The Fox Pavilion

During the 1920’s dancing was very popular, especially with resort communities, which McHenry was making a name for itself at that time. Picking up on this business opportunity, Clarence Neisen build the Fox Pavilion, or the Fox, here in McHenry in May 1922. It was described as being roughly 1/2 mile northeast of where the 120 bridge meets the Fox River. The Fox was spacious and pretty, it gave McHenry a touch of class with the ambiance & live music and measured in at 84 x 108 feet. It offered the younger people of the town a place to be on the weekend nights. Things were so successful that Clarence’s father, Mathias, sold his popular grocery store that he operated in town to help Clarence run the Fox. Unfortunately the Fox’s history would be a brief one.

 

IMG_20160426_0003
Postcard of the Fox from the 1920s.

On the night of May 26, 1931, just as he was starting his shift, the Fox’s watchman, Thomas Alyward, was awakened by four men who kidnapped him, drove him out to Schiller Park, and just as abruptly dropped him off. He immediately notified Schiller Park’s sheriff, who contacted Woodstock’s sheriff, who notified Clarence Neisen. Alyward was soon met in Schiller Park by Clarence Neisen, Sheriff Jack Walsh and some other prominent McHenry citizens to find out what had exactly happened. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to supply any information about his abductors. It wasn’t until he got back to McHenry that Thomas Alyward found out that while he was being taken to Schiller Park, the Fox Pavilion had been burned to the ground.

Fox Pavilion Ad - June 29 1922, p 4
Announcement from the McHenry Plaindealer in June 1922.

When firemen first arrived to fight the blaze, they could smell gasoline. Soon after, they found 5 large gas cans and 4 smaller gas cans nearby. Just exactly who the arsonists were or is a mystery, but the leading theory at the time was that they were local business competitors. Sadly almost everything was lost at the Fox, including the orchestra’s instruments. One piece alone was valued at $350. The total loss of the Fox was estimated around $20,000.

 

 Clarence Neisen wasn’t going to let this crime finish him however. Before the ashes of the Fox Pavilion cooled, Neisen started planning on rebuilding. Despite the fact that the Fox was burned down in May, Neisen anticipated on having the construction at the new site finished before the end of August. As grand as the Fox Pavilion was, Neisen wanted the new Fox to be even more impressive. To help, he did have a fire insurance policy worth about $15,000. Also, the burning of The Fox was something of a crime against the town itself, as it was seen as something the community looked at with pride and was enjoyed by many.  Neisen was able to recruit the best craftsmen in town to help on what almost seemed like a community project. To look at those involved would be a list of the most respected names and businesses in the town.
Grand Opening of New Fox Saturday - August 20, 1931 p.3
Advertisement for the opening of the Fox from August 1931.

The construction only took four weeks to finish, and on August 22, the new Fox debuted. It was in an Old English style, measured 110 by 128 feet, with a 20 ft. lobby and an 18 ft. promenade. The dance floor itself measured 60 by 80 feet. Its decor topped that of the old Fox and was set up for sophisticated entertainment. It had room for an orchestra and an area for refreshments. The new Fox was colorful and grand, the ceiling was even covered with about 1000 yards of turquoise satin. The lighting was set up with a dimmer so that the lighting could be change the ambiance. However, most important, the new Fox was made from cinder blocks that made it far more fireproof then its predecessor.

Even with all of its new upgrades the new Fox couldn’t carry on the success that the old Fox achieved. There were probably a variety of things to blame. Most likely the biggest culprit was the Great Depression. Over time the Fox closed and the Just-For-Fun Roller Rink took over the building. The town of McHenry should be proud of the way it rallied around the destruction of the Fox as a community and stood up against such crimes in the future. In spite of the fact that the New Fox wasn’t as successful, Clarence Neisen was able to pull together the ashes of his destroyed business in a very respectable amount of time and with a improved structure at that.

Clarence Niesen - August 20, 1931
Sources
“2180 Attend Formal Opening of New Fox.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 27 Aug. 1931: 1.
“Construction Work Starts On ‘New’ Fox.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 23 Jul. 1931: 1.
“Grand Opening Of New Fox Saturday.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 20 Aug. 1931: 1.
“Kidnap Watchman; Burn Fox Pavilion.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 28 May 1931: 1.
“M.M. Niesen To Quit.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 14 May 1925: 1.
“New Fox Pavilion Will Be Erected.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 16 Jul. 1931: 1.
“Opening Of Fox Pavilion.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 21 May 1922: 1.
“Pavilion Opening May 27.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 18 May 1922: 1.
“Rushing Dance Pavilion.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 25 May 1922: 1.
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