Rebirth of The Golden Glow From Wedding Receptions to Historic Concert Performances, the Most Legendary Ballroom North of Detroit Is Grander than Ever

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 666   By: Robert E Martin

21st August, 2008     0

When it comes to attaining that elusive quality known as 'class' there are those that mistakenly believe it can be bought & purchased like any commodity, and those that realize it is a distinction earned through hard work, singular standards, and a reputation which tends to resonate through the decades.

As with many of our rare 'wonders of the world' in the tri-cities, The Golden Glow Ballroom is often taken for granted, yet without doubt truly fits this definition. 

Located at 2950 S. Graham Road at the intersection of M-52 and Swan Creek Roads, The Golden Glow possesses a unique texture of class that radiates up through the hardwood dance floor and permeates every membrane of this historic 12,000 square foot facility.

Built in 1925 by Bill & Lenora Golden and operated by their son John and his wife Libby as a restaurant, in 1929 a ballroom was added and utilized as a roller skating rink & dance hall.
After Prohibition the Glow was issued Saginaw County's 5th liquor license and added a massive dance floor & stage, setting the backdrop for its ascendancy as the most vital & innovative entertainment venue north of Detroit.

Through the 1940s and 1950s, the Goldens embarked upon operating Michigan's most popular destination for dances & live entertainment, hosting artists like Little Jimmy Dickens, Nick & the Corn Huskers and polka bands like Frankie Yankovik & Li'l Wally which would draw over 1,000 people onto the Glow's dance floor, which today is still one of the largest, well known wood floor structures in the state.

In 1962 the Golden family sold the venue to Bonnie Firestein  - a woman that established the Glow as one of the Midwest's premier big band & entertainment venues by booking such burgeoning national acts as The Supremes, Ike & Tina Turner, Chubby Checker, and Wayne Newton, to name but a few.

Following this trend into the late sixties and early 1970s, the decade proved to be a pivotal & volatile one, mirroring the high tides and low ebbs affecting the nation.

Musically, things could not have been better.  Up and coming Michigan artists like Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, and Alice Cooper filled the hall with the magic of fresh musical notes that beaded into balls of sweat dripping from the brows of frenzied  & wide-eyed teenagers.  Then unknown acts such as Eric Clapton & Cream gave mid-Michigan teens a first glimpse at the colored textures of their 'new sound', and the Glow earned a reputation ranking with the likes of The Grande Ballroom in Detroit and the Fillmore East & West.

But the 70's also witnessed tough times for the venue, as it was sold to several proprietors that utilized the facility as simply a hall, since the Glow no longer had a liquor license.

It was at this juncture that current owner Dan Whaley entered the picture. As the grandson of local restaurateurs John& Alice Chiesi, who owned & operated Gable Gardens and also leased the property harboring the classic Saginaw eatery The Royal Palm, Whaley had his own ideas for The Glow.

In 1979 Whaley purchased the facility and in 1981 received a liquor license, becoming one of the state's youngest proprietors at age 23 and continuing the family tradition by putting the Glow through several renovations.

The 1980s witnessed the Glow prospering under the successful management of Tim Sullivan and Tom Wood (current proprietors of The Black Forest) and later by Dan's sisters. 

Embracing the concept of maximizing all components and assets of the venue, The Glow hosted bingos, teen dances, big band jazz, concerts and wedding receptions; while Whaley, not content to cast his eye upon singular renovation, went on to develop several properties as restaurants & nightclubs, including The Fordney Hotel, Old Town Saloon and Jasper's Riverfront Saloon in Old Town Saginaw, along with Old City Hall in Bay City.

Continuing with the tradition of showcasing top national acts, artists such as The Romantics filled two nights at the Glow with 700 tickets sold each night.

Indeed, this writer remembers clearly his first audience with a major rock star, having the opportunity to conduct an in-depth interview with Steve Marriott (from Humble Pie and The Small Faces) over a case of Heinekens sitting un-opened in Marriott's van.

Ah, but that is a tale for another timeŠ

Shining off the Dream - Redefining the Future

Today, some 80 years after serving its first customer, The Golden Glow's facilities have again been upgraded, with the Whaley family's 4th Generation working in its newly opened restaurant & renovated ballroom.

While it continues to flourish as an excellent venue for bridal receptions - with food, entertainment, a newly added chapel and a newly added patio making it one of the most affordable and classy places to celebrate matrimonial bliss; Whaley is poised to open the restaurant for breakfast, lunch & dinner seven nights a week. 

He has also been featuring live local entertainment on Fridays and is eager to begin showcasing national performers once again.

With his son Garrett Whaley handling day-to-day management duties and chef Mark Hill at the helm in the kitchen, family matriarch Joan Whaley can still be seen greeting customers at the door.

Given the fact that stories and people often define the character of a venue, Garrett firmly embraces the lineage & history of The Glow, which helps advance its magic.

"The set up of this building really helps distinguish it," explains Garrett. "We'll have people from the 1940's and 1950's coming in saying they met each other at polka night fifty years ago, and my Dad has notorious tales from the 1980s about ten-for-one nights that are legendary."

"Basically, what we're trying to do is redefine The Golden Glow for a whole new generation that doesn't know that much about it," he continues. "People think we're only a Banquet facility, but in fact we are now a restaurant, a sports bar, and a live entertainment venue."

With the Restaurant serving from Wednesday through Sunday, and open for breakfast at 7:00 AM on Saturday & Sunday, chef Mark Hill has concocted excellent classic fare ranging from fresh perch dinners to ribs, pasta, chicken, and sirloin steaks.  Lunch & Dinner Take Out menus are also available Wednesday - Friday 11 AM - 9 PM, Saturday & Sunday, 7 AM - 9 PM, and in the Fall they will be open Monday & Tuesday from 11 AM - 9 PM.

"Banquets are still our bread & butter, but our new Chef has done an excellent job revamping the food menu, and it's a kick to watch people enter the building and open their mouths in awe at how huge & beautiful it looks," notes Garrett.

Additionally, to add more flavor to the mix, every Thursday at 6 PM the Glow features Bike Night where they do drawings & giveaways and feature $1.50 bottles of beer and $1.50 burgers.

And on Friday for Happy Hour they feature acoustic entertainment on the patio and serious free happy hour hors-d'ouerves - not just chips & salsa, but Barbecue chicken and some incredibly tasty items.

"Essentially, now that we have everything totally remodeled, we're pushing the variety of what we offer," continues Garrett. "We opened the restaurant about a year ago, but wanted to get all our procedures down before we made a big push on developing it. "

"The Wedding Banquets have really taken off as well, since we've added the Chapel, offer our own DJ services, and can market 'one-stop' wedding packages," adds Garrett. "We can offer the same type of event as most so-called high-class halls at half the cost.  It's really an economy of value.

While we're not the least expensive hall out there, but we're definitely the coolest and have the most character."

When asked what he feels the biggest challenge is in terms of advancing the goals of the venue, Garrett references the diversity of opportunity it presents. "There are so many angles that we can cover at once that it can be hard to coordinate," he smiles.

Finally, in terms of entertainment, one is hard pressed to think of a better venue to witness a live performance.   From the expansive acoustics of the room to the signature 'half-moon' stage, so far acts such as Sprout and Jedi Mind Trip have taken to the stage to reclaim the historic musical tradition of The Glow, and on Friday, August 29th the inimitable Larry McCray will be claiming the stage.

They often say that the most valuable resources we possess exist right in our own backyard and all it takes is the embrace of our hearts & minds to discover them.

The fabulous Golden Glow is such a resource - flickering in the recess of memory and dancing in the twilight of the present - immortalized in song by none other than Saginaw's own Stewart Francke, who sang: 'We were dancingŠ.dancingŠ.dancing at The Golden Glow."

For more information on the Golden Glow Ballroom or for Take Out Service please call 989-781-2120


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