Tretheways visit Tretheway Pavilion in Spearfish

Nathan Steele

On May 15 Bill Tretheway, his wife, Margaret, and some of their friends made a trip to Spearfish to remember his family’s part in preserving a piece of South Dakota’s history. They went to visit the Wilbur S. Tretheway Pavilion, named after Bill’s father.
At one time, the pavilion brought many of the biggest names in American music to the Black Hills and people came from a wide vicinity to attend concerts and dances held there. Such acts include the Everly Brothers, the Ronettes, Chubby Checker, Buddy Holly’s Crickets and Jerry Lee Lewis, just to name a few. The Tretheway Pavilion is now used for all kinds of community events and receptions, but only after a major effort was made to save it from demolition back in the 1980s.
Once named the Spearfish Pavilion, it was renamed in 2008 after Wilbur Tretheway, who was at one time the mayor of Spearfish, was heavily involved in the effort to save the pavillion from demolition. Judy Larson, who recently died, did much of the work in the process of renaming the Spearfish Pavillion to the Tretheway Pavilion, and it was with her husband Lennis Larson the Tretheways and other friends (Bob and Cozy Dorton and Reed and Beth Haug) came to visit the pavilion to share stories, learn about the pavilion’s history and appreciate the decades of hard work and care that have gone into preserving a piece of South Dakota history, as well as rock and roll history.
The Haugs have been good friends with Judy and Lennis Larson, and also have many years of friendships with the Tretheways and the Dortons. Margaret, Cozy, and Beth worked together many years in the Custer area promoting education with children and their families.
Beth connected conversations she had years ago with Judy Larson and also with Bill Tretheway to know that each of them had an important connection to the historic Pavilion. She knew that Lennis needed to share his knowledge about the building’s history with Bill Tretheway, who knew much of his father’s life was intertwined with the building. Bill, his father and his grandfather had all played music there with dance bands over many decades. Beth shared her idea with Cozy and that began the process of creating this gathering for friends at the pavilion.
Since Bill’s younger years a lot has changed in the facility. He remembers going to dances, which were frequently held there, and even attending some big-name concerts. Bill said that acts would often stop in Spearfish between larger concerts in Denver and Minneapolis. In the 1960s, these big dances held there would draw thousands of young people in the area.
“We saw the Ventures, the Crickets and the Everly Brothers. They had some real big musicians that would come in,” said Bill.
The pavilion was built in the 1920s, and back in those days it was used for all kinds of things from roller skating to boxing. As time progressed, it began to be used more and more for dancing and music. Wilbur Tretheway was a big band musician with he Henry Phillips Band, and even played in the pavilion prior to his years as mayor of Spearfish. By the 1970s, heating the old white clapboard building proved difficult and expensive and the pavilion happened upon hard times.
“It was kind of getting to the end of its life,” said Tretheway.
In the ’80s, Tretheway successfully campaigned to save the pavilion as mayor of the town. A 2002 article in South Dakota Magazine by Paul Higbee recalls, “he dubbed hemself ‘the begging mayor’ because he was prepared to plead for labor and materials to save the building,”
“He dug into that and got the community behind it,” said Bill Tretheway.
In that same article, local musician Gary Mule Deer recalls some of the excitement of the pavilion’s glory days. Mule Deer recalled for Higbee when Jerry Lee Lewis played there as “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was popular: “Mule Deer and a friend  sat outside the pavilion listening to that song on the radio, then turned the radio off to listen to Lewis playing it live.”
In a way, the pavilion brought the whole world to the relatively isolated Black Hills. The Ronettes were very popular, but also intriguing as people in South Dakota and Wyoming seldom saw black people.
At the recent tour of the pavillion, Larson shared several news stories about the pavilion over the years and that research helped to focus the conversation on the importance of the building to the community. Bill also supplied articles his family had saved that had been written about pavilion events—especially the bands that played there in the ’60s and ’70s.
Fifteen years ago, in May of 2009, the pavilion was recognized for its role in South Dakota rock and roll history as it was inducted to the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association Hall of Fame.

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