Making New Memories
by Phil Houseal
July 11, 2012
It’s the place where many relationships started, and probably more than a few ended. It is Pat’s Hall, and it reopens this Saturday.
After trying for over a year to find out what was going on, I finally managed to coax owner Kathy Shearer into giving me a tour inside the brick walls that have seen generations of Fredericksburgers meet, drink, dance, and dream.
Walking inside again after three decades, I choked up. And it wasn’t just because of the construction dust as crews put in the finishing touches.
I myself am a vignette in the tabloid tales that took place inside Pat’s Hall, for I met my future (and reigning) wife there. I still remember playing drums on the stage that strangely encircled the giant oak tree. Band members played with their backs to each other, singing to a slice of the wheel of dancers passing by. I could pick the table where her parents and siblings sat, quietly checking to see if this bearded Yankee musician was good enough for their curly-haired daughter. (I must have passed the audition, for we celebrate our 30th this year.)
I am not alone in anxiously awaiting the reopening. Shearer started a Facebook page that quickly attracted more than 4,000 friends, all with the same question - when will it open and what will it look like?
It will open July 14, and it will look pretty much the same.
The cement tables are there. The iconic oak tree still shades the circular outdoor cement dance floor, ringed by more tables and the cinder block wall.
Sadly, they had to dismantle the stage that encircled the oak tree, as it was collaring the trunk. In the 2012 reincarnation, bands will set up in a courtyard beside the bar. And that courtyard boasts a historic touch. Shearer is inviting patrons to have individual bricks carved with personal messages. She has placed memorial pavers for each of the previous owners, along with one in the center commemorating the folks who perished in the Christmas Day fire in 1947.
Repurposing the sprawling property from book warehouse to event center has been more than a two-stepping journey. When Shearer decided to close her wholesale book company, it freed up space. After failing to find a suitable tenant, one of her employees suggested she reopen Pat’s Hall. The idea was not a new one to Shearer.
“My mother was raised here,” Shearer said. “I remember sleeping under these tables as a child.” Every week people would come in and ask if they could go sit at “their” table. “They would say ‘this is where we first met,’ or ‘this is where I kissed Susie.’ We saw the emotional attachment.”
(A little history: The hall was opened in 1928 by Otto and Meta Seipp, and known as Seipp’s Hall. John and Pauline Patranella bought it in 1953 changing the name to Pat’s Hall. Norman and Jeanie Christian took over in 1977, running it until Bill and Kathy Shearer purchased it in 1985 to house their business–Shearer Publishing. Bill Shearer passed away in 1996.)
So Kathy Shearer did the research and worked up a master plan. Her concept is to convert the hall into more of an event center. She envisions renting the facility for weddings, galas, fundraisers, conferences, and all kinds of parties. To that end she added restrooms and a catering kitchen, brought the building up to code, replaced all the wiring, and installed air conditioning and a sprinkler system.
Her goal is to have one major public dance a month, featuring a traditional country or western swing band where “people can dance every song.” She also plans to hold one afternoon “Sunday social” each month to accommodate those who no longer handle the late nights (me).
After the construction, the dust, the delays, and the anticipation, Kathy Shearer is eager to open the doors.
“I am ready for this,” she said. “I am just so excited about it all. I want to start having all these parties.”
She is especially gratified to have received the seal of approval from some very special people–the Patranellas. “They came here and were very pleased,” she said. “They told me, thank you for staying true to what it was.”
Even if you never set foot inside the old Pat’s Hall, Shearer believes it won’t take long for another generation to embrace the magic.
“Come on out and dance!” she said. “There is always a nice little breeze through here, even when it is hot everywhere else. Enjoy the tree; enjoy the stars at night.”
And start making memories of your own.