Friday, January 27, 2006


A brief history of The Music Box

The Music Box in 1948

The Music Box was a Dance Hall located at the eastern end of Houghton Lake in Prudenville Michigan. It was started by Lee and Shirley Kelly in 1946 shortly after Lee returned from the Army Air Corp and World War II. Lee and Shirley owned land near the intersection of Michigan highways M-18 and M-55. They realized that the local teens didn’t have any place in the area to do anything for entertainment. They poured a cement slab and set up a juke box in a small building in the center and invited the teens to come dance on Saturday nights.

By 1948 they had enlarged the slab and put a partial wall and fence around the dance floor and began to charge a nickel entry to help defray the cost of buying all the latest records. At that point it officially became The Music Box. The popularity grew very quickly and young people from the surrounding towns of Roscommon, West Branch, St Helen, Grayling, Lake City, and Harrison were now regular customers.

In 1950 the dance floor was enlarged dramatically and a ten-foot high cinder block wall was built around this open area and painted white. Several trees were left inside in the dancing area and romantic lighting was added. There was an enclosed room added that included a fire place and a soda pop counter. This first enclosed room was painted blue and from that time on was called the blue room by all the employees. To decorate the blue room the Kelly’s hung photos of the Houghton Lake Homecoming Queens starting with 1946 around the walls. A second enclosed room was added with a coat check room and modern bath rooms and painted orange that was forevermore called orange the room.

By now, The Music Box was large enough the Kelly's needed to hire some help. Lee and Shirley’s philosophy was to insure the young people really had a good time and felt comfortable at their establishment. They decided to hire mostly college age young people as ticket sellers and bouncers so that the help was close to the same age as the customers. That way the customers didn'’t feel like they had a bunch of high school shaperones watching them. The Music Box was now open Friday and Saturday nights and all through the three big summer holidays.

Untill 1953 The Music Box was only open summer weekends but the crowds kept growing and the local kids ask the Kelly's if they could open up in the winter. So a smaller enclosed room, “the winter room” that was easier to heat, was added on the west side of the open area in 1953 to be used on winter weekends. In 1955, a tower was built to house sound equipment and the music collection as well as give the person playing the records a good view of the dance floor. The sound system was brought up to state-of-the-art when a commercial McIntosh 200 watt amplifier and very large Jenson folded horn speakers were installed. The records, both early 78'’s and 45'’s, were now played on three Thorns transcription turntables using three McIntosh C-4 preamps. This fabulous sound contributed to the enchantment along with the decor.

The Music Box outdoor dance floor in 2001

While Lee ran and managed the general operation of the Music Box, Shirley worked with him on the business management and she played the records. Any disc jockey knows how hard it is to keep the crowd dancing. Well, the blond in the tower, as Shirley was known to many of the customers, was the best of the best.

The Music Box in 2001

The Music Box continued to grow and to be the place that many, many young people remember as their "Summer Place" or the place they fell in love. It is impossible to put into words the feelings and memories that The Music Box brings to those who had the privilege of experiencing an evening there. It was truly enchanted. I enjoyed dancing at The Music Box as a customer from 1957 to 1962 and then worked for the Kelly'’s as a bouncer and helped maintain the sound system from 1962 to 1972. I continued to help with the sound system until the Music Box closed its doors for the last time, Labor Day weekend 2001

History of "the Box" is exactly what I was looking for. Nice Article. I've been gathering some names of tunes that were frequently played at the Music Box 1958 - 1963 for our 45th class reunion. So far I have Quarter to 4, The Hunch, Apple Green, Shortnin' Bread, Little Music Box, Sax Fifth Avenue, Come On Train, As Time Goes By, I Can't Sit Down, Bon Voyage, Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart, Midnight Mood, I Like It Like That, & She Cried. Could you add a few more of the favorites? And yes, I fell in love at the Music Box more than once but I met my wife of 40 years at The Platters in Cadillac. When I took her to the Music Box, she liked it a whole lot better than the Platters. Thanks in advance from a '60s DJ Bob B. Blue
Hi Bob B. Blue,
Thanks for the comment. When the Music Box was closed I ended up with the records and all the sound equipment. All the speakers, amps, turntables, and the 78 RPM records have been sold. I still have the 45's and am working on cataloging them to sell.You did pick out some of the great ones, the records that made them get up and dance. A couple more would be Groovin with Mister Blow, Theme from a Summer Place, Rock and Roll Part II, How Long Has This Been Going On, Do You Wanna Dance, The old Lamp Lighter, Rock and Roll Music, Since I Don't Have You, and Gimmie Gimmie Good Lovin.
Hey Mark. Thanks for the Tune names. I just finished downloading the ones I didn't already have. They sure sound like Music Box tunes. Any more you can think of would be appreciated.
One of my good buddies is a big-time oldies collector, mostly 45's. He would probably be very interested in your stuff. If you want, I can get a hold of him so he can touch base with you. My email is I live in Petoskey and he lives nearby. I have over 1000 '50s/'60s tunes in my music collection but all I've listened to the last several weeks are the Music Box tunes. Talk about your musical flashbacks. I can't even imagine all the memories that you must have after all the time you spent at that "enchanting" place.
Thanks for posting the link to this nice illustrated story of the Box!

It made me smile to see my two favorite musical memories mention by you in your reply here, Groovin' with Mr. Bloe and Theme from a Summer Place. Everytime I hear one of them, I'm intantly transported back there in my memory.
I was a regular from 1957-1960. There are so many stories I could tell about the people I met and the fun we enjoyed. One time my girl friends and I snuck out in my folks "borrowed" car and drove to "the Box" which was at least 70 miles from my home in Midland. Needless to say we didn't have permission to go out of town. On the way home, the car died. Some nice guys we'd met at "the Box" towed it back to Midland so we wouldn't get in trouble. I didn't miss a Saturday night at the Box for something like 130 consecutive weeks. (Yes, I also went in the winter. We'd snow ski all day, and go to the Box in the evening.) It was where I met most of the fellows I dated throughout my high school years. Actually the Box messed up my dating in my home town (Midland) because I wasn't available on Saturday nights and I sure wouldn't stay interested in any fellow who didn't want me to go to "the Box." It was the center of my world and my passion. What memories!!!

I loved your article and pictures of The Music Box. My cousin and friends spent every night that it was open in the summers (W-Sunday) at the Music Box in the early 70's. We loved every minute. What great memories. It makes me sad to see the putt-putt parking lot where it once was. Do you have any more pictures of it? My husband and my friend, Mona, went to one the nights when it opened back up briefly. It brought back so many memories. I took a disposable camera to take a few pictures of the place. I was always in awe of the magical design. And I could never describe it to any of my friends who had never experienced it. But someone stopped me from taking pictures. I checked it in the coatcheck, but didn't get it back when we left. Do you have anymore pictures? I would love to see the "saloon" pics and the swiss alps village pictures. That night, they had opened all the rooms in the place. We were able to go into the chapel and the room with all the prom queen pictures. It was really neat seeing these for the first time. And you didn't mention, Bopper! We loved it when Mr. Kelly would bring Bopper out at night.
I do have more photos and Boppers dog house is in my back yard. Go on Face Book and do a search for "Music Box - Houghton Lake - Michigan". You will find some photos there of Lee Kelly and Bopper and the Box. There are about 300 people in the Music Box Group on Face Book.
This place was legendary when I was a kid in the 60s. My much-older teen siblings always raved about it. I only went to "The Box" on one occasion sometime in the mid-70s and it was a lot of fun. Somehow, I never got back again, but it left quite an impression.

Thanks for creating this history. Sure brings back memories.
My family had a summer cottage at Houghton Lake and I was a regular at The Box from 1964-1969. I have so many fabulous memories... the lines on the 4th of July went around the building, kids came from all over the state and I "fell in love" at least once a night!! I had a rare copy of the Hunch and Quarter to Four years ago which I sold for $100. Other songs were Bread & Butter, Little Sheba (?) and my favorite slow song, "You Belong to Me"

The Music Box was a wonderful gift to kids - and the bouncers kept predators out and there was a lot of monitoring which, while we may not have always liked then, was responsible and protected us from harm. Thanks for the pictures and postings.
Wow! I was just cruisn' the web this evening when I thought to search for the Music Box. All of your comments bring back such great memories of a wonderful bygone era. I was a "regular" at the Box from 1959 - 1964! My parents owned a cottage on East Bay of Houghton Lake in Prudenville, I managed the Putt Putt Golf course across the street from Johnson's Resort on M-55, drove a '57 Chevy convertible and had a ski boat on the lake. Most of the time I lived up north in Prudenville during my late high school and early college years my parents were still working downstate, so I could invite my dates over to play some free Putt Putt and go water skiing by day while we danced the night away at the Box and then took off in my '57 Chevy convertible. Yes, things were very, very good in the era of "Do Ya Wanna Dance", "Theme from a Summer Place", "Quarter to Four" and Peanuts (by Ric). Thanks to all of you for sharing your wonderful memories. It broke my heart when the Music Box was no more . . .
I was introduced to "The Box" by a friend who worked at Oldsmobile in Lansing with me. On a Friday in July of 1962 he asked me to drive up there after work. At first I declined, but he sweetened the pot by adding that I could rive his new '62 Impala convertible if I went. so, we hit the road at 5:30. I ended up meeting a girl who is the love of my life and to whom I've been married for 48 years. Thanks Chevrolet for building a great car in 1962.
I loved "The Box". Spend best summers of my life up there. One summer worked at Johnson's Rustic Resort another lived out of my car staying with whom ever would let me. That year helped the car hops at the A&W and they shared tips with me.

Lee and Shirley were really great people. Spend hours talking with them. One night when Lee was working the tower and it was close to closing time she called Lee on the phone. He was repeating out loud what Shirley was saying. She was giving him directions to their bedroom to make sure he could find it. Then she realized he was repeating them out loud and someone else was in the tower with him. Great time, we both laughed over that.

I was trying to remember the closing songs played every night. I believe it included Theme from a Summer Place and Stardust, but not the rest. Also remember a song I've never found a reference to (other than the reference in this Blog)that they played occasionally entitled "Quarter to Four" (not Three).

When ever I hear Theme From a Summer Place - my mind drifts back to "The Box" and Lee and Shirley.

Thanks for posting the history.

Wow, memories! Dancing at the Music Box in the summers in the late 1950s.We used to come up to Higgins from Chicago for the summer [it was a family thing since the days of my grandfather in the late 1890s]. There was nothing else to do in the evenings for teenagers and, if you were lucky, you might get to meet the pretty girls that you suspected were staying at cabins on the other side of the lake [we always thought there were cute girls hiding out someplace, if we could only find them]. The Music Box was the place. Ah summers! Now I am 72 and living in Honoluu for most of my life, but I still remember the golden summers up in Michigan...
For anyone wanting more information on The Music Box, check out this link.

How about Aker Bilk, Stranger on the Shore?
Stranger on The Shore was another great tune. Aker Bilk was from England and was the first British artist to score #1 on the top 40 in the US. He had several other hits in the US but most of his albums were only released in Europe. One of those albums that I have has an instrumental of Auf Wiederseh"n Sweetheart, one of the favorite closing songs at The Box originally done by Vera Lynn.
I was raised with the Box sitting out side my bedroom window. I would go to sleep at night with the music coming in my bed room window. My sister was one of the first girls to dance at the Music Box. Kelly would come down and ask my grandfather to bring my sister down so the boys from Camp Graying had someone to dance with. He would go with her and sit right by the dance floor to keep a GOOD eye on her. I have hundreds of stories about the BOX. Jim Osterman Prudenville Mich.
I frequented the Box, 1957-1960--a friend and I used to drive up from Midland, even in the winter--great place, good music. It was sad to see it being torn down--almost like a portion of your life has been obliterated.
I worked at the Box from late 1964 through the fall of 1968. My first job was in the coat check that was in the back of the orange room. Shortly after, I was sent to the restaurant to serve up hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks. I had the good fortune to work nights and also on the day shift. I didn't sleep much those years! Made some great friends and had some really fun times.

My 'years' at the Box, were fabulous. There are enough 'stories' if we all started telling em, well, we don't have that much time. My years were 66-71, and I fell those were some of 'the' best years of the Box. Neil 'Butch' Anderson was the bouncer (and personal family friend.) Unfortunately, 'Butch' passed away earlier this year, 2020. A few times, after the Box closed on a Sunday night, Labor Day, we'd grab a pizza, then head up to the Mackinaw Bridge for the Bridge Walk. Hot night, hot cars, great parties 'of the times'. How privileged we are to have been allowed such summer and 'teen life' enjoyment. Brent Griffin
I grew up at Higgins Lake, and my sibs and I visited "The Box" from 1962 to the early 70s. It was THE hangout in the area at that time, but less so as other young adult bars began to open around Houghton Lake. When I was a kiddo, I loved hearing my sister's Box adventures about this magical place, and later discovering that special magic for myself and making my own memories.

So sad that times have changed and The Box has now passed into history. It would have been wonderful if it could have been transformed into some sort of museum or historical building for past and future generations.

Thanks to those who have left their thoughts and experiences in comments here. It really brought back many fond memories of those times--a very "Where were you in 62?" sort of nostalgia. They really did pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

Thanks to Mark for creating this site.

Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?