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June 5, 2012 > History: Garden of Allah

History: Garden of Allah

Pacific Mushroom Company bought property one mile north of Niles on the Hayward-Oakland highway in December 1928. The Company was erecting the framework of a building about 60 x 100 feet to meet their needs in January 1929. The local paper reported that the first mushrooms were shipped from Niles May 30, 1929. Dances were also being held at that location, called "Garden of Allah," at this time.

A Social Dance was advertised for "the de Luce Ball Room of the Garden of Allah, Niles, for Saturday evening, July 13, 1929." Music was to be by Brady's six-piece orchestra. A note at the bottom of the ad read, "If you have not been attending these dances you sure have been missing a good time." This would indicate that dances had been held there during the past few months.

A dance advertised for August 29, 1931 featured the "Boy Fields Hot Foot Players, an Oakland Chevrolet Orchestra" and noted that dances were held every Saturday night; dances continued through the thirties. The Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored several dances here including a New Year's Dance in 1936.

Then things changed. An ad for a dance at the Niles Pavilion in 1948 noted that this was formerly the Garden of Allah. A 1949 ad for "The New Rollerhaven" noted that it was the former Garden of Allah. The famous dance hall was now a roller skating rink.

The dance hall and land were reported owned by Julio and Amalia Perugi who operated a mushroom farm in the big building behind the skating rink. "Mom and Pop White" ran the rink, checked out wood-wheeled skates and sold soft drinks to the kids.

Writers, of the 1950 edition of the History of Washington Township, noted only that the Pacific Mushroom Company was one of the industries that had come and gone by then. No other details were given.

Chuck and "Black Jack" Wayne bought the hall in 1950. They hired country artist Ed Cima to transform the Garden by painting cartoon cowboys and western scenes in a whimsical mural over the walls. He also hand painted the ceiling to look like the Taj Mahal. They tried to change the name but people wouldn't accept it, so it remained the Garden of Allah.

In its heyday, the Garden catered to rock and roll fans on Friday nights, country western lovers on Saturdays and square dancers on Sundays. People came from all over the Bay Area and beyond to fill the hall, especially when there were well-known artists there. It was said to be "the only country dance hall in the business." All the big western bands and stars came there. One writer referred to the hall in 1974 as "a forlorn white barn of a building." Residents recalled the mushroom sheds and damp manure piles behind the hall as a stinking mess.

A 1952 ad read, "Rollerhaven, Former Garden of Allah, will Feature Roller Skating Tuesday, Friday and Saturday Evenings. At unscheduled times the rink is open for special or private parties. "An ad for a 1952 dance featured "Cottonseed Clark's Down Home Jamboree with Ed Tate and His Western Band."

In 1957, the City of Fremont refused to issue a business license for "Garden of Allah, the Controversial Niles Highway nite spot," until the hall could meet city building code and fire-safety requirements. The building was still owned by the Wayne brothers at that time.

A New Year's Eve party was held at the Garden of Allah in 1964. Less than an hour after the party closed, a fire broke out and gutted the old wooden building. It took about 45 minutes for firemen to extinguish the blaze. The new snorkel fire truck saw its first duty at this fire. Chuck Wayne said that following the fire, he locked the door and didn't go inside for five years.

A 1974 article referred to another fire that further gutted the hall. "The bandstand was still in the corner. The hat-check cage and ticket booth were intact, but the roof was caved in, the windows were boarded over, and the dance hall was warped." Chuck recalled that these five acres were where he and his wife, Johnnie Ruth, had raised their three children and where he still had an office for his trucking business. The site was zoned industrial and for sale. The city received complaints and determined it was a "dangerous building." Chuck sold the property in 1982 and the building was demolished; the end of the famous "Garden of Allah."

The original source of the name Garden of Allah for the Niles site remains a mystery at this time although there are several possibilities. Robert Hichens, an English writer, published a novel in 1905 called Garden of Allah. The novel was adapted for a play in New York City in 1909. Stage and screen actress Alla Nazimora acted in the play in 1913 and built a mansion on Sunset Boulevard in 1919 known as "The Garden of Allah." She later expanded the property into a complex of villas that became home to many famous people.

Although we don't know the exact source of the name for the famous Niles dance hall, it was a popular and familiar site during its heyday.

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