Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Show Boat was a landlocked landmark that rocked
As a youngster in the '50s, I always wondered why there was a large boat called the Show Boat in Lebanon, N.Y., off Route 20 that was not near any water.
This landlocked vessel was the creation of Edmund Flynn Sr., who built a dance hall and club in 1930 to resemble a cruise ship.
It was replete with portholes, anchors, ship mast, a gangplank for an entrance, a promenade and a captain's bridge and was over 100 feet long and 30 feet wide with stages at each end and cabin like booths all around the perimeter of the dance floor
The Show Boat was built to showcase the big bands and popular musicians, both locally and nationally. In 1935, Flynn passed away and a partner, Earle Roberts, and his brother, Arthur took over the operation.
In June 1945, another family member, Billy Roberts, took over the Show Boat and had orchestras play three or more nights a week. Then in April 1946, a retired boxer, Nicholas Pignone, bought the club, did considerable renovations and also featured orchestras and dances every weekend.
During its heyday the Show Boat was one of the glitziest places in a four-state area with entertainment just like on the cruise ships of the day. Some of the well-known visiting big bands included Paul Whiteman, the Dorsey Brothers, Frankie Carle, and Gene Krupa.
Comedians like Henny Youngman, Buddy Hackett and Redd Fox and singing groups such as the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots were frequent entertainers.
Burlesque performers became a mainstay with Gypsy Rose Lee, Candy Barr and Lilly St. Cyr as performers. Many local musicians played the Show Boat on weekend nights such as Pittsfield's Sammy Vincent and Alan Grieve.
By the 1950s one of the most popular draws was an off-color comedian from the tri-city area known as Doc Circe.
Pignone ran the Show Boat for 20 years and then sold the club in 1966 to Jack Carpinello, who changed the venue to a rock 'n' roll format.
In the 1960s, when the New York drinking age was 18, many of us Berkshire youth would frequent the Show Boat for its rock music and dancing. Some nights, 400 to 500 young people would come.
In 1974 the Show Boat was sold to two Albany businessmen, Bernie Mulligan and Fred Endres, who renamed the boat "the Barrel" and described it as "a melting pot for single people."
Berkshire County bands that were booked included Ball of Confusion, Hot Spur and Potter Mountain Road.
The exterior of the boat remained the same, but the interior had a major overhaul with a 100 foot oval bar, new bandstand and tables, flashing lights from the walls and pulsating lights built into the raised dance floor. Pizza, hamburgers and grinders were served as well as all legal beverages.
In 1975, Francis Dinova bought the club and began a total remodeling of the "Boat" (as it was known) into a dinner club.
However, before it opened, the famous landmark burned to the ground. Several fire departments fought the blaze, said to be one of the worst fires ever in the area.
The days of this entertainment hotspot over the mountain came to an end with the fire, and several years later, the land was turned into a strip mall called the Valley Plaza. Reminiscing with others about this famous 45-year old landmark, I would often say, "no more boat, no more shows and still no water!"
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native, is the founder of the newly opened Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." For information, go to berkshirecarousel.com or visit the carousel at 50 Center St. in Pittsfield.
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