The Blue Circle: Jukebox, bands entertained

August 1, 2012

LIMA — Today, no trace remains. But in the 1930s, a little roadhouse called the Blue Circle started entertaining area citizens.

Located on South Dixie Highway just south of Reed Road, the Blue Circle opened in late 1935. It was apparently in the vicinity of the Twin Oaks barbecue stand and dance hall that burned in 1934.

A newspaper ad published Dec. 15, 1935, announced Dick Krabach was the manager, and Wooden Shoe Beer was on draft.

Krabach was a clerk at Met Bank in 1934 and the next year started the Blue Circle. He was in his early 20s at the time.

“A challenge to all supper clubs in the settlement for modernistic beauty is Richard Krabach’s Blue Circle salon in the Dixie Highway south. Rebuilt on the site of ‘Whity’ Elsas’ old Twin Oaks, the glittering chromium and enamel oasis is spanking new from door knob to ultramarine murals. Manager Richard, seeking respite from a banking career, personally supervises the kitchen. A special lighting system of mellow tone is ideal for relaxation,” a story reported Dec. 15, 1935.

It was the darling of the newspapers.

“There will be a momentary lull in the Blue Circle club activities Christmas Day, but the fine food emphasis and quiet conviviality will be resumed immediately after the holiday. Richard Krabach, director of affairs at the swank new South Dixie Highway establishment, will return Sunday from Chicago where he has been checking up on how the Windy City celebrants go a-night-clubbing,” according to a Dec. 22, 1935, story.

“For those seeking a retreat from the cymbal clash and gyrations of dancers, the Blue Circle, on the Dixie Highway south of Lima, offers a quiet appeal. Easy-going congeniality of the proprietor and waitresses as well as food just as you order it are keynotes of the highly modernistic road house,” according to a Dec. 29, 1935, story.

But by 1939, ownership changed to Roy Weller. He and his wife worked on remodeling and enlarging the Blue Circle and adding a new summer garden. They also were busted by the Allen County Sheriff for illegal gambling in late 1939, for games called “gold mines” and “ticket bowls.”

But in 1940, the owners decided to add on properly.

“Now comes this establishment equipped with dual dancing halls. One will be an open-air type pavilion while the other will house jivists when the weather gets dirty,” an April 28, 1940, story reported.

Carl Young and His Orchestra was a popular band at that venue in those days. There was no cover charge.

“Enjoy dancing in our cool summer gardens,” an ad from June 9, 1940, reported.

Ira J. McKinley bought the Blue Circle in 1942, and he held an auction the following year. He sold coolers and other items, even the root beer mugs. He was eager to redo the place, and it reopened April 8, 1944.

“It is the sort of a place where you can take your Aunt Ella, your best girl or even your wife. The dance tunes, the air of cheerful hospitality, and the gay conviviality of management and patrons makes the Blue Circle a sure-fire must stop,” a story reported Sept. 2, 1944. “The irrestible rhythms furnished by the popular jukebox fills the rooms from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. with complete patron participation.”

McKinley continued to bring bands in, with music often happening on Sundays. There were so many other places interested in booking bands — it was a time of Big Band music at dance halls throughout the area — perhaps this was a day that was easier to book than others for the Blue Circle.

“A lonely soldier on furlough can tell you there’s no place like this clean, cozy little place to meet old acquaintances and talk old times over your favorite soft drink or brand of beer. Sandwiches and other light refreshments are also served. …. Pledge yourself to be true til ‘Johnny comes marching home,’ but don’t pledge yourself to be blue. Join in the friendly chatter, learn the latest news, news to write your Johnny in that letter every night,” a story reported Dec. 9, 1944.

World War II forced some differences — fuel emergencies would sometimes close it early, the neon and other non-essential lights were ordered squelched, and curfews were sometimes enacted.

“It’s for a good reason, winning the war. … Each night, the popular Lima nightclub will close at midnight. But despite all these restrictions, the entertainment value has been cut little at the Blue Circle,” a March 3, 1945, story reported. “But the same good fellowship, excellent beverages and smooth dance flooor are supplying hours of good, clean fun to hundreds of local citizens.”

McKinley took the resources in 1945 to build a new floor, repair the bar and rearrange the entire layout.

“For the scores of Limaites, some teenagers and some adults, who frequent the bright roomy little club, this is good news. Although they must wait for completion of repairs, these persons are anxiously awaiting the first of the month, when they can talk and dance their cares away in spotless surroundings and on an improved dance floor,” a June 23, 1945, story reported.

McKinley sold to Esther L. Miller at the end of 1951, and she focused on being open seven days a week and offering proper meals. She also tried to market it as a place for private parties, with accommodation for up to 200 people.

And by that time, the musical taste had turned. Country was king, and the ads speak of “Hillbilly Jam Sessions” on Sunday afternoon and square dancing.

New owners Verne Henderson and Cyril Beeler continued in the country music vein, selling the venue to Leonard Combs for a year but again owning it by 1956. When it reopened, there was a 25-cent cover charge for square dancing. One weekend in 1956 featured the Eddie Neal String Band on Friday night and Happy Mitch and the Del Rio Boys on Saturday. Halloween brought costume parties, and New Year’s Eve saw dinner and dancing.

But someone sold liquor to a minor, and the bar was ordered closed for 14 days in February 1958. It apparently stayed closed awhile. The next owners, Rex and Marge Coffman, were in the news in 1962 for asking for the transfer of the Blue Circle’s liquor license. Rex Coffman had his own band. The Rex Coffman Combo played the Milano Club.

Then came a whirlwind of changes in ownership, even changes in its name. The Blue Circle became the Sopwith Camel — apparently a nod to the World War I era biplane (which happened to be flown by Snoopy) — and turned away from its country bent toward psychedelia. It was short lived. The venue became the Sand Box and turned again to country by the late 1960s.

Crow Sports Center was the final occupant, but that gun shop burned in 1971 and wasn’t rebuilt.

Blue Circle