The Reo Palm Isle has a long and illustrious history as a dance hall in East Texas. It boasts the largest dance floor in East Texas and was rated as the best dance hall in Texas Monthly magazine in 1976 and one of the state’s top ten clubs in Texas Highways magazine.
Music was provided by a house band along with other local bands and singers and it fostered the young careers of Elvis Presley, and locals like Jim Reeves and Ray Price. But, the glory of the Reo was the venue it provided for the stars of Country and Western music, including Waylon Jennings, David Frizzell, Boots Randolph, Loretta Lynn, Shelly West, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Kenny Sarrett, Frenchie Burke, Willie Nelson, Joe Stampley, Jackie Ward, Johnny Paycheck, Alabama, Boxcar “Willie,” Hank Williams Jr., Ronnie Milsap, Lee Greenwood, Ricky Scaggs, Delbert McClinton, David Allen Coe, Mickey Gilley and many, many more.
The Reo Palm Isle can trace its heritage back to era of “Ballroom dancing” popular in the early ‘30s. Hugh Cooper opened the “Cooper Club” on the main street of Henderson in 1935. About the same time Mattie Castleberry (actually spelling is Castlebury) opened the more famous “Mattie’s Ballroom” on the road between Longview and Kilgore. Hugh and Mattie’s clubs specialized in ballroom dancing, sold no liquor, and strove to be a step above other honkey-tonks of the time. Mattie did not allow smoking nor profanity and introduced something new to the area, “Taxi Cab Girls,” also called “Dime-a-Dance Girls.” For a dime a male could purchase a ticket to dance with one of the girls. The Name “Taxi Cab Girls” came from the requirement that Mattie placed on the girls, they had to come alone and leave alone. They were forbidden to leave with one of the guests. Bands that frequented Mattie’s Ballroom include Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Ted Lewis, Ozzie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring, Bob Wills, and of course, many more.
In 1935 another club opened on the corner of Highway 31 and F.M. 1845 in Longview, the Palm Isle. This club did not have the reputation nor glitz of the Cooper Club or Mattie’s Ballroom, but it did have a big dance floor. In 1939 Hugh Cooper closed the Cooper Club and bought the Palm Isle and sought to improve the reputation of the Palm Isle. Again, he did not sell liquor but he did allow patrons to bring in setups. When WWII started Hugh was inducted into the military and he sold the Palm Isle to Mattie Castleberry in 1942. With gas being rationed, Mattie felt a move closer to town would be a good business decision.
In the ‘40s another club opened on the south-east corner of Highway 31 and 135 in Kilgore, the Reo. The Reo was a small club. It didn't have the polish of Mattie's Palm Isle, it had no orchestra pit nor revolving mirrored ball. It didn’t have a raised stage, the band had a small area cordoned off with ruffled cloth, against the wall in the center of the dance floor. The Reo was owned by Sherman Sparks and business was good. Men and women would come for an enjoyable evening and dance to the music of local musicians.
In 1951 Sherman Sparks and Glen Keeling bought the Palm Isle from Mattie Castleberry. Sherman wanted people to know the connection of the two clubs and renamed it the “Reo Palm Isle.” Mattie continued to have a table reserved for certain singers, her favorite was Bob Wills.
The scope of this slideshow is circa 1950s. The photographs were taken by Sherman Sparks' wife Odessa and provided to me, along with insight and stories, by their granddaughter Cheryl Sparks Logan.
I want to thank Award-Winning Broadcaster and Legendary DJ Tom Perryman for helping me identify some of the singers.
The Reo Palm Isle in 2006
The oil boom fostered Dance Halls.
Sherman and Odessa Sparks
Odessa, Sherman, and Cecil Sparks
Sherman Sparks's son Cecil with wife Dorothy and baby Wanda.
Odessa Sparks on left, Dorothy Sparks on right.
Bud Fowler's Band at the Reo, Bud is in center
Waitresses followed Mattie's style of looking distinguished.
Betty Guilford and Dorothy.
Bertha and Ruthie and Unknown kitchen staff.
Doris Kennedy a local singer, husband worked at the Reo Palm Isle.
John "Necktie" Beauchamp and Sherman Sparks
Sherman Sparks on right during remodeling at Reo Palm Isle.
Large Fireplace at the Reo Palm Isle
Holiday dinner for employees.
Odessa was tight with the money but Sherman was lavish.
Odessa and Sherman appreciated their employees and served them Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.
Cecil Sparks on left bartending.
If Sherman couldn't buy the best he would buy the biggest
Sherman and Odessa's Apartment 217 S. Martin St. Kilgore
Google Earth's streetview of apartment. It is now torn down.
East Mountain Yearbook 1955
Railroad at Galloway Texas
KWKH and Louisiana Hayride