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UPDATED: The story behind those Beach Boys photos at Saltair

14 Jun

The Beach Boys at Saltair circa 1968 (via Google Images)

GREAT SALT LAKE, CIRCA 1968—

The exact dates are fuzzy, but Bill Hesterman, Jr. and his younger brother Dave remember their first trip to Saltair like it was yesterday.

It was early on a Saturday afternoon when their father, Bill Hesterman, Sr., pulled the family’s red Toyota Land Cruiser off Highway 40 and aimed it toward the lake’s southern shore.  There, at the end of a mile-long trestle, stood Saltair—the world-famous “Lady of the Lake.”

Or Saltair’s ghost, at least.

The historic resort had been deserted for nearly a decade.  The locked gate at the trestle’s entrance was a half hearted formality.  The Utah State Parks Commission, to which the resort had been donated in 1959, had neither the resources to maintain the iconic pavilion nor an interest in restricting access to it.  Saltair hosted throngs of recreationists and big-name musical acts for nearly 60 years before it succumbed to the elements, extraordinary operating costs, and an ever-receding shoreline.  Now the dilapidated Moorish edifice appealed only to urban explorers and tourists who pined for its glory days.

It was those glory days that brought the Hestermans to Saltair that day.  Bill and Dave sat in the back seat.  Riding shotgun was The Beach Boys founding member Al Jardine, who was in town with his band mates to play a concert at Lagoon later that evening.   Jardine was stoked to explore Saltair.  Bill and Dave were stoked to be hanging out with their rock idol.  Hesterman shifted into 4-wheel-drive, hopped the railroad tracks and cruised the alkaline mile out to the ghost resort.

The Beach Boys stand on pier pylons behind the abandoned Saltair Pavilion (via Google Images)

Even casual Beach Boys fans know the band’s connection to Utah runs deep.  It’s well known that the band’s 1964 hit “Fun, Fun, Fun” was inspired by Salt Lake City teenager Shirley Johnson England, daughter of KNAK radio station owner Howard Johnson, who took her father’s Ford Thunderbird and naughtily cruised State Street.  And of course there’s the 1965 song, “Salt Lake City.”  The Beach Boys played Lagoon seven times during their formative years are set to headline BYU’s Stadium of Fire Independence Day celebration next month.

So what brought The Beach Boys to Utah in the first place?  How did little ol’ SLC become The Beach Boys second home?

It all started in the early 60’s when Hesterman, then a DJ and general manager of KNAK Radio, played a rough Beach Boys demo tape on the air.  “Daddy-O,” as Hesterman was known on-air, was likely the first disc jockey to play a Beach Boys record on radio outside of California.

And Utah listeners were smitten.  As the fledgling band’s sunny lyrics and rich harmonies began to define the surf rock genre, Hesterman promoted them heavily.  He arranged several Beach Boys concerts at Lagoon and later toured with the band in Europe.

Jardine reflected on those early Lagoon concerts in a 2010 interview in Goldmine Magazine:

“It was a magical time. It was like being in a time warp (I think). It felt like we were back in the 1940s and ’50s doing these big ballroom dances, which were so popular in that era.

“We set attendance records every year … it became an annual affair. That’s the kind of vibe we were having with our fans and [even] the promoters at that time. Everybody was pretty happy with The Beach Boys. It was reciprocal feeling, and we always set attendance records.”

He also talked about Hesterman:

“Bill Hesterman was the deacon in the Mormon Church — he never prophet-eltized (sic) or tried to push his particular faith on us. He was just a normal guy with a great radio voice and just promoted the heck out of The Beach Boys. That spilled over to the promoting of the Lagoon.”

Hesterman was actually a Mormon Bishop at the time, but I think we can cut Jardine some slack.

He became good friends with band and their manager, Murry Wilson (also the father of band members Brian, Dennis, and Carl).  When the Hesterman family traveled to California, they visited the Wilsons.  When the band was in Salt Lake, they hung out with the Hestermans.  While the tune “Salt Lake City” was a public tribute to their Utah fans, it was written in Hesterman’s honor.  And although “Barbara Ann” wasn’t written by The Beach Boys, they often dedicated SLC performances of it to Hesterman’s wife, Barbara.

The Hesterman children were given tour jackets and backstage passes to Beach Boys concerts, and were sometimes introduced by their father on stage.

Bill, Dave, and their younger brother Mark grew especially close to Al Jardine.

“I remember him picking me up as a little kid and holding me in his arms,” Mark Hesterman recalled during a phone interview earlier this week.  “He always seemed to be well grounded, just a regular guy.”

Bill “Daddy-O” Hesterman remained close friend of the band until he passed away in 1996, and his sons still keep in touch.

But back to that Saturday at Saltair.

According to Dave, the outing had been Jardine’s idea.  He had heard about the resort growing up and was intrigued by its musical heritage.  With the Lagoon concert several hours off, Jardine saw an opportunity.  They’d have plenty of time to tour the old pavilion before join up with the other Beach Boys for the concert.

They spent two hours wandering the pavilion and exploring underneath.  They climbed the grand staircases.  They walked to the middle of the dance floor, which for decades was the largest unobstructed dance hall in the United States.  They stood there for a while, just to take it in.  This was the place where generations of Utahns danced, fell in love, and thrilled to the music of the Mills Brothers, Phil Harris, and Nat King Cole.

“You felt like the ghosts of the bands were in the background,” Bill Jr. recalled.

Saltair featured the largest unobstructed dance floor in the U.S. (Utah Historical Society)

Though it was certainly run down, Bill Jr. said the old pavilion’s infrastructure seemed plenty solid—perhaps fully restorable with proper funding.

Leaving Saltair proved difficult when the Cruiser high centered on the railroad tracks.

“We were stuck out there in no-man’s-land,” Dave laughed.

Everybody got out and started to dig.  They tried rocking the Cruiser and using a railroad tie for leverage.  They worked for over an hour, racing against the clock and the darkening clouds and the next passing train.  Bill Sr. was fretful.  Jardine, according to Bill Jr., “thought it was great sport.”

They finally freed the cruiser and sped to Lagoon, arriving late to an anxious crowd.  With no time to clean up, Jardine joined his band mates on stage covered in Great Salt Lake mud.  By all accounts, the concert was great.

When Jardine told the other Beach Boys about Saltair, their interest was piqued.  It was decided (with a measure of reluctance from Bishop Hesterman) that they would all return to Saltair on Sunday for a photo shoot before leaving town on Monday.  On Sunday afternoon Hesterman, the band, and a photographer loaded into the Cruiser and drove west (Bill Jr. and Dave didn’t make the trip; Hesterman insisted they stay home and attend church services).

The cover of Unsurpassed Masters, Vol. 19 (via Google Images)

As reported in last week, the photos taken that day were featured on a European repackage of Today! and a later Sea of Tunes bootleg release.  The guy in the middle of the cover shot?  Yep, that’s Bill “Daddy-O” Hesterman.

Aside from those photos, little is known about the trip or the photographer.  Calls to Al Jardine’s manager were not immediately returned (no shock there; the band is on tour and this is a modest blog).  But Jardine did mention the trip in the same Goldmine Interview:

“In 1968, Bill took us out to the Salt Flats out there at another old ballroom called the Salt Palace that had since — literally — started to fall into the Salted Sea in the Great Salt Lake. In the 1940s, there was a dance hall out there. The lake shrank away and Bill thought it would be a great place to have pictures taken. So we were sitting on pier pylons and goofing around in the sand out there. You can imagine that the Salt Palace was a hell of a place, and it must have really rocked… The Lagoon was our Salt Palace.”

Okay, so his names are off (the Salt Palace is a convention center in downtown SLC and I’m not sure what he’s referring to with the “Salted Sea”), but it has been about 44 years.  His comparison of Saltair to Lagoon is interesting since the two resorts were fierce competitors until the former’s demise.  Lagoon had solid local appeal, but Saltair was a nationwide destination and was frequently dubbed the “Coney Island of the West.”  The pavilion’s ornate Moorish design and location nearly a mile offshore gave it grand, almost ethereal presence.   This setting, combined with the popularity of saltwater swimming and the resort’s massive dance hall, made Saltair THE concert destination.    Had The Beach Boys been around even a decade earlier, they would have certainly played Saltair.

But their rise in prominence coincided with the end of the Saltair era and the beginning of Lagoon’s heyday.  Lagoon, as Jardine aptly points out, was the Beach Boys’ Saltair.  How appropriate that they, thanks to Bill “Daddy-O” Hesterman, were able to visit both over the same weekend!

——-

Those same pylons today (photo by Clint Thomsen)

Click here for my previous stories about Saltair.

UPDATE:  Just for fun, a few more photos from a visit on 3/13/2015:

IMG_9783 IMG_9785 IMG_9786Saltair Location

 

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24 responses to “UPDATED: The story behind those Beach Boys photos at Saltair

  1. Steven Anderson

    August 25, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Real cool story here. Some of these color photos appeared in a 1977 book on the Beach Boys I found later at a DI store.

    I take it you are aware of an old cult movie called CARNIVAL OF SOULS which was filmed around SLC & around & inside the decrepid Saltair grounds & pavillion in the first & second week of October, 1961 ?

    Fascinating!

     
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  11. Larry Jacobs

    June 18, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Great read…..but being around back in the KNAK glory years Bill was called “Big Daddy Bill Heasterman”. Also a little trivia here, the Salt Palace dance floor was raised slightly in the middle so as dancers danced they would rotate counter clock wise around the floor without being aware of it. Band stands on opposite sides of the hall made sure the bands could break and still have continues music. The big middle Eastern looking domes on the building were actually water tanks that were filled with water brought out on the Salt Lake Garfield railroad. I spent many fun days at the abandoned site. We even used to ride the electric scooter cars on the beach being pulled by a truck.

     
    • Steven Steele

      March 10, 2015 at 4:02 am

      I just read your post on Salt air. How did you pull the scooter cars on the beach with a truck
      without sinking ? I always was amused when I warned people not to drive on the beach because
      their vehicles would sink. Then when they ignored the warning and got stuck I just shook my
      head. I know of one company that could drive across that beach without sinlking. I even saw
      tow trucks that had went out to pull out a car and got stuck also. I think the company that owned
      the tow truck that could go anywhere on the lake came from the salt compamy located between
      Salt air and the city. I remember a cop driving accros the lake bed to see what my friends and I
      were doing out there. He seemed annoyed when I explained that we were not trespassing and
      belonged to the S.O.S. group. I told him I had a key to the gate out by the highway and offered to
      go unlock it so that he could leave on that old road rather than back across the beach. He
      declined and got half way back and got stuck. Being young at the time, we were all cracking up
      about the cop stuck in the mud. Eventually he managed to get out but I!m sure his patrol car
      needed a major cleaning.
      What year or years did you frequent Salt air ? Between 1966-67 I was out there probably 2 or 3
      times a week. Perhaps our paths crossed. Did you climb up through the hole in ceiling to see
      those wooden tanks that held the water? I have slept out on the roof by that tower. We camped
      there because we figured if vandals or a bunch of people you wouldn’t!t what to run into in
      the middle of the night at an abandoned amusement park –we would be safe because nobody
      would be able to find us. We did scare the living hell out of people a couple of times . Anyway it
      was nice to read about your thoughts on Salt air. Not very many people in this country can say
      that when they were young they hung out in an abandoned amusement park.
      GREAT TIMES

      Steven O. Steele

       
    • Steven Steele

      March 10, 2015 at 4:59 am

      Ever since I found this web site I keep remembering things about Saltair. You mentioned the D.J. at
      KNAK, who I didn’t know but I knew Bob Barnett of KUER radio. I will always remember this guy
      because he invited my friends and I down to his station on Social Hall Avenue to hear the Beatles
      album SGT PEPPERS LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND that hadn!t been released yet. We were major
      Beatle fans so it was an awesome night. So the four of us along with Bob Barnnet were the first
      people in Utah to hear it. I remember my mouth dropping when he showed us the inside album
      cover in their Sgt Pepper attire and the even longer hair and mustaches. In retrospect , their hair
      wasn!t long at all and except for the hair under the nose they could pass for missionaries today. It
      really was a long time ago, but that album still remains a classic !

       
      • Larry Jacobs

        March 10, 2015 at 12:56 pm

        I was working on “Film Row” at Knight-Conley Photo Reproduction at that time. KCPX had a showcase window outside their studio where they would promo albums they were playing. They brought in the cover to that album and had me blow it up to poster size for the window. I made me an extra poster and had it around for years.
        A note on the bumper cars at Saltair. As ham radio operators we would set up a portable radio station out there once a year in a contest called “Field Day”. For entertainment we tied a rope to one of the bumper cars would tow it up and down the beach behind a pickup taking turns riding it.

         
    • Steven Steele

      March 10, 2015 at 6:49 am

      Earlier I made a remark about DJ Bob Barnett working at KUER. Afterwards I thought that couldn’t”
      be correct because KUER was out in Murray. The station we went to was on Social Hall Avenue on
      the south side of the street. Not sure, but perhaps it was KCPX. I guess it doesn’t matter but it was
      in 1967, …..long long long time ago. But for me it was a terrific and memorable year. Bob Barnett –
      Dennis Drake – Ravou Hewitt – June Corey – and Sgt Pepper……

       
  12. John Hesterman

    September 4, 2014 at 2:48 am

    Yep! That was my Uncle Bill :-)

     
  13. Steven Steele

    March 6, 2015 at 6:44 am

    Your article on Salt air was very interesting. It was refreshing to read something that wasn”t filled with incorrect history. When I was 17 yes old I fell in love with Salt air and began collecting
    history and memorabilia about the resort. I have a piece of the maple dance floor. When I was young I was so obsessed with Saltair that when I was drafted, I wore a medal tag with SALTAIR and
    a number on it. Originally it was from a clothing locker. I took my piece of flooring with me when
    I was sent to Vietnam. I will be 67 yes old in April so that was quite a long time back. It was there
    I found out when fire destroyed the Pavilion. A friend sent me the newspaper article. The fire was
    arson , ignited by gallons and gallons of gasoline. Before the fire a group called SAVE OUR SALTAIR headed by Sheldon R. Brewster were able to raise a little money to try and restore Salt air
    and some work had already begun. Mr Brewster was a wonderful person and worked so hard to
    make that happen. There was another individual named Scot *. ******** that in my opinion was a
    bit shady. From the beginning there was something I didn’t care for about this guy. Funny thing,
    years later I was at a bar in Salt Lake with some items of Salt air with me and a person I had never
    met asked me if I knew Scot *. ******** from Ogden who had been involved with the S.O.S group ?
    (S.O.S Save Our Salt air). He said this guy bragged that he burned the Pavilion down because he
    couldn’t!t account for money he had collected and claimed he had purchased items for restoration
    that conviently was destroyed in the blaze. Personally, I believe this is what happened but no one
    can really say. Myself, I had my own problems. I had
    several volumes of pictures and history stolen from me. I had put these books I made of Saltair together they were taken by a gal who claimed they were destroyed in a fire. These books wereictured in a 1966 Tribune article about my hobby. That’s another story. Your article on the
    BeachBoys was very interesting to me and something I wasn’t” aware of. Anyway, THANKS again
    for the great story. Also, the old railroad car? This must have been taken out there by the railroad
    later because it wasn’t! located at Salt air when the resort was abandoned. As a kid I had keys to
    the old gate that you used to drive down the road. Back then all the old rail cars to Salt air were
    parked down on North Temple by the. electric co. By the way I was on the last train to Saltair and
    have old black and white pictures of that day. My favorite personal photos show me perched on
    the side of the south Moorish tower. I am so tiny it illustrates how mammoth that place was. And
    another kneeling on the outside rim of the building. REALLY STUPID and dangerous. Those towers
    each contained gigantic barrols for storing fresh water. They were as big as the whole tower.
    Well, I have rambled on long enough. That shows how much I enjoyed reading your input.
    Thanks again
    Steven O. Steele

     
  14. Steven Steele

    March 9, 2015 at 12:38 am

    Thank you for your remarks. After I got your message I tried calling the number, but I couldn’t reach you (wrong number ?). I would enjoy meeting you or talking with your. The internet is
    something I am just barely learning, because I was always too busy with my
    music to bother to learn. I am in no way talented but I’ve always collected music
    and I like making my own CDs playing the songs in the order I like by different artists.
    I bought the 1st CD recorder sold in Utah way back in the 90’s (and several more over the years.)
    But now I guess that’s getting obsolete.
    What did you want to know about Salt air?
    When I was young I met an old guy named C. Lamont Felt and he told me about when he was
    young and the lst Salt air. As a kid he started his own
    business selling sounvineers on the train to all the tourists. He sold little items made of salt. He
    would take wire and let the salt water pour over it until the salt formed in something solid. So you
    could make little figurines. I used to have one I bought in Olympus Cove Antiques in the 70s. The
    owner originally had 2 but one was really dirty and she put it in the dishwasher, not knowing what
    it was made of and couldn’t! figure out where it went. The first Save Our Salt air meetings were
    held in his store Felt Electric. This was the store on 1st south between State and main. They are
    still in business today but on 33rd so. Mr. Felt was probably in his mid 80’s when he passed away
    in the 1970s. He used to tell me about Salt air. Oh’ by the way there was another old red brick
    building next to his store that housed the offices of Salt air. I’m pretty sure that building is still there. I don’t!t think they tore it down because its an historical site. In the back of the building is the Salt air safe and it says Salt air on the front and there is a drawing of the lst resort with those
    long piers.
    Here is some trivia that I don’t! know if your aware of. On the front of the pavilion was a large ‘S’
    that stood for not only Salt air’ , but Lorenzo Snow one of the founders and the north side and south
    side have “C” for George Q. Cannon and an “H’ for C.W. Howell. Earlier I mentioned that a lot of items I once owned were stolen from me and that included some Salt air documents with Snows
    signature on them. There also were other Salt air documents with another Môrman signature on it,
    but I can’t recall who it was at the moment. I”m sure I will think of who that was later. I do still have
    some concession stand legal documents for housing different business”s. I’ll have to go drag them out. I think they were from the 1926 season, but I’m not sure. When I was beginning to do
    all my research on Salt air there wasn’t hardly any information about the place. I watched the news
    video of the fire the other night. I was in Vietnam when it burned so I had never seen it before. I had
    previously seen a few seconds of footage here and there, but that was really rough for me to take in!
    I also was amused by the picture on the internet of the collisium. Prior to that I had only seen a
    very small picture black and white one. As a kid I was always trying to find anything I could. Once,
    a lady at the historical society took me down in the basement to see an old panting of Salt air. This
    was when the historical society was in the Kearns mansion which now is the
    goveners mansion. It hung on the wall of the bowling alley Mr. Kearns had in the basement. Also’
    did you know that at one time actual bullfights were held in the Salt air collisium?
    Before I forget, I forgot to mention that the salt knick-knacks Mr. Felt made were done in a spring
    slightly north of the pavilion. It was still trickling water the last time I saw it. The water isn!t as dense as the lake’ but you couldn’t!t drink it. I don’t! know if people try and find dishes from any
    other place than where the Old Ship Cafe stood’ but I used to find all kind of
    bottles in a different area. They were really old ones that were made of heavy glass and required
    corks. I still have pictures of a big find of about 20 that hadn’t been broken. I can”t remember who I
    gave them too but I no longer have them. I also have a photo of my friend and I (high school age)
    and we had gone out to Salt air and brought back this giant medal cup. It was about 4 ft tall and
    3 ft around and weighed a ton. We hauled it out clear to the road on some boards we nailed roller
    skates to. This was before skate boards were around. My friends no, kept it in her flower garden
    for years and it ended up in one of her relatives barns on vine street by Murray Park. I”d be curious
    to know its final fate after the chicken coop met its end. Here is some more trivia before I wind this
    up. You know the picture of the swimmers by the big barrol floating on front of the pavilion? That
    was actually two photographs put together. The swimmers picture was actually taken by the north
    bathing house and the sign on that tub that reads SALTAIR was drawn in. I do have a very beautiful
    lithograph of the same picture. It hangs on my bedroom wall’ but suffered water damage in the Salt
    Lake torronado of 1999_ Someday I will have to get it repaired. Also need to mount my piece of
    the dance floor because I think its the only one that exists.
    I am looking forward to actually talking to you. My phone # is 801-654-1963.
    I am curious to know how you bacame so fascinated by a building you never got to see. When I
    was very little I went to Salt air when it was still open and the only thing I remember was I was too
    short to look over the side wall to see my cousin riding the bumper cars. When I returned to the
    abandoned resort as a teen in 1965, that wall wasn!t high up at all. Some of the bumper cars were
    still there however. When I walked into the pavilion I couldn’t figure out what it was. I thought it
    was a giant bowling alley. The fum house was there but pretty stripped down.
    One last thing I just remembered…(bare with me, its been a long time)…..The items created out
    of salt were modeled after a procedure used in the original Salt Palace located on 9th So. and State
    which burned down in 1910 and like Salt air the architect was Richard Kletting. I have an old postcard of that place. Until later –
    Steven O. Steele
    P.S.
    The sos in my wen site was for Save Our Salt air
    and my name.

     
  15. Steven Steele

    March 9, 2015 at 5:38 am

    Thanks for updating me with your current phone number. Perhaps I will give you a call next weekend. You got my mind on Salt air so much that later tonight I started rummaging threw some
    old photos and a lot more memories came floating back. I found a photo of myself standing on the
    big ‘S! on top of the center arch. I remember how scary it was because of how high up I was and
    so close to the edge. Sure wouldn’t! do something like that now. That triggered another thought.
    Years ago my friends and I found the decoration that originally was on top of the ‘S’. It was taken
    down years before the resort closed. Exactly when, I’m not sure. It was probably taken down shortly after the pavilion was constructed because it drew lightning strikes. I”m not really sure. But
    it was made of steel that held up large cement circles. The cement contained broken bottles and
    small pieces of glass. I guess the glass made the piece sparkle. It was very heavy so I would
    imagine its still where we last seen it. It was about a city block from the resort so I would imagine
    it was dumped in the lake when the water was high. Salt air was built on a peninsula of sodium
    sulfate and was the only place on the Great Salt Lake that could hold the weight of the pavilion. I
    found a lot of pictures of parts of resort that were put in at a later date and they show where the
    cement floor had given way and there were big holes in the cement. But the first pilings came from Spanish Fork canyon (if I remember correctly ) and they were as sturdy as the day they steamed them into the lake bed. The Salt air I remember was rebuilt on the same pilings as the
    previous one destroyed in the 1925 fire. I found a lot of snapshots of the places around Salt air
    I remember. I found some old photos of the Save Our Salt air meetings and the people who attended them. Again, I have you to thank for for sparking some old thoughts about Salt air. One
    of these days I need to go down to the historical society and have them make me a copy of the
    article the Tribune did on my hobby. The article was titled ‘A SALT SCENTED DREAM’ because I
    can!t find the one I had. I know they have one in their newspaper collection that I seen years ago.
    That’s enough nostalgia for me today.
    Steven O. Steele

     
  16. Steven Steele

    March 11, 2015 at 2:49 am

    Clint. Its been less than a half hour since I spoke with you. But after I hung up I was hunting the
    Instructions for my phone and found another big envelope and it had more photos of Salt air. On
    the top of the stack was a picture of Jay Slaughter out at antalope island. More arial shots of
    Salt air. Now I’m beginning to think Jay gave them to me around 1968. I’ve always been a nostalgia buff and a pack-rat. Somewhere around here I have some old color slides of Salt air too.
    Later
    Steven 0. Steele

     
    • Steven Steele

      March 20, 2015 at 2:25 am

      This afternoon I found a document dated May 18, 1922 . This was an agreement between
      T.S. Williams and the SALTAIR BEACH COMPANY in which Mr. Williams agreed to pay Salt air 60%
      of his gross earnings for a concession known as the Midnight Sun. This was located between the shooting gallery and the photo gallery. Salt air paid the light and power. Don’t have any idea what
      the Midnight Sun was. The agreement expired Sep.7 1922. 93 years ago , so just another piece of
      Great Salt Lake trivia.
      Steven O. Steele

       

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