Skip to comments.Phil Andrews Remembers Day of Cheyenne's Mayflower Dance Hall
Posted on 06/20/2004 6:08:54 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Phil Andrews remembers day of Mayflower
By Jessica Lowell firstname.lastname@example.org Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
CHEYENNE - Once upon a time, there was really only one hot place to go at night in Cheyenne.
Down on 17th Street, behind a frontier-style wooden front lay the Mayflower Dance Hall, billed as Wyoming's largest, authentic Western dance hall.
Live bands and drinks drew the crowds, where by all accounts, the service was outstanding. And when Hollywood came to town in 1964 for the premiere of the John Ford saga, "Cheyenne Autumn," they capped off the night at the Mayflower Dance Hall.
Those were different days for Phil Andrews, who built the dance hall as a continuation of the Mayflower Cafe and Tavern, which his father and uncle owned and ran for many years.
"It was getting more and more popular, and people lined up to get in," Andrews. Sometimes, he said, riots broke out in front.
"It was known all over the country, all over the world, really," he said.
Now when people come to town looking for the Mayflower, all traces are gone.
For years after the business closed, the sign on the East 17th Street building carried the words "The Mayflower," no matter what restaurant was there, as a way to dodge the city sign ordinance that required a smaller sign. But now even that's gone.
People might, if they look hard enough, find an old postcard at a flea market advertising "dining and dancing nitely."
Now, Grand Avenue Pizza sits on the site, and news of its opening prompted Andrews to remember the years his family spent in their downtown business.
"Gosh, we wish David Klein all the best," he said.
Sitting in the breakfast nook of his Pershing Boulevard home, Andrews sifted through his pile of treasures - newspaper clippings and mementoes of his history including accounts of the 1947 Cheyenne High basketball team, which had an unbeaten season and went on to win the national championship.
In the background, a radio station softly played oldies, gems from Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett and more for the entertainment of Vernetta, Andrews' mother, who worked alongside her husband and son on 17th Street for years.
The Mayflower looms large in his memory, its heyday as well as its demise.
It's clear that his experiences there shaped his life and that's where he learned life lessons, like how to treat people and what hard work is.
"I started there when I was 4," he said. He had a napkin tied around his waist for an apron. "Oh, I made toast and filled the water glasses and helped wash glasses in the back. I probably just got in the way."
That was in the mid-1930s. In 1928, his father George and uncles Gus and Sam first opened the Mayflower. George was the chef, Sam hosted and Gus handled the business side.
Downtown Cheyenne was a different place then, he said. The shopkeepers were neighbors, and some would pop in and out of the kitchen in back to get a bite to eat on a break.
Others, especially businessmen, stopped by daily for lunch.
"My mother would call up and say she was sending a delivery boy over for some sandwiches," Margaret Laybourn said. It wasn't far between the back door of the Mayflower and the back door of her flower shop, Margaret Reed Flowers on Capitol Avenue.
"My mother and Vernetta were great friends," she said. "Vernetta was the heart of the place."
The restaurant was the dating headquarters of Cheyenne, Laybourn said. A date didn't start or end without a stop at the Mayflower. "It had class. It was a classy restaurant."
It was the first place she went with her beau when he returned from World War II and stopped by her shop. "I closed up shop and we went over there for a Coke."
She attributes the establishment's success to the Andrews family and the values they instilled.
Phil, she said, has a gentlemanly way about him to this day. "He's a good host."
Sometimes, she said, he worked as a waiter in the restaurant, with a white napkin draped over his arm. "He just made you feel you were somewhere out of Cheyenne," she said.
In 1947, the Andrewses opened the Marine Room. Andrews said it was the only nightclub in Cheyenne, really.
When Andrews was old enough, he started running the bar business, and that's how the seeds of the dance hall were planted.
"We didn't have a lot of money for that," Andrews said, so he built it himself. It took two years. Sometimes friends would stop by to help out, and he drew on Western themes to decorate the dance hall: saddles and tack, brands on the walls from local ranches and game trophies.
And once it launched, it was wild. Crowds jammed the hall to hear the latest country and western bands that Andrews booked, and many of them were top names.
"Roger Miller came here and he wrote some of his top songs here in 1960," Andrews said. Among them was "King of the Road," and "When Two Worlds Collide."
When it comes to chronicling music, the Country Music Hall of Fame tracks were where recordings were made, but not where they were written, so this chapter in music history is not widely known.
Andrews made Miller and hosts of other artists at home by buying them drinks and steak dinners. "My dad thought I was crazy doing that, but it worked," he said. "I guess I was dumb like a fox."
Just as the days of the dinner-dance passed, so, too, did the days of the dance hall.
George and Sam Andrews remained partners in the venture after they bought out their brother Gus.
Phil Andrews said he was the general manager of the operation but never a partner. He said the reason was he needed the salary because he had a wife and four children. His father and uncle took the profits.
When they decided to retire, he said, they sold the business but kept the property. Phil moved to Denver and took a job as a salesman for Edward Don and Co., where he went on to distinguish himself.
That was the beginning of the end of the Mayflower. In early January 1976, a fire broke out and destroyed the buildings. Investigators said it was arson.
That's when his father George had his first stroke, he said. His health deteriorated after that.
"Phil really made that dance hall into what it was," Laybourn said.
The fire, she said, was heartbreaking, "It was the death of their dream."
They used to close the street in front of the hotel off. What a great time! I still have a cap I got off a farmer guy from Nebraska who I danced with.
Buy a beer and go out in the street and blend with cowboys, bikers, farmers and working girls.
The place was a mess by 11:00 but everyone still had fun!
Since we all had had too much fun, we decided not to risk the 2 hour drive down 25 back to Denver and crashed in some park that has a locomotive in it. I forget the name.
What a shame the Mayflower is no longer there.
Where can you see a Union Pacific Railroad Big Boy locomotive in Wyoming?
You can see Big Boy No. 4004 in Holliday Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The locomotive sits outside surrounded by a chainlink fence.
In the late 1930s, the Union Pacific Railroad often had to use two steam locomotives (the second one was called a "helper") to move heavy freight trains from Ogden, Utah to Green River, Wyoming. Rugged terrain makes this one of the most difficult runs in the world for trains. The railroad asked its Department of Research and Mechanical Standards to design a locomotive that could pull a 3500-ton train unassisted over the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.
The resulting 4000-class locomotive, the Big Boy, is considered by many to be the largest, most successful articulated steam locomotive ever built. "Articulated" refers to the flexibility of the locomotive which is crucial to successfully handling curves on the track. The Big Boys were built in two groups by the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, New York. "Class 1" included Numbers 4000 through 4019 (later designated 4-8-8-4-1). These were delivered beginning in September, 1941. "Class 2" included Numbers 4020 through 4024 (later designated 4-8-8-4-2). These were delivered in 1944. The "4-8-8-4" refers to the wheel arrangement. The engine was designed to generate 7,000 horsepower and to operate at a maximum speed of 80 miles per hour. This tremendous power allowed one of these locomotives to haul, unassisted, a mile of loaded freight at a speed of a mile a minute, on level track. In short, one Big Boy could do the work of two locomotives.
Just how big was a Big Boy? Each locomotive and tender (the vehicle attached behind the locomotive which carried fuel and water) weighed 1,200,000 pounds (600 tons). Each locomotive and tender had a total length of 133 feet. In fact, Big Boys were so big that the railroad had to build new equipment to handle them, realign some curves for adequate clearance on adjacent tracks, and make other adjustments. It is said that the nickname, "Big Boy," came from a mechanic at the American Locomotive Company. He had scrawled the words in chalk on the locomotive before it received its final painting, and soon, the railroad was using this name to publicize its newest locomotive. The Big Boys served the Union Pacific Railroad well until they were retired in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
On our little junket, we wandered by the locomotive, but not being too interested in getting educated on that weekend, just opined that it was a big train. ooh, ahh.
Pegita, how does the most eloquent defender of Terri Schiavo know so much about locomotives? You impress and amaze me with your knowledge of railroads.
Thanks for the compliment, Theodore R. ... decidedly undeserved because I copied from the Union Pacific website. (Note to self: ALWAYS source your material!). My parents retired from the East Coast to Cheyenne some years back ... I remembered the Park (but not the name) and the Union Pacific locomotive, "Big Boy." Buffalo were fenced in behind the locomotive ... impressive looking critters, to say the least.
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