Kit Kat Club appealed to ‘Mr. Means’ to eat, dance

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I have some of the love letters my father wrote to my mother from where he was stationed during WWII between 1942 and 1945. In his letters my father often mentioned the Kit Kat Club ( in San Antonio). He would say things like “I went to a club here, but it wasn’t as good as the Kit Kat.” Or he could recall their wonderful times together at Kit Kat. I was wondering where the Kit Kat was in the late 30’s and early 40’s and what else you know about it. I’m pretty sure they had live bands to dance to since dancing was mentioned in some letters. I don’t know if you’ve ever made a story about this.

Your parents probably had fond memories of the Kit Kat Club as they were young and in love when they went. In their day, this was pretty standard fare, raising average expectations by advertising it as “one of the best dinner clubs in San Antonio.”

It opened on May 30, 1939, on the site of a once thriving truck stop, the Blue Willow Inn.

From 1925 to 1938, “San Antonio’s Most Pleasant Resort” offered everything that other nightclubs in the area had: chicken and steak dinners, dances to orchestras from 9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and a bit of music. gambling (dice and bookmaking) in the upstairs rooms, tackled periodically with capture and release raids by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Rangers.

When the downtown clubs were closed, manager Earl Ramsey – formerly of Shadowland (covered here September 26) and famed player and state lawmaker Virgil “Red” Berry’s Turf Club ran a Blue Willow Special bus. to “the most convenient pleasure palace, just a short drive from Fredericksburg.

Outside the city limits, at what became 3600 Fredericksburg Road (later 3518 after the streets were renumbered), the Blue Willow closed in 1936 and the next owner bought it for $ 6,250. the next year. It was Richard Jefferson “Dick” Jones, a young entrepreneur who attended Brackenridge High School but did not graduate.

Jones lived with his single mother, a saleswoman in a department store, and her mother on the near south side. In the 1930 US Census, Jones, 18, worked as a timekeeper for a contractor; from that point on he was self-employed in various businesses – florist, trampoline factory, Jonesville trailer park – the Kit Kat being the most successful.

(About the spelling: although the name was sometimes featured as Kit Kat Klub, on Jones’ provisional recording during WWII he handwritten “Kit Kat Klub” as his place of ‘business … and firmly crushed the K with a C, perhaps to avoid association with the Ku Klux Klan or KKK.)

The Kit Kat was a more sophisticated version of the Blue Willow, whose wooden frame was covered in white stucco and adorned with palm trees. The San Antonio Light, October 29, 1939, reported that “a lounge bar has been added on the balcony. The fireplaces, one on each side, cast an attractive glow on the main dance floor below. The club had also added private dining rooms, with the same “popular prices” for all the different spaces.

As the new operator of the resurgent nightclub, Jones told The Light that he “splurged” $ 60,000 for the makeover. He enlarged the bandstand, closed one of the open-air patios, and reconfigured the other as an open-air dance floor, for an increased maximum occupancy of 1,000.

The Kit Kat – probably named after a posh London club that featured in celebrity gossip columns – served lunch and dinner (yes, chicken and steak) and was open every night for dance and floor performances. . The cover charge was 25 cents on weekday evenings and 40 cents on Saturdays – no cover for diners. Compared to the $ 1 blanket at Shadowland and other fancy places, the Kit Kat was a steal for young couples and a shorter commute during years of gasoline rationing.

As was not unusual at the time, the performers on the ground were typical of late vaudeville, featuring magicians, mentalists (mind reading acts, often women) and ventriloquists as well. only singers and dancers. Although Jones hired great swing saxophonist Jimmie Lunceford and his orchestra a few months after the opening of the Kit Kat, the conductors were generally not known. Besides locally known musicians like Jimmie Klein, they were more often famous by association – Emilio Caceres, formerly with Paul Whiteman, and Paul Anderson, who had performed with Jack Teagarden.

It might have been a few years after your parents dated Kit Kat, but in the 1940s Jones installed animal print upholstery and renamed one of the rooms the Zebra Lounge, perhaps to evoke a motif similar to El Morocco, a Niterie fantasy from New York. The stage was in the main hall and the setting hasn’t changed much over the years, perhaps to keep costs down. Jones told the San Antonio Express on February 14, 1952, that “a club owner can build and expand and make his establishment lavish and luxurious until it only hurts his own business, if he does. is aimed at middle class people… until Mr. Average Man feels like he will spend too much money to go.

As was the industry standard then, the Kit Kat underwent the mandatory raids for rolling dice and betting on horses. While Jones was arrested, the resulting injunctions did not shut down the club, simply prevented him from playing there. “It has been said,” he told The Light on August 8, 1941, “that a dinner club cannot be profitable without gambling revenues. I will try to prove that claim to be false. Either he did, or he just improved to evade detection.

The Kit Kat moved to a more family-friendly establishment in the 1950s, with the booming baby boom. A previous column (December 26, 2004) discussed this version, sometimes known as the Kit Kat Swim Club, with the addition of a swimming pool, teenage dances on records and a country club atmosphere. Jones and his wife, Gladys, lived further out on Fredericksburg. It should be noted that the couple had four children, including former pediatric nurse Genene Jones, who was convicted of murdering children in her care.

The Kit Kat Club – which, according to sources cited in the 2004 column, deteriorated in the 1960s – closed in 1965. “(The) ancient mecca of the San Antonio nighttime drink ensemble sold to the American Legion Post No. 2 in early 1966, ”the Light said on May 14, 1966, and the agencies carried out renovations valued at $ 35,000.

Jones died on January 3, 1966 from metastasizing cancer, aged just 56. On his death certificate, his occupation was listed as “billboards and advertising”.

DOUBLE PHANTOM: School bus crash long ago, fateful crossing, tragic loss of young lives, haunted intersection, baby powder, ghostly handprints “pushing” cars parked on the tracks – sounds familiar, right? If you grew up in San Antonio, you probably visited the “ghost tracks” at the intersection of Villamain and Shane Roads to try out the legendary phenomenon.

Well, if you grew up in the area around the villages of Wayne and Bartlett, Illinois, you would have gone to the trails of Munger Road doing the exact same thing.

According to an article broadcast Thursday on WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, “A school bus full of children was crossing the tracks and it stalled. Before the driver could get the bus off the rails, a train arrived and struck the bus. No one survived the accident. Legend says that the ghosts of children are still around … and claims that if you drive your car on the tracks, put it in neutral and sprinkle baby powder on your car bumper, the kids will push your car out of the way. tracks so that you do not get affected. And then if you go to investigate the bumper, you will see the fingerprints of the baby powder.

WBEZ producer Joe De Ceault – who has found no evidence of such an accident in that part of Illinois – contacted this column, which tackled our ghost tracks in 2003, thanks to a tip from Matt De Waelsche, Librarian and Archivist at the San Antonio Public Library. . While helping a caller, De Waelsche discovered that a train had actually struck a broken down school bus in 1938 – in Utah. The crash, which claimed the lives of 26 passengers, made headlines in all San Antonio dailies and was also the subject of the Chicago Tribune, as De Ceault found out.

To hear the full story of the Twin Tracks, in which De Waelsche is cited, www.wbez.org and search for “Munger Road”.

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