Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy Hour Pavilion

The Happy Hour Pavilion was a dance hall operating on Lee Highway from at least the late thirties until around 1950 located in the current Capital Rentals building at 12716 Lee Highway. The building was built in 1928, but the earliest record of it being a dance hall is during the late thirties when it was operated by Michael Mohr. Mohr (b. 1891) was a German Catholic immigrant and a highly respected citizen in Fairfax County who owned the parcel of land along Lee Highway where Happy Hour was. In 1939 he ran for Sheriff, but lost to Eppa Kirby, who would go on to form the Fairfax County Police Department. Mohr died in 1952 and is buried at St. Mary’s in Fairfax County.

The first ad of Happy Hour is from February 18, 1938 featuring Bill McLean’s High Hatters on Saturdays and Elton Wakefield’s Virginia Corn Huskers played Wednesdays. Both bands are a bit of a mystery and don’t seem to have made it beyond gigs in Fairfax County. Elton H. Wakefield was a popular band leader and fiddler in Northern Virginia at the time and played at Dixie Tea Garden in Merrifield among other engagements. Elton, living on Columbia Pike in Falls Church, was a Fairfax native, born in 1892 and during the day he worked as a machinist for the Navy. Elton died in 1964. I can’t find any information about the other members of the Virginia Corn Huskers. Bill McLean’s High Hatters are a total mystery. It appears there were a few bands based in DC around the same time sharing the name the High Hatters. One was a vaudeville act and another featured two women and a piano player.

Unlike other dance halls like Social Circle, Bull Run, and Chimney Villa, Happy Hour seemed to be the spot for the more law abiding set since it is never mentioned as a trouble spot. Perhaps Mohr’s campaign for sheriff is testament to the type of place he ran. About the craziest thing that happened there was a young woman broke her ankle while attempting the Charleston for the first time. The article from the time describes a hillbilly band playing square dances and old favorites before breaking into a spirited rendition of the Charleston. It seems moving from a square dance to the wild abandonment of the Charleston was too much for that crazy kid.

For some reason, perhaps a zoning issue, Happy Hour closed during 1943 and 1944. Mohr tried to sell the property, but then applied for rezoning as a dance hall and resumed operations in late 1944. This time period is especially odd because the dance halls were booming with so many young servicemen in the area looking for a good time. Upon reopening, Raymond Woolfenden managed the dance hall Woolfenden was in the twilight of a country music DJ career under the moniker Cousin Ray. He was inducted into the Country Radio Broadcasters in 1999.

Sometime in the late forties Happy Hour was taken over by Tom and Bob Lion. On March 25, 1949 Happy Hour featured Tom and Bob Lion and their “all-string band” The Gentlemen from Dixie. The advertisement boasts of “round dances, Paul Jones, square dances and all requests. Sadly, Happy Hour ceased operations sometime in the early fifties. During the seventies this location became an antique shop operating until 1985 when it became Capital Rentals. The building still stands at 12716 Lee Highway.

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