The Smuin Orchestra
By Richard Van Wagoner
Another popular musical group in the early days of Lehi was the Smuin Brother’s Band, which was formed by James and Joseph Smuin, cousins of the Kirkham Brothers. The two groups were contemporary and as early as 1880, Smuin Brothers were playing for dances in the Lehi Music Hall, with James Kirkham serving as caller for the square dancing.
For a time in the mid-1890’s, the Kirkham and Smuin Brothers string bands combined forces to increase their flexibility. But this joint venture eventually was discontinued and the groups went their separate ways.
In addition to the Smuin Brothers, James Smuin’s children Melvin, Lester, and Mame eventually joined the orchestra as did his son-in-law Henry Thomas and a nephew Marvel Comer. Over the years, old time band members included James B. Gaddie, George Kirkham, John W. Jones, John Potts, William Kirkham, and James Carter.
Most of the musicians in the Smuin Orchestra, including their violin playing leader, were self taught. Jim Smuin was a deliveryman for the People’s Co Op, though music was his first love. At most, band members never made more that $5 per person playing for dances. Moreover, in the days of the horse and buggy, a trip to and from Cedar Fort or Fairfield was a major journey. On one occasion while returning home from Cedar Valley in a blizzard, band members feared they would become lost in the terrible storm. A strange light appeared immediately in front of the horse and the animal followed the glow home into the Smuin barn.
After more than thirty years playing for dances at Saratoga, Murdock Resort, the Pavillion, the Lehi Commercial and Saving Bank, the Union Hotel, and other places far and near, Jim Smuin decided to build his own dance hall. The Smuin Dancing Academy, at 65 West and Second North, opened on Halloween Day, 1913, with a dance sponsored by the seven piece Smuin Orchestra. The modern sixty-two by one hundred-twenty one foot facility, complete with a spring dance floor, hosted hundred of dances until it was converted into an apartment building during World War II.
The Smuin Band continued playing dances at the Academy and elsewhere until it was discontinued during the depression. Members at the time of the group’s demise were James B. Smuin, Wayne Thomas, Audrey Thomas Wilson, Sam Webb, and Jay Cardon. Smuin, the band’s leader, died in 1939.
THE SMUIN DANCING ACADEMY
By Mrs. Audrey Wilson, Lehi, Utah, U.S.A.
My Grandfather James Blundell Smuin, Jr. had an Orchestra, a family organization, which played all over the country. As there was no hall in Lehi, Grandfather thought of building one and the school and church agreed to lend their support. They started construction of The Smuin Dance Academy in 1912.
Uncle Jay, James’ oldest son mixed all the mortar and Chase Featherstone laid the brick. Most of the carpentry work was completed by my husband Lyall’s uncle, Monroe Wilson.
The dance hall had a spring floor, the third hall in the State with this type of dance floor construction, the other two being the Odeon Dance Hall in Salt Lake and the Apollo in American Fork.
The band stand or stage was at the north end of the hall with benches along the east and west walls with about a five foot walk between the wall and the dance floor. The main entrance was on the south with ticket office, check room, rest rooms, concession booth and stairs leading to a gallery and balcony around the west, south and east sides.
The first dance held in the hall was in November 1913 and the Smuin family ran the dance hall, and the Smuin Orchestra provided the music at the dances. Special trains on the D. & R.G.W and the U.P. Railways brought patrons from Salt Lake City and communities along the way to attend dances at The Smuin Dance Academy in Lehi. When they arrived at Lehi, Uncle Din would meet the train and escort the people to the Hall. The train would then wait on the siding until the dance ended, then and return to Salt Lake. The railroads required a guarantee of $200.00 in fares to operate the excursion trains.
Many community functions were held in this hall through the years. The High School held their proms, Senior Hops there as well as basketball games as late as 1937. The Old Folks Dinner was held in the Tabernacle, across the street east of the hall and in the evening their dance was held in the Smuin Dance Academy. When any young man or woman was called on a Mission, a dance was held with the proceeds going to help their missionary work. There was an attendant for the ladies room and a floor manager was always in attendance at the dances to see that no one danced too close together.
With the changing times the popularity of the hall declined and a Mr. Wolley leased the building to run a skating rink during the summer months for a couple of years. Then my Uncle Jay Smuin and my mother bought skates and managed the rink. After Grandfather died in 1939 the Dance Hall was repossessed by the bank and during the war it was purchased and remodeled into an apartment.
The Abbington Manor, an assisted living center for the elderly located on the northwest corner of 200 North and Center Street, is a beautiful building with a modern appearance, but behind the facade is an older building with an interesting heritage dating back to 1913.
On Halloween night of that year, Lehi citizens had a new place to dance, as the Smuin Dancing Academy held its grand opening. The building was huge for the day at forty feet wide and ninety-two feet long, and to make things even better for dancing, the building had a spring floor. Lehi residents flocked to the new dancing facility, as did people from Utah and Salt Lake counties because the interurban train depot was only a block away.
Later, when the new high school was built on the southeast corner of the intersection, it was built without a gym, so the Smuin family gave the school permission to use the dance hall for basketball games, gym classes, and other activities until the high school gym was built.
In the early days of Lehi, dancing was an important part of community life and recreation and Lehi had several bands including The Broadbent and Stoney Orchestra, The Kirkham Brothers, The Carter Family, The Seven Piece Smuin Brothers Orchestra, and The Bud Hutching’s Orchestra.
Lehi also had many dancing facilities such as The Smuin Dancing Academy, The Arcade, which was located on 500 West and State Street, The Southern Depot, Garff Hall (otherwise known as the Lehi Opera House), and a dance hall at Saratoga Resort. Due to large crowds, it was necessary for each facility to have a floor manager whose job was to hand out a numbered ticket to each man who came with a date to dance. After each dance, the manager would call out a new number so another group could have a turn.
Louis Garff, an ancestor of Ken Garff, was in the mercantile business and when he needed more room, he decided to build Garff Hall at 147 West Main, later to be known as the Lehi Opera House. He designated the upstairs for dancing, productions, and other activities, while the downstairs was used for business. The building on that location today is home to Pioneer Party, owned by Dale Ekins.
I visited Lehi in 2005 with some old timers who lived there. As we drove around town, they pointed out to me where the Smuin Dance Hall had been. This in now an old folk’s home.
SMUIN DANCING ACADEMY DANSART APARTMENTS COLONIAL MANOR Constructed: 1913 Location: 200 North Center Present Owners: Jerry and Judy York One of the most popular musical groups in the early days of Lehi was the Smuin Brother’s Band, formed by James and Joseph Smuin. In 1913, after more than thirty years of playing for dances far and near, Jim Smuin decided to build his own dance hall on the corner of 200 North and Center.
The grand opening of the Smuin Dancing Academy, with music provided by the sevenpiece Smuin Orchestra, was held on Halloween night of 1913. The 62 x 125foot building, designed and built by R. Monroe Wilson, was a hit from the start. With twentyfoothigh ceilings, orchestra stand on the north, twentyfivebysixtytwofoot gallery on the south, and two wide balconies running the length of the building, the place could and often did, entertain crowds of more than a thousand people.
All possible aspects of creature comfort were considered in the building’s plans. Separate men’s and women’s restrooms, then a relatively unique feature, were built near the south entrance, along with a confectionery stand. Fifty windows were installed for ventilation purposes, and a large electric fan was placed on the north wall. Six large ceiling lights and banks of colored globes under the gallery and balcony, all capable of being dimmed, provided the illumination.
The most attractive feature of the hall was the fortyeightbyninetytwofoot spring floor, which was supported by fortyfive large steel springs. Dancers recall that the floor seemed to sway with the band as though it had life in itself.
The Smuin’s Orchestra was best known for its “snappy twostep” music. But through the years a host of big dance bands inspired versions of tango, Charleston, the Black Bottom, the Big Apple, Lindsey Swing, jitterbug, and a host of novelty numbers long since forgotten by most.
Until the new Lehi High School was completed across the street in 1920, the Smuin Academy hosted all LHS ball games and dances.
Smuin introduced many innovations and gimmicks to keep the crowds coming. Waltz and fox trot contests were held. Fancy jewelry was given away and roller skating was also established. Free lessons were given by Smuin’s sons.
Keith Hunter and M.R. Howard leased the Smuin dancing Academy in the fall of 1931, and changed the name to the LeVada Hall. Those difficult Depression years were hard on the dance hall business. Hunter and Howard did not renegotiate a 1932 lease. Ernest Larsen picked it up instead and offered a five dollar prize to the person submitting the best new name for the hall. The new name became “The DansArt.”
During Depression years the DansArt management instituted such novelty programs as Balloon Dances, Kiss Dances, Silver Dollar Night, and Married Folks Dances. Calico Balls, where prizes were given for the “Most Becoming House Dress and Loudest Shirts,” were an annual affair sponsored by the M.I.A. For a time the M.I.A. also gave regular Friday night dances under the management of Alva Wing and Ernest Larsen. Memorable bands of this era were “The Greater Melodians,” “Dad Eads and Family,” and “Dob Orton’s Orchestra.”
During World War II the DansArt went out of business. To relieve a housing crunch during the postwar years, while Geneva Steel was being built, the building was converted into twenty apartments.
For many years the complex was known as the DansArt Apartments. The name was later changed to the Royal Arms Apartments, and subsequently, to the Victorian Apartments. For years the old dance hall building slowly deteriorated. Orem residents Jerry and Judy York, recognizing the potential of the place, purchased it in 1990. Their one million dollar restoration has resulted in one of Lehi’s finest historic renovations. The new name of the York’s facility is the Colonial Manor Retirement Inn. It features thirtythree apartments for Senior Citizens and includes all amenities to make residential living fully independent.
Here is another location that was once the Smuin Dance Hall on the west side of town.Here are photos of this Dance Hall from the past (copyright the Hutchings Museum):