It opened in 1926, and for the next 80 years, it played an important role in the Village of Johnson City and the rest of the community. I am referring to the George F. Pavilion, constructed by the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company as a place for entertainment and event venue for the entire community. For those who care about minutia, some early references to the building spelled it as pavillion, rather than pavilion — but we will abide by the more common spelling.
George F. Johnson wanted a place where people of all ages could find a place to enjoy music or participate in a social event. The brick building located across the CFJ Park was a large open building of about 10,000 square feet with an arched ceiling with dark blue material with stars to emulate the outside. There was no air conditioning in the building, but a pair of doors opened to the outside and a grassy area on that side would provide a natural amphitheater to those sitting or standing outside.
The opening of the Pavilion happened at a good time, as swing music was just taking hold. The Binghamton/Johnson City/Endicott area was also on the circuit for many of the traveling bands and orchestras that were circulating across the northeast. At the same time, the advent of radio in the area happened by the late 1920s, and many families were purchasing their first radios in the 1930s.
It was a perfect storm for music in the region. Local bands would play on Thursdays and Fridays and the admission fee usually ran about 25 cents. On weekends, the Big Bands would arrive to play. Residents could pay the 50 cents to hear Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and many others who brought their musicians to play the hits of the day.
The Pavilion could hold about 1,500 people, but the record holder for attendance was Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. He brought in about 4,000 people — most of whom were on the grassy amphitheater outside while the strains of “Boo-Hoo” played from the stage. During the weeks and years, countless events such as policeman’s balls and graduations were held at the Pavilion.
As the region came through the end of World War II, a new order seemed to take effect, and the days of the Big Band music were waning. George F. Johnson had died in 1948, and the company wished to take a new direction with the operation of the Pavilion. In 1951, it leased the facility to Charles Smith, who for the next 11 years ran the Pavilion as a roller skating rink. Thousands of young people (and some not so young) enjoyed skating around the large open building.
It was the second chapter for the Pavilion, but not its last. That last chapter would begin in 1962, when the Endicott-Johnson Company once again changed direction for the Pavilion. This time, the lease for the roller skating rink ended, and one was signed with Fountain’s Restaurant to run the facility as the Fountain’s Pavilion. Once again, people could attend an event at the venue, and, music could still be heard at times coming from the facility’s doors.
Political figures from Robert F. Kennedy to Bill and Hillary Clinton held events at the Fountains. Dick Clark emceed several concerts at the Pavilion — with the sounds of rock and roll rather than swing music bringing enjoyment to the youth of the area.
This chapter that started in 1962 would end in 2004 with the retirement of the Zades family who operated the Fountain’s for most of that time. By then the building was now owned by Newman Development. With the Fountain’s closure and subsequent auction of items of days gone by, the building was demolished in September 2006.
Shortly after, though, plans for a new Visions Federal Credit Union emerged, and the new building looked remarkably like the Pavilion. A slightly smaller version of the former occupant of that land, the new credit union even included a display of EJ material to reflect the importance of 80 years of enjoyment at one spot in Johnson City.
Gerald Smith is a former Broome County historian. Email him email@example.com.