Felton Grove dance hall building gets new owners
by Joe Shreve
Apr 17, 2014 | 1396 views | 0 0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Vicki Wees, Patsy Wright, and Helen and Vitto Tomolillo, check out the inside of the former Felton Grove dance hall. Lucjan Szewczyk/Press-Banner
Vicki Wees, Patsy Wright, and Helen and Vitto Tomolillo, check out the inside of the former Felton Grove dance hall. Lucjan Szewczyk/Press-Banner
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The Felton Grove dance hall in its heyday in 1942. Courtesy of Patsy Wright
The Felton Grove dance hall in its heyday in 1942. Courtesy of Patsy Wright
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The former dance hall building of the Felton Grove Auto Resort, one of Felton's lesser-known historic buildings, is headed toward a new life and a much-needed remodel with new owners determined to preserve the old building as their home.

Instantly recognizable at the intersection of Park Avenue and Circle Drive as the first building at the entrance to the Felton Grove neighborhood, the 78-year-old building was originally built to serve as an office, snack bar, and dance hall for the Felton Grove Auto Resort — the neighborhood's original configuration as a collection of summer cabins.

Though they purchased the 3,340-square-foot building in November, it's been several months of hard work for Helen and Vitto Tomolillo, as the couple has spent countless hours clearing out decades' worth of accumulated items and debris from the property's interior and exterior.

“This place was just full of junk,” said Vitto Tomolillo. “Helen and myself though, we could see past all that.”

The Tomolillos, who currently live in Capitola, said that they found the property listed online, and fell in love with it for its historic value, after meeting with their Realtor, local historian Vicki Wees.

Despite the amount of work that will be required to restore and repair the building's somewhat run-down appearance — both on the interior and exterior — Helen Tomolillo said that they are dedicated to the project.

“We're really trying to restore it,” Helen Tomolillo said of the building, which will eventually be configured as a one-bedroom home. “You can see the vision of what could be here.”

Though the building has been a private home since 1958, the briefest of peeks inside the structure is enough to instantly recognize its past life.

The main entrance leads directly to the bar, where thirsty summer vacationers would kick back with a cool drink on a hot day.

Walk through the double doors, however, and you see the centerpiece of the place — a wide-open dance floor, complete with a recessed stage area where musicians once played folk songs, or rock hits of the day.

According to Wees, who — along with her partner John Flaniken — sold the property, the building was originally constructed in 1936 by the Wright family, then-owners of the resort.

For the next 22 years, she said, the building served burgers, sodas, ice cream, and hot dogs by day, and hosted weekend dance parties and live music by night.

“It was a dance hall from 1936 through the 1940s and '50s,” Wees said. “They were dancing the bop in here.”

It was at one such dance in 1947 that a 14-year-old Patsy Wright, now 81, met her late husband, Bob Wright — son of the resort's owner.

“It was really busy,” Wright said of her days at the resort and dance hall. “There was dancing, music, and a lot of good fun.”

Wright, whose family moved to Felton full-time in 1948 in order for her mother to open a dress shop, said that her father, Johnny Klein, used to call the square dances at the dance hall.

The dances ended after the property was sold in 1958, and the dance hall was converted into a home. Several businesses, such as a television repair shop, have been operated out of there ever since.

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