Tuesday, May 26, 2009
You Can Go Home Again - Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
From the age of two until my mid-twenties I called a certain southern Wisconsin town home. When my family moved to Lake Geneva for my dad's job, the town was mostly tourist with a spattering of industry. Over the years more industry moved in, but that didn't take away from the main draw--the beautiful lake.
Ever since the 19th Century, Chicagoans have flocked to this gorgeous area which sits about 12 miles north of the Illinois-Wisconsin boarder. During the 1800s, wealthy industrialists built their "summer cottages" on the lake. Many of these mansions still stand today and are the focal point of the excursion boats that travel the 26 miles of shoreline. During summers the wealthy families moved out to the "country" to escape the summer heat of the city. And after the Chicago fire, some had to make their Lake Geneva homes semi-permanent while their city homes were being rebuilt.
But that isn't the only history to be found in this slice of heaven on earth. During the early 1930s the city passed a vote to erect a new "recreation building" using WPA funds. The project provided jobs during the depression and gave the town an energy of excitement. The building was erected in an amazing five months and contained a bath house on the first level along with concessions to feed hungry beach-goers and a state-of-the art ballroom with a parquet wood dance floor on the second level. Wayne King and his band appeared at the grand opening in May 1933, and after him, many of the big bands played there including Tommy Dorsey and Louie Armstrong. Named the Riviera, the building was recently refurbished to its original glory and now hosts wedding receptions, meetings, and, of course, dances. In fact, when I attended a high school reunion a year and a half ago, that is where it was held. That's a picture of it at the top of this blog.
The Riveria is the feature of my new WIP which will be set in the 1930s when the Riv was first built. I am so jazzed about this subject and excited to feature my hometown in a story. Last Thursday I drove up there (about an hour's drive away) and spent the day pouring over microfilm copies of the local paper during that time. This week, I hope to go back and visit the museum and scour their folders, gathering facts and ideas to incorporate into my story. Even though I grew up there, I realized I really knew so little about how the building of the Riviera came to be.
I have many memories of lazy summer days on the beach, countless boat rides around the lake when my high school boyfriend worked on one of the excursion boats, learning how to water ski behind the ski boat of a classmate, hikes along the lake shore path, and the plain old joy of growing up in a small town.
Many of the pics in this video showcase the Riviera. I hope you'll check back again to see what's next on my writing journey as this story comes together!