Mike Madura’s Dream - Danceland
By Gayle Faulkner Kosalko
Mike Madura was an entrepreneur. His day job was working as an iron worker. He was part of the group who built the big span bridge. But Mike always had two jobs and a lot of vision. While the Madura name is synonymous in the Chicago land area with ballroom music, Mike’s first claim to fame was being owner of the Indiana Gardens Roller Rink. This was prior to WWI and was located on the corner of Five Points where the Amoco station stands today.
The Indiana Gardens had an organist who played for the skaters.
“He also had dancing in there too,” said his daughter Evelyn Madura Halik. “I know because you weren’t allowed to shimmy in his place.”
During the winter the Indiana Garden burned down. But there was another opportunity soon to come his way. Mike started a concession stand at Boardwalk Park.
“He had the Mike Madura Ball Knob concession,” Evelyn explained. “It was a stand and if you hit the doorknob with the ball, a live girl came down with a box of candy for you.”
For those not around in the 1920’s, Boardwalk Park was created on the land where Lever Brothers would someday stand as well as parts of “Bobby Beach” and the marina. Boardwalk Park had a Merry-go-Round, a 60 foot Ferris wheel, a miniature railroad, a shoot gallery, the “Whip” ride and a Water Chute ride. The King B Roller Coaster there took its riders on a 90 foot plunge.
It also had a dance hall where dance marathons would often be held. Boardwalk Park began in 1926 but closed its door just three years later.
“My father-in-law wanted to know what they were planning to do with the ballroom,” said Henrietta Madura, Mike’s daughter-in-law. “He had 150 feet of land across the street on Calumet Avenue and so he bought the ballroom and with a team of horses, pulled the ballroom over. It was huge.”
It was said that it cost more to move the giant ballroom than it did to purchase it. A great wind storm came up the day it was moved.
Henrietta said that with the move, all the toilets and lights had been broken, but the beautiful dance floor (“It was the best anywhere,” Henrietta said. “Anyone can tell you that”) was still intact.
So in August 1929 Mike added his name in front of the existing “Danceland” and the legendary Madura’s Danceland opened.
“I was 15 when my dad got Danceland,” Evelyn said. “My mother made the remark that he mortgaged everything but the suit on his back. That was the chance he took.”
Danceland was a family affair. Mike’s wife Julia was the ticket seller. Evelyn and her sister Doris worked the cloakroom and Mike’s son Mickey started off as a ticket taker and announcer.
Mike Madura charged 75 cents a person but when the Depression hit, he lowered the price to 20 cents.
Evelyn said that dancing was at its peak between 1929 and World War II. There were also ballrooms in Cedar Lake and Hammond.
“They were all over the place,” she said. “Dancing was at its peak. Everybody danced. For 20 cents a night, my dad packed the place until the War. We weren’t touched by the depression. Those were our best years.”
She estimates that there were a thousand people there every Tuesday and Sunday. Thursdays and Saturdays always had a big crowd too. But Sundays were for romantic couples as it was “waltz night.”
“On Sunday all the girls wore evening gowns,” remembered Evelyn.
Both Evelyn and Henrietta said that the biggest crowds would come from East Chicago, Gary and from the East side of Chicago. Even though there were streetcars from the east side, most of the kids saved their money by walking. Evelyn said that a car would pull up from East Chicago and 10 customers would climb out.
“Everybody was there,” Henrietta said. “The men paid more than the woman and women came in free on Tuesdays if they came before 8pm. So naturally there were a lot of girls which meant naturally there would be a lot of boys. We flourished.”