Recreation Department relocated to the Avon Isle

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FEATURE ARTICLE from THE MORNING JOURNAL, 3-31-00, By SARAH FENSKE, Morning Journal Writer

"Old Avon landmark to come alive

Too many summers ago to count, Sis Hubbard would hear the piano music wafting from Avon Isle to her family's home on 'Pig Tail Alley.'

In those years, Avon Isle flourished as a dance hall on Detroit Road that attracted revelers from across northeastern Ohio.

Like many in Avon in 1930, Hubbard would step out to go dancing at Avon Isle, often accompanied by her sister or an uncle and aunt.

Today Avon Isle is in disrepair, beaten down through the passing years. Now, Avon Mayor Jim Smith is touting a plan to restore the landmark to its former glory, a plan that will take its first small steps in the next weeks.

Avon Isle
The old Avon Isle may be renovated into a community center, if Mayor Jim Smith gets his wish. (Morning Journal/Paul Walsh)

The goal is to return Avon Isle to a community center for picnics, parties and the occasional dance, said Smith.

Today, Hubbard is Sis Wernert. At 85 years old, she has been married and widowed and still lives on 'Pig Tail Alley,' but now everyone calls it by its proper name, Hale Street.

Decades after Wernert stopped dancing at Avon Isle every weekend, Tom Tomlin would walk down the road from his father's service station to the Isle. He would earn 50 cents an hour painting picnic tables and setting up for clambakes.

In 1970, a 20-something Tomlin watched his friend, Jim Smith, headline a boxing match there.

He doesn't remember who won, but he remembers how packed it was, upstairs and down.

Tomlin, 55, has left the family business to become treasurer for Lorain County Educational Services. His old friend Smith is Mayor of Avon.

Jim Smith
Marty Mangan, left, boxing with Jim Smith, right, (photo courtesy of Mayor Jim Smith)

'Avon's changing a lot,' Tomlin said. 'There's not too many of us around anymore. But all of us who were there, we remember. Absolutely.'

Smith does more than remember. As mayor, he is planning to bring life back to the building.

Avon purchased the Isle's 2.5 acres in 1997, along with another 1.5 acres across the French Creek for parking.

The 74-year-old building is reached from Detroit Road by a bridge over French Creek. The front porch is weather-beaten, and the whole building needs a coat of paint.

Inside, the hardwood floor is scuffed and the gilded mirrors are clouded. There are makeshift offices on the dance floor and a weed-cutter stood sentinel in a corner.

In the coming weeks, Avon will take the first steps to restoring the Isle. Its tenant, a private building company, is leaving, and Avon will move in its recreation department.

That will free up space in City Hall. More importantly, it will put Recreation Director Jack Zajaros on site to supervise work on the Isle, Smith said.

This year, Avon will spend about $10,000 on central heating and air. In the next three years, it will invest as much as $250,000 from developer's park fees and private contributions, Smith said.

'It'll be nicer than a lot of people realize when you think about it,' he said. 'Some people can't see the forest for the trees, and they want to tear it down. But this has so much potential.'

Despite the Isle's disrepair today, it was the finest Avon had to offer for many years, said Jean Fischer, a member of Avon's Historical Society.

'It was dance hall and picnic area, very popular,' Fischer said. 'You'd have bands there, big bands in the '40s, square dances and quilting parties.'

Wernert remembers dancing there as a girl and later with her husband, who at first didn't know how to dance. He learned.

'It wasn't a boyfriend-girlfriend kind of place,' she said. 'It was young and old together. It was the most.'

George and Elsie Biltz, a gregarious local couple, led dances at Avon Isle every Saturday night for 18 years.

Biltz
George and Elsie Biltz playing at the Avon Isle, (Morning Journal photo)

'She would be pounding that piano, and he would be playing that fiddle,' Wernert said, blue eyes bright behind her glasses. 'I can still see it. Those were the good old days.'

Avon Isle wasn't only family fun. There were also clambakes notorious for serving the crowd long into the night ...

In its early days, Charlie Chaplin movies played at the hall for a nickel, Smith said. During the 1950s, the owner briefly brought in a kiddie park, complete with a Ferris wheel.

At various times Avon Isle also boasted bingo games, church picnics and the boxing matches. A full ticket would fight before the final grudge match, featuring whatever two locals were feuding that year.

Most remember the music. And while the Isle's heyday as a dancing mecca is long past, its future looks bright once again.

'It sort of died as a dance hall from the '60s on,' Fischer said. 'But it was always sort of a community meeting place in one way or another.'

EDITORIAL from THE MORNING JOURNAL, 4-3-00

"Avon remembers the good old days

... SMILE: Avon is a busy, growing community, and the attention for the past few years has been focused on the new. New streets, upscale homes, a major shopping center and new parks are making the news and occupying the time and energy of city officials, especially Mayor Jim Smith.

It's nice to see, then, that the mayor and others have not forgotten the landmarks of past glory days for the Lorain County community. We're delighted that the mayor is promoting a plan to restore the Avon Isle, which once flourished as a dance hall beside the French Creek, on Detroit Road.

Avon has owned the property since 1997, having purchased its 2.5 acres along with another 1.5 acres on the other side of the French Creek for parking. It has been leased to a building company, but that tenant is now moving out, so Smith wants to move in the city recreation department, at least for the near future. This year the city will spend about $10,000 on central heating and air conditioning. Later, other improvements will be made. Eventually, the place will be restored to its old role as a center of community entertainment."

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