Last week’s column mentioned the old polo grounds on Military Trail, south of Palm Beach International Airport. The site served the arts as well.
Music and performance form an unlikely link between West Palm Beach and the Cleveland suburb of Warrensville Heights, Ohio.
Their common denominator: John L. Price, Jr., who operated the Musicarnival music-in-the-round tent theater in the two towns. Price died at 92 in June 2012, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Price, who also was a local weatherman, operated Musicarnival from 1957 to 1975 in Ohio and in winters from 1958 to 1964 at the polo grounds.
Patterning after his Ohio facility, Price created in Florida a 2,000-seat theater with 14 rows surrounding a revolving stage.
He brought in touring companies of popular Broadway shows such as “Carnival”, “Gypsy”, and “High-Button Shoes”, and also hired local actors for some of the roles as well as backstage jobs in the production.
“One of the most important functions of our theater is the advancement in the profession of (local) youngsters,” Price told The Palm Beach Post in October 1960.
In 1963, polo grounds owner Frederick Collin proposed a permanent concrete structure with “perfect acoustics” that would feature a restaurant and bar and bring acts as big as Liberace himself.
The facility also mulled a move to Lake Park.
But in 1964, at the end of Musicarnival’s seventh season, Price brought down the curtain. He cited losses of $600,000 — $500,000 from investors and $100,000 of his money. That’s nearly $4 million in 2013 dollars.
The tent arena later was used for wrestling matches and other shows.
As often happens, the denouement of the Musicarnival played out in court, with Price suing the polo grounds for $3,549 in disputed revenues. The archives don’t say how the case was resolved.
Shortly after Price shut down his Florida operation, he began shifting his Ohio site to variety shows and big name acts such as The Who and Tom Jones. He maintained his winter home in Lake Clarke Shores.
The good news for history lovers is that Price rarely threw anything out. The John L. Price Jr. Musicarnival Archives at the Cleveland Public Library contain 33,500 slides, 12,000 photographs, 32 scrapbooks, props and other materials, the Plain Dealer reported.
The archives soon will house complete audio recordings of more than 90 musicals and operettas presented at Musicarnival.
A performance of the musical “Carousel” at the Musicarnival, which operated from 1958 to 1964 in the old polo grounds, on Military Trail south of Southern Boulevard in suburban West Palm Beach. Photo courtesy the John L. Price Jr. Musicarnival Archives at the Cleveland (Ohio) Public Library.