles. She had dined with Miller only a few hours before the fire.”

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ronpaglia@verizon.net.

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