This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published January 2016. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.
Mellow Moon Pavilion was built the summer of 1925 by owners Mills and Albright at the west end of the Marion-Polk county bridge in West Salem. A ten dollar prize for the best name submitted was awarded to Mrs. Alma V. Henderson of Chemawa. The name was selected for its reference to the popular “Mellow Moon” waltz and, according to the owners, “because it fit the soft lights that were already installed.” The popular dance hall was nestled in a beautiful spot along the west bank of the Willamette River just south of the bridge at 554 Edgewater St., which on a current map would place it southeast of present day Westside Station Restaurant and Nightclub, underneath Highway 22.
David Eyre, one time managing editor of the Capital Journal newspaper recalled his Saturday nights as a youth in the early 1930s being spent meeting friends, piling into jalopies to go across the river to the Mellow Moon where there “was a lot of necking in cars along the river and a lot of moonshine consumed behind the cars.” Open Wednesday and Saturday nights with an admission price of ten cents for ladies and fifty cents for gentleman the dance hall featured popular bands and orchestras such as Jack Bell and His Melody Pirates that would travel the dance hall circuit across the country.
The Mellow Moon changed ownership and purpose throughout the years eventually becoming a roller skating rink under the ownership of Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Hansen from 1939 to 1942. In fact, the final payment on the business loan was made just a few weeks before the fateful night of New Year’s Eve 1942. What should have been cause for celebration instead became a great tragedy to all involved.
New Year’s Eve fell on a Thursday night in 1942 and while some Willamette Valley residents celebrated, others kept an anxious watch on river levels. Anticipated to be the worst flooding since 1923, damage reports and deaths were already being reported by communities further south in the river’s path. Walter Gerth, West Salem merchant and downtown neighbor of the Mellow Moon who had been through every Willamette flood since 1890 went out on a limb, predicting that “little damage would be caused except possibly to lowland farm improvements,” when interviewed by an Oregon Statesman reporter. As the clock passed midnight, the river level stood at 22.2 feet.
As the next morning dawned, Charles Hansen checked on the Mellow Moon and found water flowing several inches over the floor. The building was inspected by engineers at his request and assurance given that it would stand secure in the rising tide. After all, it had survived floods in the past. By 1 p.m. Friday afternoon the river gauge read 27.5 feet and the water was gaining at the rate of 3 inches an hour. Evacuations had begun in the lowlands north and south of Salem. Fifteen minutes after Hansen left for the day, the little bridge connecting the Mellow Moon to Edgewater St. washed away.