Saturday, January 2, 2010

A blast from the past: Colacino's

Ask almost anyone who grew up in northwest Nebraska in the mid-20th century about Colacino’s, and you’ll see a smile emerge – along with lots of memories!

Really old-timers will recall when the place was known as Kelso’s Pavilion. It was located along U.S. Highway 20 about two miles east of Chadron.

No one seems to know for sure when the pavilion was built, but it was likely sometime between World War I and the Great Depression of the 1930s by Art and Nels Kelso. And it wasn’t just a single-story, frame dance hall. There once was a swimming pool, a bath house, observation deck, and even a boat pond!

We first remember the popular dance hall from the late 1940s, when Tony and Nancy Colacino bought the pavilion, according to their son, Dick, who now lives in California. By that time, the pool and pond were gone, but the pavilion was still a jumping place with lots of live entertainment – bands that came from all across the region, and eager patrons that would drive in from across the panhandle, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

A lot of soldiers came up from Fort Robinson,” remembers Colacino.

Nancy and Tony Colacino had operated the White Lunch café in downtown Chadron for several years after World War II. That business was located on the west side of First & Main Street, just south of where a Safeway store had once been located. In the late 1940's or early 1950's -- we don't know exactly when -- Colacinos opened up a supper club adjacent to their dance pavilion east of town.   That's when Louie Apa took over operation of what became "King Louie's White Lunch," which remained at that location until at least 1955.  We well remember Louie relocating his restaurant business to a new location on the north side of West 2nd Street for several years.  That's about the same time that H & R Block moved in to the old King Louie's location at Second and Main. 
An aerial photograph of the Colacino Supper Club, taken in 1953, is shown above.

In its day, the supper club was a one-of-a-kind in the area, and it was a very popular place. Among their regular customers was prominent banker C.F. Coffee and his wife. We’re told that sometimes the club would open early, just for them. In any event, Colacino Supper Club established its own large clientele – somewhat different customers than those who showed up on weekends for a good, sometimes even rowdy, time at the pavilion!

We’ve posted a few higher resolution photographs of the pavilion and supper club in our Early Chadron gallery. Our thanks to Dick Colacino and his daughter and son-in-law, Tina and Kevin Stopper, for giving us access to the aerial photograph of the old Colacino business.

After her mother died, young Mary Colacino operated the supper club with her father, and the business continued uninterrupted until the summer of 1965.

That’s when Colacinos sold the business to Harold and Norma Miller, who had previously owned the 120 Bar in downtown Chadron.  
The property was later owned by the Nixons. A 1985 news story in the Chadron Record suggested that the supper club was "torn apart."  However, Colacino's niece, Bunny Nitsch, advises us that the Supper Club was not torn down, but still exists as a home.


In later years, the pavilion was painted pink and was popularly-known as the Pink Panther. It continued to be a site for weekend dances. By the mid-1970s, Gil and Roger Nitsch owned the property, and they converted the venerable old hall into a pig barn.

Alas, in 1985, the roof collapsed and the structure was tore down. Colacinos was no more.

No more dancing, no more squealings;
we’re left with just nostalgic feelings.

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