Luna Lake -- "Oasis" of Fun (The Register & Bee, Danville, Virginia, 28 June 1991) (click on photograph for larger image)
"Luna Lake was a mecca of entertainment, a place where you could have a vacation in a day. It was an oasis." Ray Hayes
Stated simply, Luna Lake was a place to go, -- a place, as they say, to see and be seen. Unlike today, when youth are more mobile and opportunities for entertainment seemingly abound for the bored and programmed adolescent, the '40s and '50s framed an age of limited mobility and, as Ray Hayes puts it, "familial closeness." Entertainment possibilities -- organized entertainment, that is -- were few, so youngsters made their own fun. And Luna Lake, located on the southern fringe of Danville, was one of the places they made it. Essentially, Luna Lake was a huge swimming hole, a mammoth pool with a cavernous central diving area. yet it was so much more. It was, as Hayes says, a "mecca" and an "oasis."
So what could you do at Luna Lake beside swim? Well, you could dance in the pavilion to the steady beat of the juke box; you could skate in the tented rink. Your family could hold its reunion there. And then there were the special events -- prizefights, featuring such local favorites as "Sailor-Boy" Hopkins and Clyne Pugh, and traveling country-music shows with such stars as "Little Jimmy Dickens" on center stage. Yes, there was a lot to do at Luna Lake, when one was not ogling members of the opposite sex. "A lot of dates were brought to Luna Lake and a lot were made there too," says Hayes, a Schoolfield guy who grew on Dallas Avenue. Some of the romances spawned there have achieved a sense of permanency. Shirley Adams Terry, whose parents owned a small general store just off the lake property, met her husband Jack at the skating rink. Now, the Terry's own and operate Terry's Photo Center on Arnett Boulevard.
Lake's Heyday: As best Shirley Terry can ascertain, the Luna Lake recreational complex was built around 1930. Central to this oasis of fun was the large pool, with its unique diving platform and slide. Surrounding the pool were the pavilion, where concessions (snowcones, popcorn and peanuts) were sold, a double-decked L-shaped bathhouse and a picnic area. Behind the picnic tables was a small pumphouse, from which water from nearby Rutledge Creek flowed continuously into the pool. One of Peggy Harville's distinct memories of the lake is the smell of the chlorinated water rushing into the pool.
A few steps from Luna Lake across Rutledge Street stood the Adams store, run by Raymond and Hannah Adams from the early '40s to the early '60s -- in short, the lake's heyday. The Adamses hawked hotdogs and hamburgers to the pool's ravenous clientele. In time, the small emporium -- which says Shirley, "sold just about everything, including gas when it was five cents a gallon.\" -- became somewhat of a hangout for the Danville and Shoolfield kids who flocked to the lake. It was from a window of this store that Mary Adams Turlington, Shirley's sister, first spotted the fire which gutted the bathhouse. One day in 1948, Mary was preparing a hotdog for a customer when she noticed fire eating up one corner of the bathhouse. The blaze spread quickly and, despite the efforts of the Adamses and their neighbors who fought the fire with buckets, the building was gutted.
However, the bathhouse was rebuilt, and the lake scarcely missed a beat. But the, almost to the end, Luna Lake was popular. Ask anyone who haunted the place as a child, and he or she will tell you that it was pretty much jam-packed during their childhood. By the general consensus, however, the war years and those immediately thereafter were the lake's boom time.
Nonetheless, even when Peggy Harville was attending high school during the '50s, Luna Lake was still a primary gathering place for area youth. Se recalls going there as late as 1959, the year she graduated from GW. By the '60s, however, the cultural climate of Danville was changing. More cars translated into more mobility; the radius of people's everyday existence was lengthening. Luna Lake and its simple joys were slowly becoming an anachronism. What's more, the early part of the decade brought unsightly racial confrontation to Danville. Whether this had any measurable bearing on the closing of Luna Lake in the mid-60s is moot. But close the lake did; now it stands overgrown, the pool filled with tires were once children of all ages plunged off the high board into a circle of admiring friends.
Luna's Lure: First and foremost, Luna Lake was a swimming pool. Thus, for many, summer days meant hours frolicking in the water. Shirley Terry learned how to swim there from certified Red Cross instructors such as Jimmy Calos, James Greer, and Raymond McNeeley. For Frank Harville, husband of Peggy, the lure of Luna was the high dive. Actually, his high dive was a bit higher than the standard. He and his friends would scramble to the top level of the platform -- and then take one giant step upward to where a flagpole rose from the top of the log stanchion. With nothing more than a catwalk to maneuver on, the would carefully work their way around the pole and then make like former-day Greg Louganises, executing nifty swan dives from 25 feet up. "When you dived off that tower, it would part your hair when you hit that hard water," Harville says, still grinning at the memory.
Music played a big role in life around Luna Lake. During the Big Band era which encompassed most of the '40s, Ray Hayes would go down to the lake on a Sunday afternoon and listen to the Sammy Kaye show and then the Firestone Hour on the radio. Rock 'n' roll came to stay in the '50s, and, in the summer of '54, Peggy Harville remembers hearing Bill Haley and the Comets' "Shake, Rattle and Roll" every hour on the hour. But then, summer songs do trigger the fondest and most long-lasting of memories. Willie Motley, who was one of the many lifeguards to pass the summer hours at the lake, still smiles when he thinks of Little Jimmy Dickens singing "Sleeping at the Foot of the Bed" live at the pavilion.
But most of all, Luna Lake meant easy camaraderie, the flowering of deeply rooted friendships. Second cars were a luxury back then, so many kids walked to the lake. Once they arrived, they tended to stay all day. "A fun place? It sure was," says Terry rhetorically. "It has special memories."
And so a "mecca" it remains in the fertile "oases" of the mind.
Source: River City: Stories of Danville, Adrian O'Connor (1994) [Stories Reprinted as Appearing in the Danville Register & Bee] at 180-183. Photograph courtesy Danny Ricketts.