REO PALM ISLE
REO PALM ISLE. Reo Palm Isle, located at Farm Road 1845 and Highway 31 in Longview, Texas, can trace its beginnings to the Palm Isle, which opened on September 12, 1935. The club was owned by the Palm Isle Amusement Corporation, a group formed by George L. Culver, A. G. Carter, Tom Cook, and E. B. (Bill) Deane, with Deane acting as general manager of the club. This group of men with Texas bravado and a $20,000 investment, wanted to build a place that would be “the largest and most elaborate night club in the South.” The resulting 80-by-180-foot building sported two large fireplaces for heat in the winter and many arched windows for summer ventilation. The dance floor was made of the finest hardwood and could easily accommodate 1,500 couples with five square feet allotted per person. A twenty-by-thirty-foot stage was constructed to suit any large band. The tables were lined on a spacious raised floor so as to not interfere with the dancers. Harry Little Scenic and Theatrical Enterprise of Dallas designed the lighting, and the Palm Isle boasted one of the finest public address systems with the latest amplifiers and sound equipment available. The five-acre parking lot was ample for the many guests.
Bill Deane promised to “feature the largest, best, and most popular orchestras and musical organizations in the country.” Eddy Duchin and the New York Central Park Casino Orchestra performed at the grand opening, and the second attraction was George Hamilton’s orchestra. Bands that frequented the ballroom during this era included Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Ted Lewis, Ozzie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jack Teagardenqv, Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Jan Garber, Bob Wills, Gene Krupa, Glen Gray, and Herb Cook.
In July 1937 Bill Deane left to become the manager of the Cooper Club, an establishment in nearby Henderson, and the Cooper Club’s Hal Cooper took over management of the Palm Isle. Cooper eventually owned both the Palm Isle and the Cooper Club. In June 1942 Cooper, who was inducted into the service, leased the Palm Isle to Mattie Castleberry without a written agreement. Mattie was the owner of Mattie’s Ballroom, a popular dance hall on the Longview-Kilgore Highway that she had opened on April 19, 1931, during the area’s oil-boom days. She ran both Mattie’s Ballroom and the Palm Isle until 1943.
World War II tightened the supply of gasoline and affected transportation, severely limiting a person’s ability to travel. Castleberry decided to close Mattie’s Ballroom and to buy the Palm Isle from Hal Cooper. The last dance at Mattie’s Ballroom was on March 27, 1943, and Mattie Castleberry officially opened the Palm Isle under her management on April 3, 1943. Mattie didn’t have enough money to purchase the club, but her reputation preceded her, and Cooper allowed her to pay for the club in installments. There was no written contract between the two, and Castleberry paid her complete debt with no problems.
In August 1948 Mattie was diagnosed with cancer, and in May 1951 she sold the Palm Isle to Jack and Neva Starnes acting as agents of Lefty Frizzell. Neva managed the club (which they called Neva’s Palm Isle), but this was to be a short-lived investment.
In December 1951 Sherman Sparks, along with his partner Glynn Keeling, purchased the Palm Isle from Mattie Castleberry. (She died in Marshall, Texas, in August 1954.) Sparks had owned a small club named the Reo in Kilgore, but the establishment burned down. In order to commemorate his former club and establish its connection to the Palm Isle, Sparks renamed the venue the Reo Palm Isle. In July 1956 Sparks sold his ownership in the club to Glynn Keeling.Over the years the Reo Palm Isle has provided a venue for many stars and ascending stars, including Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, David Frizzell, Boots Randolph, Loretta Lynn, Shelly West, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kenny Sarrett, Frenchie Burke, Willie Nelson, Joe Stampley, Jacky Ward, Johnny Paycheck, Alabama, Boxcar Willieqv, Hank Williams Jr., Ronnie Milsap, Lee Greenwood, Ricky Skaggs, Delbert McClinton, David Allan Coe, and Mickey Gilley. The club's 3,000-square-foot dance floor has been lauded as the largest in East Texas. Other features include pool tables, a mechanical bull, and a restaurant. Reo Palm Isle was rated the best dance hall in Texas Monthly magazine in 1976 and one of the state's top ten clubs in Texas Highways. In the early 2000s the owners of the club were Max and Sharon Singleton.
Bill C. Malone, "Texas Myth, Texas Music," Journal of Texas Music History 1.1 (Spring 2001). The Reo Palm Isle, Longview, Texas (http://scottymoore.net/longview.html ), accessed November 16, 2011. Geronimo Treviño III, Dance Halls and Last Calls: A History of Texas Country Music (Plano, Texas: Republic of Texas Press, 2002).