John Whelan: Fun, Fun, Fun

“Well, she got her daddy’s car

And she cruised through the hamburger stand now

Seems she forgot all about the library

Like she told her old man now

And with the radio blasting

Goes cruising just as fast as she can now

 

And she’ll have fun, fun, fun

Til her daddy takes the T-bird away.”

 

In the summer of 1963, the Beach Boys exploded on the popular music scene. “Surfin’ Safari” had been a hit the summer before, but with the release of “Surfin’ USA,” the Beach Boys became a teenage rage. Nine more big hits in 1963, and lots of television guest shots established the sound, and their look, and the California beach lifestyle in the minds of young people all over the country and the world. The sound was fresh and happy. The look was clean-cut and the band was young and good looking. For millions of teenagers across the frigid midwest and northeast, the California beach lifestyle was too good to be true. Four successful albums in 1963 and three more in 1964 and endless national tours made the Beach Boys rock and roll royalty.

So it is no surprise the the Beach Boys enjoyed incredible popularity here in Chatham. We got our music on 45s and LPs in that era. I think I bought a 45 of “Surfin Safari,” but after that, it was always LPs. I had been a long-term listener to Alan Freed, Cousin’ Brucie and Murray the K on WINS-AM from New York City. WINS came in nice and clear in Chatham and WINS always had the latest releases.

The moment I heard a song I liked I would head for Louis Dean’s Record Store on Route 28 in Yarmouth. On the Cape, at that time, Louis Dean’s was the place to go for new records. Although much older, Mr. Dean stayed right up to date with the albums young people wanted. Later, Chatham had its own record store in the building which today houses Buffy’s Ice Cream, and run by the Mitchell family.

So in 1963, there were many fewer people in town, and, therefore, many fewer kids. But everyone knew each other and there were lots of house parties, and usually it was a Beach Boy’s LP that provided the musical background. Perfect for Chatham and our carefree summers in the '60s. When we “cruised to the hamburger stand,” it was to the HoJo’s Restaurant by the rotary on Main Street. Don St. Pierre was the manager from 1961 to 1968 and the little stand (it was just that, not a full-sized Howard Johnson’s restaurant) did an incredible business. At one point, Don’s HoJo’s enjoyed the highest net profit vs. gross for a take-out restaurant in the entire Howard Johnson system. If you were home and wondered what was happening in Chatham, all it took was a short drive to HoJo’s to find out. Don grew up in Harwich and had graduated from the Culinary Institute in New Haven. He was the perfect manager for HoJo’s and hired local kids. His hot dogs and fried clams were fantastic.

In the early '60s, Chatham had about half the population of the town today. There were plenty of good summer jobs for both local and summer kids. The early '60s were a great time in America. The country was still rebounding from World War II, and a full-employment economy led to higher incomes and more prosperity than had ever been known in this country. New cars and new appliances and a boom in residential construction brought optimism and confidence. Strong unions meant that the prosperity extended down to the working man. CEO salaries were good, but reasonable. Chatham had two car dealerships: Manson Motors, where Chatham Ford operates today, and Chase Chevrolet, on Old Harbor Road, where the Bank of Boston has come and gone.

The town was about to go on a major growth spurt. Harold J. Moye, who had been a car dealer in Boston, acquired 285 acres of land in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Much of the acreage had been part of three farms that dated from the 1800s. Riverbay Estates officially opened on May 29, 1962 with 397 house lots. Many of the original homes were built in the Royal Barry Wills style, and a very high percentage of the new homeowners were retired or soon to be retired. It took a long time before young families started buying homes in Riverbay.

Mr. Moye’s planners made certain that Riverbay did not look or feel anything like a development. I remember a Life Magazine cover showing Levittown, Long Island, N.Y. House after house, street after street, exactly the same, were the reasons for many colorful stories of people going to the wrong house. Jokes and stories of mistaken arrivals were prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s. The planners made certain that Riverbay was never going to be compared to Levittown.

Quite the opposite, the problem was that many of the roads in Riverbay looked exactly alike. They went in every direction and once you got in, it was hard to get out. Hundreds of people got lost in Riverbay. Remember, this was decades before cell phones and Google Maps. Chatham police began to drive through Riverbay to help lost motorists to get out. Little by little, houses went up and fewer folks got lost. It is hard to think today of Chatham without Riverbay.

Now in 2020, Chatham is living through a summer like no other. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted so much of what we have come to expect each summer. We have slowly learned to live with masks and social distancing. We sit, spaced, at restaurants and beaches and enjoy our family and friends and the warm weather. But we are missing so much. I miss my friends and I particularly miss the Orpheum Theater, where Kevin McLain and his crew have done such a wonderful job creating a terrific entertainment venue for Chatham. I miss the Eldredge Public Library. Library visits had become a regular part of my life. It is almost like the COVID-19 pandemic has placed an invisible weight on our shoulders. The controversy about deciding to open the schools or not has no easy answers.

Summer is still prime time in Chatham, but, until we have a medical antidote to the coronavirus, it will not be the same. I’ve written before of the old Chatham expression “that once you reach the Fourth of July, the summer is almost over.” I’m just not ready for summer to be over. I clearly remember so many summers of “Fun, Fun, Fun” and I can’t wait until they return. See you at the beach.