There is something slightly ironic at the thought of a disco, called Disco Inferno, operating on the second floor of the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, the song Burn, Baby Burn by the Whamms pounding out of the speakers, as six years after its opening in 1889, the beautiful, Victorian design wood structure burned to the ground to be replaced by the red brick building that stands today on the grounds of the Willamette Heritage Center. Disco fever swept the nation with the 1977 release of the movie Saturday Night Fever, starring a young John Travolta. By the summer of 1978, it was in full swing in Salem according to Capital Journal reporter Cynthia Reiner, who reported that discos were “popping up in Salem almost as rapidly as fast food outlets.”
Discos, short for discotheque, were places for dancing. Music was usually recorded instead of using live bands, and played non-stop by a disc jockey. Accompanied by a light show pulsating to the sound of the music, whirling strobes and blinding flood lights only added to the kinetic energy of the dancers. The music was characterized by a consistent beat geared for dancing and the volume was loud. Dance steps were stylized and routine, pulled from the rhumba, tango, swing and hustle, with a few moves thrown in from everywhere else, including gymnastics. Clothes were also a big part of the scene. Men in unbuttoned dress shirts, slacks and gold neck chains. Women in high heels and dresses with skirts that flared while they danced. Disco “silks” or nylon, acetate, rayon and other unnatural fibers added to the slinky, sexy vibe as you danced the night away.