THIS DAY IN HISTORY: MAY 22, 1937
Seventy- six years ago, Hymie Singer opened “the most beautiful ballroom on the continent” at Burrard and Alberni.
The Palomar Ballroom boasted of being “streamlined in the vogue of the day ( and) completely modernistic in design.” The interior was tiered, in the art deco fashion, with patrons sitting at tables on a mezzanine two feet above the dance floor. The house band was on four tiers, so that each musician could easily be seen.
The dance floor was sprung, which means it bounced up and down along with the dancers. About 2,200 coloured lights were arranged around the room to provide a “gay yet restful spectacle” as they were “blended, faded and changed in a spectacular panorama.” “It was striking,” said Vancouver’s big band legend Dal Richards. “It was decorated pretty much in white, in a sort of Greek Gothic-type thing.”
The opening- night entertainment was from the Palomar’s own big band, Sandy De Santis and His Palomar Orchestra, a 14- piece “fast- action swing band.” Booze wasn’t allowed in local ballrooms when the Palomar opened, so Singer had a deluxe soda fountain installed. He also had De Santis broadcast a live radio show from the stage — a neon sign flashed “On The Air” when the band was broadcasting.
Richards actually led the Palomar house band for a time. “I was a member of Sandy De Santis’ orchestra in 1938, and Hymie and Sandy had a fallout, as those two were likely to do,” he relates. “I had been featured on Artie Shaw’s Begin The Beguine on clarinet, so Hymie came to me and said, ‘ Hey kid, can you lead a band?’ ” Peggy Middleton also danced in the chorus line at the Palomar before she moved to Hollywood, changed her name to Yvonne De Carlo and became Vancouver’s first movie star.
Singer eventually sold the club to De Santis, who later sold it to Joe Philliponi of the Penthouse. It was torn down in the late 1950s for a highrise. Singer also owned the State Theatre on Hastings ( which was built as the Pantages). In 1946, he was sentenced to three months in jail for putting on a burlesque show there. He left Vancouver in the 1950s for Alberta, where he became a property developer with his brother, Jack.
The Palomar Ballroom’s opening- night entertainment bill featured Sandy De Santis and his ‘ Sensational 14- piece Palomar Orchestra.’