Showcasing An Era

BEMUS POINT- A new art installation which spotlights the Big Band Era of the 1930s and early 1940s is on display at the Village Casino.

The installation includes more than 45 canvas prints in the ballroom and many more throughout the restaurant. The photos feature artists who performed at the Casino such as: Frank Sinatra, who performed at the Casino in 1939 with Buddy Rich on drums as part of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra; Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Perry Como, Guy Lombardo, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton and others.

According to Keri Belovarac, who was instrumental to the project, the Casino was one of the main venues for the biggest names of the Big Band Era. The intent, she said, was to create an experience similar to that of a museum.

“The Casino has a rich and colorful history that many people do not know about, or have heard only bits and pieces of,” said Belovarac. “We have done hundreds of hours of research, and created a professional display of the Big Band Era at the Casino. We have nearly every well-known performer who ever entered here on display on the walls. We researched and located private owners to purchase the photos.”

The front entrance has a display of newspaper ads from 1930 through 1941, the majority of which were printed in The Post-Journal. Others were obtained via the Dunkirk Observer, Titusville Herald and the Warren Times Observer.

“We searched through microfilm of the local newspapers to get a copy of the hundreds of ads, which are displayed by year,” said Belovarac. “We had every original newspaper ad for every band that played here from 1930 to 1941. We have them broken up by year so you can come here to see what entertainers were here each summer.”

Also on display are historical photos from Bemus Point, including: The Lenhart Hotel, the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry, The Lawson Center, The Surf Club, the See-Zurh House, an artist rendition of the original Village Casino and others. The Lucy-Desi Center is also on display.

The installation is permanent, and Belovarac has plans to continue adding to it.

“This is part of the Village Casino and its history – so it’s not going anywhere,” said Andrew Carlson, owner of Village Casino restaurant.

The team Belovarac utilized to complete the project consists of Scott Graham, Cindy Young and Beth Ward. They started the project in the fall of 2012, and dedicated countless hours in libraries, The Post-Journal archives, the Fenton History Center and the McClurg Museum.

“I would like to give Keri and her team a sincere thank you for all their hard work and commitment for making our dream come true and for making the Casino and Chautauqua County a better place to enjoy for our visitors, families and friends for many generations to come,” said Carlson.

At the opening reception for the installation, Henry Huf, an area resident known for his uncanny ability to sing Frank Sinatra tunes, performed several songs.

“The open house went great, and everybody who has entered has been shocked about the history,” said Carlson. “The idea was to bring the community in to show them some of the history, the hard work Belovarac and her team put into it and really get a feel for how special the Village Casino is.”

To celebrate the rich history at the Village Casino, Carlson will host several live performances in the ballroom later in 2013, which will feature musicians who are representative of the Big Band Era.

“We’re trying to get back into our heritage, but it’s difficult because there aren’t a lot of Big Bands around here anymore,” said Carlson. “We’re looking at October, to try and bring back some of the original groups who are still in existence, but we don’t want to commit to a name yet.”

In addition to the art installation, guests can enjoy the restaurant and bar located on the first floor of the Village Casino. The ballroom is also available for private events. Live entertainment by local and regional acts will also continue to occur every Friday and Saturday evening through Labor Day at the Village Casino.

PRESERVING HERITAGE

According to Carlson, the installation is meant to celebrate the Chautauqua County area as a desired and enjoyed place to visit for families and friends for the past 100 years.

“We, the Carlson family, along with our extended Casino family, are proud of the heritage of the Casino and hope this display of our past will allow many future generations to continue promoting our heritage while preserving our legacy,” said Carlson. “When we started looking into the Casino’s unique past, we were absolutely shocked as to the quality of entertainment that came into Chautauqua County area and the Casino. … many of the top names of the time came into Bemus Point and Celoron to entertain our family and friends … Chautauqua County was the place to be – and still is.”

Another primary goal of the project is to promote tourism within the county, said Carlson.

“It is our sincere hope that when the tens of thousands of visitors come to Bemus Point they will enjoy our area and view these epic displays of our past,” said Carlson. “While enjoying time with their family and friends, they will soon return and help us introduce with pride more people to our beautiful lake we call home.”

“All the time and effort they put into this is incredible,” added Bryan Dahlberg, mayor of Bemus Point. “It shows so much of the history of the building – its amazing. Every time I come by I see something that I didn’t before. I think people never realized the magnitude of performers who were here.”

The Village Casino is located at 1 Lakeside Drive in Bemus Point. For more information call 386-2333 or visit www.bemuspointcasino.com.