Sun, Sand, Surf, Songs and Kennywood!

 One of the advantages of growing up in Duquesne was that we had the ability to attend virtually every show that was booked at Kennywood. From watching poor Bruno Zacchini being shot out of his cannon time and time again at the Lagoon Stage, to coming face-to-face with The Three Stooges! Between the Bandshell, the StarView Plaza, the Music Plaza, the Lagoon Stage and the Island that sat in the middle of the SunLite Swimming Pool, we all had the chance to see some awesome performers for free!

As I did some research, I found that Kennywood hosted quite an array of recording, television and even movie stars over the years. I was able to pull some Kennywood ads and articles that appeared in The Duquesne Times in the late 1950’s. I was amazed at some of the artists that appeared at the park and whose shows were ours for the taking. It seems that Kennywood might have been a great place for some of these performers to hone their skills in the early part of their career. Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon and Conway Twitty were just a few examples of artists who performed at the park. I am including either their ad or their articles in this posting for your enjoyment. You will also see that The Three Stooges, who at the time were bona fided Hollywood movie stars appeared regularly at Kennywood along with Guy Williams who played Zorro in the popular television series. (As an FYI, Guy Williams went on to star in the show “Lost in Space,” playing Professor Robinson, the father of Will, Penny and Judy Robinson and husband of Maureen Robinson, played by June Lockhart.)

I was bit too young to be able to see any of the performances or appearance in the 50’s. I do remember some of the stars that performed in the early to mid 1960’s however. I was able to see Leslie Gore of “It’s My Party” fame and Little Peggy March whose hit “I Will Follow Him” led the charts. While swimming at the pool one Saturday, I remember a small boat was launched into the pool carrying a trio of girls. The boat made its way to the platform that stood in the middle of the pool where the girls disembarked. I thought it was so cool to see The Ronettes, of “Be My Baby” fame take to a stage in the middle of a swimming pool! It was like a scene from a Beach Party movie with Annette and Frankie. Not only were there swimmers in the pool enjoying the music, but there was also the sunbathers outside of the pool doing the “Jerk” or “Boogaloo!”

The most memorable thing about the pool was its size. It was absolutely MASSIVE by any standard. When it first opened in May of 1925, it was declared to be the largest and finest facility in the country! Although you’ll be able to read the articles yourself, here’s some trivia that I found interesting:

1. The pool itself measured 357 feet long by 180 feet wide or a total of 64,260 square feet. As a comparison, a regulation sized Olympic swimming pool measures 13,448 square feet and a regulation NFL football field is 57,600 square feet! If you include the surrounding sand covered beach, the overall pool area without the surrounding pavilion was 450 feet long by 250 feet wide!

2. The minimum capacity was 3,500 people with the ability to hold up to 1,000 more.

3. The pool opened with 3,500 bathing suits in stock that the swimmers wore.  The suits were washed and completely sanitized after each use.

4. It took 650,000 gallons of Duquesne water to fill the pool

5. The two level pavilion that surrounded the pool measured 500 feet in length by 30 feet in width!

6. Although never confirmed, in 1953, Kennywood closed its swimming pool for fear that they would have to “integrate.” Park management made excuses about the filtration system leaking, yet the pool was temporarily used for a “boat ride” feature. The pool eventually reopened to black and white swimmers in 1955.

7. In 1925, did you know we were referred to as “Duquesnites?”

All trivia, fact, figures aside, our pool was PHENOMINAL!! We had the most sensational venue to have a great time! I can still recall the familiar smell of Coppertone suntan lotion that emanated from every part of the pools shore. Everyone seemed to be turned into KQV on their transistors and we all were singing along to whatever Top 40 song came along. We all took advantage of the wonderful gift that we had and were all so saddened when the pool ultimately closed in 1973. Our Sunlite swimming pool sprang an unpluggable leak in 1973. It seems the foundation was riddled with weak spots, evidence of the arrogance of the builders who dared to pour concrete on a hillside honeycombed with abandoned coal-mine tunnels when the pool was first built in 1925.

When you think about the opportunities we had in front of us as children and as teenagers, we surely were blessed. Calculated in early May this year, the concert ticket average price is $31.57. Admission to Kennywood’s sister Waterpark Sandcastles runs $32.00 per day. Granted, the attractions offered at Sandcastle are enormously sophisticated compared to our pool, but the level of fun and excitement generated are probably on par. Bottom line, we had a GREAT time on a shoestring budget and were afforded every opportunity to enjoy it by our mom and dad!



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23 Responses to Sun, Sand, Surf, Songs and Kennywood!

  1. Sandi Tovlin Kaselionis says:

    Its been a while since the last post, but I’m going to make a comment anyway. Neil Sedaka also performed at Kennywood. Although everyone loved his music, he wasn’t the “hearth throb” that Frankie Avalon etc were, and he and his father actually walked around the park between shows. My best friend Rita and I tagged along with them for a while. I remember them being most gracious about it. I also remember as a kid my father and uncle taking my cousins and me to see Superman.

  2. Linda says:

    The pool finally had it’s last season in 1973

  3. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Jim, Just today I was having lunch with a few docs, who knew I grew up around Kennywood, and one asked if I was familiar with the Kennywood pool. He had seen one of those PBS WQED shows about Kennywood and wanted to know if it was what they said it was. HELLO!!!!! I filled him in on the stats from your blog and he couldn’t believe it. And, I told him, it was all that and more. And it was!!! He said he thought they had exaggerated. I assured him that they did not. How lucky were we? And did we know it? I guess we were. And I suppose we didn’t. 😦

  4. Laurine says:

    I think Freddy and the Dreamers played at the Starview Plaza (I seem to recall doing the “Freddy”) and I remember Freddy Boom-Boom Cannon, too. I do remember Lassie being there several times. I also remember Bobbie Rydell who I mainly knew thanks to Linda Slavin (Amy’s big sister) who was older than me but there were no girls her age anywhere nearby so she would let me read her star (not The Star – just celebrity gossip rags, but that was all that was available back then in the early ’60’s) and Amy was even younger than me so I got to hang with Linda and listen to Bobby Vee, Bobbie Rydell, Frankie Avalon, and Gene Pitney – who was fantastic ( and all those singers who were popular back then and if the girls my age didn’t have older sisters they didn’t know who the heck Bobby Vee was.

    I LOVED the Kennywood Pool. I got there as often as I could – my Mom would sometimes come home from work at lunch time to drop me off and she would pick me up after work. I don’t think I remember sandy beaches, by the time I started going regularly they must have realized the sand was clogging the filters ’cause all we got was hard cement, but you put your towel down anyway and just went swimming most of the time. I can remember how proud I was when first I could swim across the width of the pool, and then later when I could swim the length of the pool. The lifeguards back then took their jobs seriously ’cause I can remember getting asked how well I could swim when I got close to the deeper end down by the Pavilion. I remember the wire baskets and wire shelves they used and how sometimes you had to search for any empty locker ’cause it was so hot out and the pool was really crowded!! We went to the pool at Rainbow Gardens, but with all the Kennywood Pool people coming after it closed, they must have upgraded their cleaning system ’cause I don’t remember “murky” water and my Mom was very particular about stuff like that.

    I was almost as sad when the KP pool closed as I was when the Library closed. Duquesne was a great town back then and you didn’t get the dirty looks or the sneers you get now when you tell someone that you grew up in Duquesne, You quickly have to add that Duquesne was in its hayday when you were growing up, which is a very sad commentary on how things are now!

  5. Bob Chermonitz says:

    Toward the end of our junior year at at DHS, after the Kennywood pool was opened, we would skip out of afternoon classes right after the homeroom teacher took attendance. Me, “X” (Greg Alexa), “Spag”, and others would grab our stashed towel rolls and head for the Kennywood pool! Doc Kowalis, our principal, got word of it and called us down to the office one morning. I recall he said that if that is what we wanted he was suspending us for the remainder of the school year. That WAS what we wanted and spent the remaining school days at the DUKE restaurant in the morning, hiding from our parents, waiting for the pool to open. That was the start of my best summer, ever! The summer of ’42 had nothing on us.
    I sometimes think that old Doc wanted to go with us. He had a glimmer in his eye. Perhaps his youth, remembered. Now, if I could only find a time machine! 🙂

  6. Barbara Ruhe says:

    I meant 52 years to the same man. The 5 got lost in translation! Hooray for Kennywood pool!!

  7. When the 3 Stooges had their revival (thanks in large measure to Paul Shannon at WTAE-TV) they started getting a lot of gigs for stage shows and TV appearances from local shows like Shannon’s “Adventure Time” from 1959 to 1975 to national TV shows. The Stooges were in their 70’s at the time and had not done stage shows since they had been in their 20’s as “Ted Healy’s Stooges” on vaudeville in 1925.

    Larry Fine and Moe Howard (Moses Harry Horwitz) were still in good health though Curly and Shemp had died years earlier. Joe Besser and Joe Derita became “Curly Joe.” Moe Howard’s daughter-wrote in her book on her father and her uncles-that Moe and Larry were overwhelmed. When they were booked to appear in Pittsburgh, Moe and Larry took the train from Los Angeles where they’d been retired for years to Pittsburgh. When they arrived at the Pennsylvania Railroad station in Pittsburgh, they saw large crowds at the platform, hundreds of adults and kids. Moe was sure the President of the United States or someone “important” was at the train station. They just could not imagine that the big crowds and interest were at the train station to see them.

  8. John (Jack) Berta says:

    Who wouldn’t remember the Kennywood Pool. One sunny afternoon the Dovels who sang “The Bristol Stomp” appeared there with a group of life guards escorting them. Some of the life guards carried one of the rowboats that were used in the lagoon and put it in the pool. They helped the Dovels, wearing swim trunks and safari helmets, into the rowboat and escorted them around the pool. I think their intention was to get onto the sundeck/raft in the middle of the pool to sing. A large crowd gathered around the boat, probably every girl that was in the pool that day. I think the lifeguards turned the boat around and they left because I don’t remember them reaching the raft or singing. Great stuff Jim!

  9. Bob Chermonitz says:

    As a kid growing up in Duquesne Place, Kennywood provided more entertainment than HBO does today. We even got to carry signs in the KDKA, WTAE wnd WIIC parades and see all he local celebs like “Nosmo- King”, if you can remember him from the Paul Shannon show. But the very best celeb sighting I ever had was walking into the employees cafeteria and seeing the 3 Stooges in line. What a great show they put on, too! Moe and Larry were already very old and very short. But what a thrill!

  10. Jim, you seem to remember more about Kennywood than I’ve forgotten and that is a lot!! I remember attending a lot of shows at Kennywood. One of my favorites was Jerry Mathers otherwise know as the ‘beav” from Leave it to Beaver. I thought he was so cool! I think I spent the summer after my freshman year at high school at the pool. I don’t remember how much it cost to get in, but we were there almost every day. I had to stop going to the pool when I started to work there. I worked at the Pizza Stand my first summer. I don’t remember the name of the older woman who managed the stand, but she always took the pizza out of the oven before the cheese melted. Awful looking stuff. We had canned sauce, but had to add oregano. I put so much in the tomato sauce one time that it was green. She used it anyway. I graduated to manager of the chocolate ice creem dip stand. The ice cream was so well frozen that we couldn’t cut it into pieces. I had some great times at Kennywood. And I’ll never forget smilling Bill Henniger.

  11. Linda L. (Negley) Gibb says:

    Hey Jim, I enjoyed many a great concert at the old bandstand. I saw Bobby Rydell, Freddie Cannon, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, The Lone Ranger, Hop-a-long cassidy but never Elvis!

    • Jim says:

      You know Linda,
      I have been scouring the old Duquesne Times to see who else might have been there, but still no Elvis or Sinatra. I am bound and determined to find other big names, but the best I have been able to come up with in addition to your list is Clarabelle! LOL Keep reading my friend!

  12. I also remember that day when those three lovely ladies in their long shimmery gowns crosssed that awesome pool…for some reason though I thought they were The Marvelettes, the group that sang “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle”…perhaps there was more than one concert of lovely lovelies!

    • Jim says:

      Chris, I think you’re right. There must of been a number of acts that performed. I remember when the Marvelettes where there, but I also remember when the Ronettes were here too. I remember the HUGE beehive hair-dos and black short skirts and boots. Oh so “groovey!!” LOL

  13. Oh how I miss that pool! There has never been another like it. Remember the swings that were in the sand by the side of the pool and the frozen Milkshake Bars at the snack bar! And how about the little baskets with keys in the locker rooms for your clothes. Oh for the good ole days!

  14. Debra Faust-Clancy says:

    Hey there Jim, another great article. I loved Kennywood Pool and thought that the refreshment stand there had the best fries. (Musta been made by you Bob!) My first job was also at a refreshment stand, “The Lucky” right down the hill from the pool across from the Thunderbolt. They made hot-dogs-on-a-stick and cotton candy. The 12″ dogs were too long for the deep fryer, so we’d cut off the ends. Two weeks later, 40 lbs of “ends”. So, being entrepreneurial (or criminal) we would use three ends on the stick and keep the refreshment tickets from those dogs. Then we could use them at the pool or trade ’em for ride tix with our buds working those. The entertainment at the pool on the center island was first class, as demonstrated by your article. Thanks for the great memories.

    • Gene (Geno) Sabolcik says:

      We had a great time working together that summer at the Lucky!! Don Gorsak from West Mifflin was our manager, and we pulled the infamous hot dog ends in purse caper on you (I was an unwilling pawn!!). I remember that we all hated making cotton candy, so about 3 weeks into the season, Don and I just unplugged the machine and told people that the machine was broken. We sent people to the other side of the park, to the stand with the other cotton candy machine (can’t remember the name of the stand)!! Well, eventually we figured that this couldn’t last forever, so we poured salt into the machine (instead of sugar), and burned out the heater mechanism so it really was broken. Eventually, by August, Bob Henniger got wind of the broken machine and ordered us a brand spanking new machine. He even personally showed us how to work it.

      We still were determined not to make cotton candy, so we started telling people that the machine was broken again. One night at about 10 pm, Don spots Bob Henniger and grabs me and says “Holy Sh*t!! Here comes old man Henniger!!” He appeared to have had a few adult beverages under his belt, so right before Henninger storms into the stand, Don stomps on the plug with his foot and bends the plug’s prongs. Henniger is mad, and wants to know why we aren’t making cotton candy with his brand new machine. Don holds up the plug and says with a straight face, “The plug is broken”. Henniger grabs the plug, straightens out the prongs, plugs in the machine, and says, “There. Now it’s fixed.” and leaves!!!

      We could not believe it. We figured that he would fire both of us on the spot. The next day, Henniger walks up to us early in the evening and says, “You boys are going to be making cotton candy tonight….right?” We said, “Yes Sir!!” and we made cotton candy for the last two weeks of the season.

      I have lots of stories about our escapades at the Lucky, and my exploits with Phil Zuber as an “Ice Boy”, delivering ice to the refreshment stands. Great times and great memories!!

      • Jim says:

        Geno! What a great story. Its the type of tale that would be perfect for one of those “Coming of Age” movies. It sounds like you would have been perfect cast as the lead character like is Ferris Buller’s Day Off!!! Please keep the stories coming. They are perfect and so much like what we all tried to get away with our summer jobs!

  15. My first summer job was at Kennywood Park. Even better, the job was selling food at the swimming pool refreshment stand. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And they paid me too? Well, not much but being paid while my head was on a swivel girl-watching got me through the summer in first-class fashion. The outdoor pool really was massive. The only other basis of comparison was the outdoor pool at the Rainbow Gardens swimming pool in Mckeesport and there really was no comparison, not just in size but cleanliness. As a small kid, I obtained a couple of kid-size submarines from cereal boxtops, no less. The pool was so dirty at Rainbow Gardens that the miniature subs (about 5 inches each) disappeared below the water at the Rainbow Gardens pool, never to be seen again. The Kennywood Park corporation was managed for years by Karl Hughes, a former sports reporter. The senior executives were the Henninger Brothers: Bob, Harry and Carl. They really loved the park and its thousands of flowers that were lovingly maintained. Working there as a kid was a terrific experience on many levels.

    • Jim says:

      I can’t stop laughing about your poor little subs that were lost forever. I wonder if kids disappeared that way too!! LOL

      • Barbara Ruhe says:

        I forgot all about the frozen milkshake bars. Would love to have one right now. Met my husband, Jim class of ’53 at the Kennywood pool. Married 2 years to the same man. Wow!

    • Gene (Geno) Sabolcik says:

      Hey Bob! You were my manager at the Lucky refreshment stand back in the summer of 67 and part of 68 before you got “promoted” to the pool. I really enjoyed working with you, and getting a ride home in that Mini that you had back then. You also had the coolest record collection (you were the first person I know to have Sergeant Peppers), and were kind enough to lend me some of your LPs on a regular basis. Just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten you or your kindness!

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