In this postcard, the Boston Society Orchestra has set up their sign on the stage of the Music Hall, known as the Weirs Summer Ball Room. Note the intentional similarity of the band’s name to the famous Boston Symphony Orchestra! This Orchestra featured vocalist Larry Holton, and was one of the earliest big band dance bands. The band had several recordings available on vinyl 78 records, on the Jewel and Oriole labels.
Knowing that the great Weirs Beach fire of 1924 started at the Music Hall, the webmaster speculates that perhaps the material hanging from the ceiling shown in this photo might have been very combustible. But this was not the cause of the fire, it only contributed to it. The cause was arson. The arsonist was a 29 year old local man named Milo. L. Prescott. Prescott had previously been a mental patient at the New Hampshire School for Feeble Minded Children in Laconia. He confessed that after getting the idea from a movie, he started the fire by igniting shavings placed under the front piazza of the Music Hall.
The following two photos are from a 1923-1925 Winnipesaukee Pier brochure. At that time, Jim Irwin owned both the Music Hall and the Pier. In 1914, at age 22, Irwin had first come to the Weirs from his Roxbury, MA home to play trumpet at the Music Hall with bandleader Mal Hallett. Admission at the time was 10¢ for movies and 20¢ for dancing. Irwin played two more seasons in the Weirs before being drafted into the Navy at the onset of World War I. During the war years, Irwin continued to play, first with the Navy Yard Depot Band, and then the US Navy Jazz Band. In the spring of 1919, after a short, cross-country tour with a scaled-down Navy band, Irwin returned to Laconia. With funding from the Building and Loan Association, Irwin, along with his partner Montague, purchased the Music Hall, opening in mid-June with his Navy band.
A mid-June, 1919 article in the Laconia Democrat noted that the re-opening of the Music Hall (it had been closed during the 1918 season because of WWI) would “…no doubt be received with much pleasure by all the young folks of this part of New Hampshire and in fact by many of the older people who have enjoyed themselves in the past at this great inland resort. For a number of years, these young men made the Music Hall at The Weirs a place that has been talked about all over New England. Their idea of running dancing and pictures together, or running masquerades, barn parties, poverty parties, dancing contests, etc., have more than met with approval of all summer folks and the all-year residents.”
Irwin purchased the original Winnipesaukee Pier in the early 1920s.
After the Music Hall burned down in the Great Weirs Beach Fire of 1924, Irwin managed to combine both his music and marine business interests into one building when he hired Boston architect Arthur Osberg to design Irwin’s Winnipesaukee Gardens. Replacing the original Winnipesaukee Pier, the building opened on May 30, 1925, only about seven months after the Great Fire, and featured a huge ballroom on the main floor, and a marina below. The very short turn-around time would seem to indicate that planning and perhaps even construction had begun on the new building well before the Great Fire.
Above, on the far left, Jim Irwin is playing trumpet. Below, another photo of Jim Irwin on trumpet.
A winter time photo of the Music Hall, with snow still on the ground. However, the Music Hall was not open during the winter. It was a seasonal business, like most other businesses in Weirs Beach. Hard to tell, but could that be Jim Irwin, bundled up in winter coat and hat?
Below, a photo of Jim Irwin driving his speedboat, with the Weirs Cafe in the background.
Irwin driving the Miss Winnipesaukee speedboat.