A lighthearted and loving look back at the glory days of the Shady Dell, the historic haven for teenagers in York, PA, and the magnanimous couple that created it, John & Helen Ettline.
CLOSE YOUR EYES. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. OPEN YOUR HEART.
SHADY DEL KNIGHT, ADMINISTRATOR
High School Yearbook Photo
"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." Shady Del Knight
HELLO STRANGER ..... IT SEEMS LIKE A MIGHTY LONG TIME!
Monday, November 22, 2010
Dell Rat Feedback
Greg Gulden wrote:
Well here we are a few days from Thanksgiving Day. It's time to stop and look back at the past year and take time to think about the things we are truly grateful for. Your Blog is one of these things. It has helped me remember not only my time at the
Dell but also my time at York High and my teen years growing up in York. Thank you, Mr. Knight. I will continue to support you in the years to come and hope someday we can meet.
To Toni (Deroche), how can we as Dell Rats ever thank her enough for what she is doing? She gets my Dell Rat Hero of the Year award. I believe without her the house and barn would be gone by now. What she is doing with the old girl is far beyond anything we could have hoped for. It is due to people like you and Toni that the Dell will live on. Thank You and Happy Thanksgiving to You, Toni and all Dell Rats. A Dell Rat All Ways Greg Gulden
Greg, I thank you very much for this special holiday greeting and all of your kind and generous words! This blog was created for people like you who care and want to share. I am truly honored to have your support in my ongoing effort to keep alive the memories of John and Helen Ettline and the place they created for us, the Shady Dell.
I couldn't agree with you more that the Dell would probably have been reduced to a pile of rubble a long time ago had it not been for the wisdom, foresight and hard work of Toni Deroche and her family. We are all very fortunate that the Deroches bought the Dell and are doing so much to preserve and beautify it. It became obvious to me a long time ago that Toni and her family share our vision and our sense of history. Like you and I, they really care! Thank you again, Greg, for this special holiday message. You epitomize the finest qualities in a Dell rat!
“Words and photographs could never do those dancers justice because you had to be there - in a club with great music, like minded people and loads of atmosphere.” David Meikle of Glasgow, Scotland wrote those words in an article remembering the Twisted Wheel, the legendary northern soul club in Manchester, England. Yet, Mr. Meikle could just as easily have been describing the scene at my favorite "in" spot of the 1960s, the Shady Dell in York (Pennsylvania, not England).
THE SHADY DELL
The Shady Dell: Part of York County's Colorful History
What began as a home based restaurant and bakery in 1945 evolved over the next two decades into the hottest teen nightspot in York county complete with indoor and outdoor dance floors. It went beyond that. Shady Dell owner John Ettline and his wife Helen put out the welcome mat offering hospitality, comfort, support, and encouragement to generations of young people. During its impressive 45-year life span the Dell became a home away from home for countless area youth from a variety of backgrounds.
At the height of its popularity in the early and mid 60s the Dell, located on the southern outskirts of the White Rose city, was as widely known as North York’s White Oak Park ("the Oaks"), Harrisburg's Raven club, or any other youth-oriented venue in central Pennsylvania. The Dell attracted crowds from all over the region. It brought together under one roof kids from middle class families and kids from working class families - city kids, suburban kids, small town kids and farm kids.
The diverse cast of characters that constituted the Shady Dell family was a potentially volatile mix. Each of us had to find a way to fit in and get along (or risk being voted off the island). In the end, in spite of our differences, most of us learned to dance together without stepping on each other’s toes.
'Dell rats' as we were called had at least two things in common: a love of the music that played on the Dell’s jukebox and a genuine respect for John and Helen Ettline who graciously made their home our home.
GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
The Dell was a unique, magical coming of age experience - a proving ground - a secluded hideaway where adolescents could develop social skills, learn to handle responsibility, and test the waters of adulthood free from the hassles of ubiquitous adult micromanagement.
SHOCKING TRUE CONFESSION: I WAS A TEENAGE DELL RAT! by Shady Del Knight
I became a Dell rat in 1965 at the age of fifteen. Disparaging rumors about the place had been circulating for years. If you were to believe the gossip, the Dell was a snake pit where bad boys and bad girls went to do bad things. Some people, including my mother, referred to the Dell as a “den of iniquity.” Intrigued by the horror stories, I was determined to get there and see for myself what all the fuss was about.
In preparation for my grand entrance, I subjected myself to weeks of rigorous training at a Shady Dell boot camp of my own devise. I grew my hair longer and took up the smoking habit. I practiced in front of a mirror until I was convinced that my stance, walk, and dancing style were all cool.
To complete my extreme makeover, I went shopping for my 'uniform' which consisted of a tapered shirt from the Hub, slacks by H.I.S., and two wardrobe essentials: a pair of blue Jack Purcell sneakers and the all-important Baracuta jacket "Made in England." Wearing my 'Cuta' made me feel so terribly, terribly British, you know. Spot on for us bird watchin' blokes, right gov'na?
AN ABSOLUTE MUST...FOR DANCIN' ON DELL DUST!
THE CLASSIC NATURAL COLOUR BARACUTA
STRICTLY CONTINENTAL, MATE!
Moment of Truth: Boy Meets Dell
Too young to drive, I made my first Dell visit happen by bumming a ride one night with my college-age cousin and two of his buddies. Clearly, none of the above was thrilled to be babysitting.
As we drove past York Hospital on South George and headed toward Violet Hill, what began as giddy anticipation was turning to apprehension. Fear of the unknown started creeping into my brain. What if the rumors turned out to be true? Would I soon be sharing a needle with a gang of rowdy bikers?
At Violet Hill, we made a dogleg turn to the right and began climbing the narrow, winding and bumpy Starcross Road. By now, my breathing had become labored and I felt queasy. It was as if, on a foolish dare, I had agreed to spend the night with Vincent Price in his House on Haunted Hill. Was it too late to leap from the car and bolt?
"I See the Lights... I See the Party Lights..."
We rounded a bend and I caught my first glimpse of her a short distance up the road. Perched on the hillside was a three-story brick house and, down to the left, a barn. The festive glow of colored lights rose skyward from an area behind the house. The atmospheric illumination, as I would soon learn, originated from strings of lanterns hanging above a patio rigged with remote speakers for outdoor dancing.
We banked to make our final approach, and I detected the percussive beat of uptempo music that was emanating from the barn and terrace and projecting outward across the surrounding countryside. We turned left into a gravel parking lot that was overflowing with vehicles. Here, in all of her rustic splendor, stood the infamous Shady Dell, my destination for the evening and my obsession for years to come!
I Found My Thrill on Violet Hill
My heart was thumping as we climbed the steps that led to the entrance and approached the admission booth. Following my cousin’s lead, I slid a quarter through the window and looked up to see a balding, bespectacled old man grinning back at me. Old? John Ettline would have been 59 at the time. I'm older than that now. Yikes!
“Good evening, gentlemen!” John delivered his cheerful salutation in a booming baritone. Immediately, my anxiety vanished. John’s warm welcome made me feel right at home. It made me feel like I belonged. Although I didn’t get it at the time, John’s presupposition that we were "gentlemen" was a clever and tactful way of admonishing us to behave accordingly.
Toto, I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore!
From the moment I entered the compound, I was hooked. The Dell was a private playground for teenagers - a candy land - a fun factory - a safe haven where kids could congregate and blow off steam without having to worry about parents and teachers giving them the evil eye. Instantly, I became intoxicated - not by alcohol - but by a sense of total freedom. Moreover, there was a vibe in the air at the Dell that was completely new to me – an exhilarating blend of romance, adventure and danger!
Instead of placing a ton of restrictions on their young patrons, John and Helen granted us the independence teenagers crave. The Ettlines were willing to take a step back and trust our judgment. It was okay for us to party as long as things didn’t get out of hand. Most of us eagerly embraced that arrangement. If and when we screwed up, the Ettlines gave us another chance. John and Helen cut you plenty of slack, but if you disrespected them or trashed their establishment both were capable of unleashing a fiery temper.
Of Rats and Men
Contrary to popular belief, the Dell did not harbor gangs of juvenile delinquents eager to conceal their wicked deeds from law enforcement. Sorry, Mom - there weren’t any guns, switchblades or brass knuckles - no gangs, career criminals or prostitutes - just a bunch of ordinary teenagers who loved to meet, mix and mingle, dance and have fun.
Fights were few and far between. There was tacit agreement that it was our duty to preserve and protect the unique setting that the Ettlines had created for us. It required us to police ourselves to prevent incidents that would generate negative publicity or hassles with the law. Scuffles were settled quickly, often through John’s bold intervention. One of the first lessons a guy learned at the Dell was: don’t let the gray hair fool you - nobody messes with John - he’s the boss!
A Special Welcome to All Incoming Freshmen!
I got punched in the face three times during my first year of matriculation on the campus of the Shady Dell School of Hard Knocks. Apparently, a few of the guys were determined to teach me a lesson. Yet, such incidents could not dampen my enthusiasm or scare me away from the place. In fact, they had the opposite effect - they whet my appetite for more! As a Dell newbie desperate to break free of mom’s apron strings and earn respect and acceptance, I wasn’t about to let a bloody nose deter me. For the first time in my life, I felt like a man instead of a boy and I loved it. Just like Secret Agent Man, I was living a life of danger. I was addicted to the rush!
Determined to create an image that would allow me to blend in, appeal to the ladies, and avoid becoming a frequent target of the tribe's dominant males, I engaged in a good deal of posing, posturing and pretending. I decided that it would be advantageous for me to look tough, even though I wasn't. Whenever I strolled into the dance hall, I made sure that my hair was messed up, my shirt tail was hanging out, a lit cigarette was dangling from my lips, and my game face was on.
One afternoon before anybody else arrived, my best friend and I rolled around on the dance floor of the barn so that we could properly break-in our new Baracuta jackets by getting them coated with Dell dust. This drove my mother crazy. She kept asking me how I got my jacket so badly soiled. She was even more perplexed when I forbade her to get it cleaned. How could I explain to her that I didn’t want to risk weakening my status with the other guys by wearing a clean jacket?
In my mom’s day, the ideal guy wore a white sportcoat and a pink carnation. His hair was neatly cropped, oiled down and slicked back off his forehead. That look would have spelled social suicide at the Dell in the mid 60s. My goal was to look like I had just been in a fight at reform school, and if I got my uniform dirty or bloodied in combat, it was a GOOD thing.
Helen & John Ettline
Shady Dell Owners
Helen and John: Not Your Typical Mom and Pop
Even by mid 60s standards, John Ettline seemed part of a vanishing breed of men. John never called me by my first name. He always chose to address me as “Mr. Knight." John maintained that friendly formality through all the years I knew him. I’m very glad he did. John always made me feel important when he added the title “Mr.” to my name. Making insecure teenagers feel good about themselves was John’s greatest gift. He always treated young people with dignity and respect and that made them want to return it.
Along with his outstanding people skills, John possessed a photographic memory. He could always match a face with a name. He seemed to know a lot about anything or anybody that you happened to be discussing. John Ettline had a million stories to tell - all of them interesting.
Although old enough to be our grandparents, there was no generation gap between the Ettlines and their teenage guests. They seemed to remember better than other grown-ups what it was like to be young. John and Helen stayed in touch and in tune with the youth culture. Never was that more in evidence than one day at the York Fair in September, 1968. I was sitting in the grandstand awaiting the start of the James Brown concert. I turned around to search the crowd for familiar faces and there, a few rows behind me, sat Helen and John. In a year when racial tension was running high in York and elsewhere, it was remarkable to see a white couple in their 60s at a James Brown concert, chanting along with the rest of us, “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud!”
John and Helen were cool. Young people felt at ease talking with them. Unlike many adults, John and Helen listened to us. They cared without preaching or judging. The Ettlines treated their teen visitors like extended family. They believed in the potential of every young person, including troubled youth from broken homes. They spoke to us about the value of an education and honest hard work. They sponsored athletic programs and honored America’s armed forces. They shaped young lives by instilling a sense of pride and self esteem. John and Helen went out of their way to make all of their kids feel like somebody - even those whose families were telling them they were nobody.
The Dell Jukebox: ALL KILLER AND NO FILLER!
Upon arriving on the Dell scene, I soon realized that the jukebox in the barn was loaded with the greatest, most danceable records to be found anywhere. There were quite a few songs that I had never heard before, and would never hear anywhere else. The music that played nightly at the Dell was consistently better than that being played on top 40 radio. During the mid 60s, the musical menu at the Dell was a combination of Motown, northern soul, blue-eyed soul, Memphis sound, southern r&b, British beat, girl group, American pop and folk-rock, plus a few do-wop favorites held over from the 50s.
Shady Dell regulars prided themselves on having radar for cool. Year in and year out, they discovered and popularized songs that radio stations across the country had somehow overlooked. Records that lingered near the bottom of the national chart often became cherished classics at the Dell. Forgotten flips were elevated to mega-hit status by Dell rats unfettered by the limitations of radio play lists.
Certain songs resonated with the Dell crowd to such an extent that they remained on the jukebox for years. The best example of this phenomenon is the song that I picked as #1 on my survey of the 200 Greatest Hits Of The Shady Dell. That song was still one of the most popular selections on the Dell’s jukebox a dozen years after its initial release in the 50s! That very special song, the greatest and longest lasting Shady Dell hit of all time, was "Close Your Eyes" by the Five Keys!
THE FIVE KEYS
"Close Your Eyes" Ranked #1
Del-Chords & Magnificent Men
Another mighty evergreen at the Dell was "Everybody’s Gotta Lose Someday," an intense, power-packed r&b/soul ballad by the Del-Chords, a racially mixed group from York. Released in 1964, the record was still being played heavily two years later, jamming the floor with slow dancers several times a night. Dave Bupp and Buddy King, lead vocalists from the Del-Chords, eventually merged with band members from Harrisburg’s Endells to form the blue-eyed soul group, the Magnificent Men. The “Mag Men,” as we called them, were white guys who had a passion for black music and the vocal talent and musicianship to authentically perform it. Their awesome, inspirational ballad "Peace of Mind" became the first in an impressive string of Dell hits for our hometown heroes.
HEAVY HITTERS AT THE DELL!
The Emperors of Harrisburg
Records by the Emperors, another home-grown act, were also enormously popular with Dell dancers. A black group from the state capital, the Emperors were exponents of the “Harrisburg sound,” a blend of r&b, soul, garage and Latin influences. "Karate," the Emperors’ best known recording, was the first of eight raw, funky, organ-driven numbers to achieve hit status at the Dell in 1966 and 1967.
DELL ROYALTY - THEY RULED!
End of an Era
Once addicted to the Dell, I pretty much lived there until the fall of 1967 when I left York to attend an institution of higher learning. Over the next four years, I visited my Dell family whenever possible during holidays, spring breaks, and summer vacations. My stint as a Dell rat officially ended in 1971 when I found a job in another city and moved away from York for good.
My final visit to the Dell came in March of 1984 when my career took me out of state. My last piece of business before leaving was to drop in at the Dell and say a final goodbye. I entered the house to find John sitting on a stool at the lunch counter reading the newspaper. “Well, hello stranger!” John bellowed, rising to his feet and extending his hand. “Long time no see, Mr. Knight!" After shaking hands with John and exchanging a few pleasantries, I inquired about Helen. I was stunned to learn that she had passed away a few weeks earlier. I never got the news! John and I stood alone in Helen’s snack bar, reminiscing about the good old days and lamenting how much things had changed since the Dell’s golden era.
After a brief chat, I excused myself and walked down the sidewalk to check out the barn. The old dance hall was dimly lit and nearly vacant. The only customers were two boys with shoulder length hair standing by the jukebox with a couple of girls. No music was playing. The place was dead - or at least in the final lonely stages of life. If it had been twenty years earlier, the joint would have been jumpin’. The four young people eyed me suspiciously. Is this guy a narc? I put myself in their combat boots and realized that the sight of a stranger in his mid thirties was probably making this new generation of Dell rats uncomfortable. I promptly exited the barn and returned to the house to bid farewell to John.
That night marked the last time I ever saw John or entered the Shady Dell. I made one final pilgrimage in 1988 when I returned to Pennsylvania to visit my parents. I drove up to the Dell one afternoon with every intention of going inside. I’m sure I would have encountered a smiling John Ettline who would have immediately remembered my name. Yet, I never got out of the car. I chose not to enter because I didn’t want to further contaminate my memories by seeing how much older John looked and how much more dilapidated the Dell had become. All I could do was sit there in the parking lot gazing at the barn, the house, the bench, and the steps to the admission booth where the whole journey started. My mind flooded with a thousand memories of the people, the place, and the time of my life.
John Ettline closed the Dell in the fall of 1991. He died at the beginning of 1993. John’s family auctioned off the restaurant equipment, signage and other Dell paraphernalia in the spring of that year.
(Mike Argento's 1993 article in the York Daily Record was used as a reference source for portions of this cover story.)
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