THE OLD ESSO CLUB
BY DAN JENSEN
Taken from the book CARIBBEAN MEMORIES by Dan Jensen
My "old" Esso Club was not the one my parents referred to as the Old Esso Club. Their Old Esso Club was built in 1929 and burned in 1939. My Old Esso Club was built to serve as a temporary club after the first one burned. The Temporary Old Esso Club was used during World War II and into the fifties.
Then the New Esso Club was built.
I remember the Old Esso Club well, we wrecked it after the New Esso Club was built.
In the late forties I have memories of going to the open air movie theater at the Old Esso Club and sitting in captain chairs to watch movies. If it rained we moved our chair under the roof overhang and hoped the projectionist would continue showing the movie.
The open area in the center of the club was not only a movie theater, it was also an open air dance hall. For dances, the captain chairs, set in rows for watching movies were moved, tables and captain chairs were placed around the concrete slab that then served as the dance floor. At least once a month, on Saturday night (There were no dances on Friday nights, Saturday was a half-day work day at Lago in those days) there was a dance, or a bingo game, or the Little Theater produced a play.
This open court-yard was formed by four long, narrow, metal buildings, set in a square. Each side of the square housed a section of the Esso Club. The southern building was the Soda Fountain and Snack Bar. The western side housed the Office, Library and Pool Room, with Ping-Pong tables and shuffle boards for adults. The north building was the Cocktail Lounge and Men's Bar. The building to the east was used for storage.
These metal buildings were elevated off the ground on oil pots; concrete piers with moats cast into their tops, which held thick black oil. The idea was to prevent insects from entering the building. This was in the days before insecticides, and all the buildings and houses in the Colony were built on oil pots. I doubt they kept much out of the buildings.
The oil pots held a magic magnetism for kids. They were great things to play in. The gooey black oil stuck to everything. We dipped stick into the oil moat and painted the sides of houses or building with oil graffiti. We were the original graffiti artists, before the invention of the spray paint can. We also built bridges of sand in the oil, to help the ants, cockroaches and other insects find their way into the homes and buildings. The oil pots were also a great resource for weapons against those you were "warring" with at the time. First a stick was dipped into the oil pot, the gooey mess on the end of the stick was then slung at your enemy. Great weapon! I can remember many a day being stripped naked in the back of the house and having oil cleaned off my skin, using kerosene and lava soap. I must have lost a lot of wars. One good thing about using oil as a weapon, when you hit the enemy they were marked. Again, the original paint ball game.
The elevated buildings around the movie/dance floor also had a "hidden city" in the four foot space under the buildings. As a youth I remember walking, hunched over, exploring this low, dark world underneath the Esso Club, the older kids had built forts and spent their time smoking cigarettes and telling stories. This four foot space was skirted with metal, but you could always find, or cause, a sheet to become loose. That is how we gained entrance to the Old Esso Club, after it was closed and locked because a new club was built. You could also watch the movies, without paying, from there. Crawling under the buildings, to the court-yard side, we watched the movie through nail holes in the tin. Wooden Coca-Cola cases were set on edge in front of the biggest and best holes and there we sat, faces pressed to the metal, peeping through the nail hole at the movie.
In the early fifties a New Esso Club was built on a sandy point of land near the ocean. The New Esso Club was a very modern building, built of reinforced concrete with terrazzo floors and an air conditioned movie theater. There was also a cocktail lounge, men's bar and soda fountain. The terrazzo dance floor was open to the stars, and around the dance floor, a concrete roof kept the rain off the tables, and the trade winds blew right through.
With the new Esso Club completed, the Old Esso Club was padlocked and left, forgotten.
I was older now. Each day on my way home from school I would crawl under the Old Esso Club, to smoke cigarettes like the older kids had done before me. While under the building smoking I discovered that someone had removed a sheet of the metal from the inside skirt and gained access to the open air movie theater area.
Once inside, I found that none of the inside doors to the buildings were locked. I had the run of the old Esso Club and I told all my friends.
My age group were not the first to go inside the Old Esso Club. Others had been there before. Extensive damage had already been done to the captain chairs. The had been left folded, in neat rows, against the buildings and under the roof overhang. Now they were unfolded and strewn about, their seats and backs torn out. Many were damaged, but there were plenty left for us to destroy.
The next couple of weeks we developed the destruction of captain chairs into an art form. We sat in the chair, backwards. In this position, we hit, and kept hitting the canvas back. Soon it tore into two pieces. A measure of your strength was how may blows it took to knock the back out of a captain chair. Next came the seat. Holding the wooden arms, the torn canvas back no longer supporting the arms, we jumped up and down on the canvas seat. Soon it too gave way. This had nothing to do with strength, the heavy kids could go through a seat faster than a light kid. The seat would give way with a big rip. The jumper went through the chair, onto the floor, laughing and screaming all the way down.
I was not alone wrecking chairs; there were always a group of four, five, six or sometimes as many as twelve of us inside the Old Esso Club, jumping, hitting, throwing and smashing captain chairs with all our might.
We started with the chairs, there must have been three hundred of them and we broke them all, then we moved inside the buildings.
First to fall was the men's bar. All the liquor had been removed but the bar was intact. Glasses were still behind the bar, bar stools were along the front of the bar and tables and chairs sat around the room much like the bars we saw in the western movies. The movie set was complete. We became the actors and staged fights. Not real fights, just make believe. The fights may have been make believe but the stage and props, were real. We broke all the glasses, throwing them at the glass mirror behind the bar was great fun. We smashed the bar stools on top of the bar. We shoved each other into tables. It took time but finally the table legs gave way, the table collapsed on the floor and we were on top of the table , just like in the movies.
Soon, going to the Old Esso Club was no longer fun. There was nothing left to break.
All the chairs were broken, not only was the canvas gone, the arms were broken off and most of the legs were broken.
The men's bar and cocktail lounge was the same. Everything that could be broken was broken, glass was everywhere, it was impossible to walk without shoes and most of us did not wear shoes, except on school days.
As we broke the last of the glasses in the bar someone discovered a full rack of glasses in the store-room.
These were imprinted with LAGO, in blue ink with a blue oval around the LAGO. There were ESSO glasses as well, with the red ESSO and the Blue oval. Other glasses had ESSO CLUB printed on them, also in blue. There were racks and racks and more racks of these grasses. We were back in business.
It did not take long before all these glasses were also smashed and the glass spread around the floor and dance floor.
Even the virtually indestructible stainless steel racks that held the glasses were not spared. These racks were taken onto the dance floor. What was left of the captain chairs were set up like bowing pins at one end of the concrete floor and the stainless glass racks were flung at the chairs from the other side of the dance floor. The rack slid along the concrete, like a giant shuffle board puck and struck the pile of broken chairs, breaking them even more, bending the rack and giving us hours of enjoyment.
As we played shuffle board with the glass racks someone discovered the attic. But there was nothing in the attic. However, while exploring the attic someone slipped, their foot went through the ceiling and we were off again, that slip started a new wave of destruction.
The ceiling was made of a brown fiberboard, about three quarters of an inch thick. It was suspended by a metal grid system, much like what is used in today's suspended ceilings.
We found that by hanging from the metal trusses we could hit the fiberboard with our feet. The ceiling fell to the floor and we were left hanging in the attic.
Bam! Bam! Bam! Out came the ceiling and there we hung like monkeys in a tree. We pulled ourselves up, stood on the bottom of the truss and then moved to another section of ceiling.
Something else to destroy! The Old Esso Club was fun again. Weeks were spent in the attic of the four buildings, stomping the ceiling tile and driving them to the floor. Once on the floor the larger pieces were thrown, bent, and trampled into a pulverized brown pulp. This pulp now covered the broken glass, like hay in a barn.
It must have now been the summer, for I can remember driving with my Mother to the Commissary, which was next to the Old Esso Club. While my Mother shopped for groceries I went over to "play" in the Old Esso Club.
I never remember being there alone, there was always a group of my playmates, or older kids, all hard at work destroying some part of the building.
After the ceiling, we started on the walls. They too were covered with the same material as the ceiling. It made a fourteen-year-old feel big and strong to be able to knock holes in a wall. Pow! Pow! Pow! Holes, holes and more holes. Before long all the wall covering was gone. Only the metal siding on the outside of the building was visible from inside.
The fun was beginning to spiral down. There was nothing else to smash or destroy. Even the projectors had been taken apart. Everyone seemed to have a piece of a projector: a gear, a motor, a carbon rod, or lenses. I know I purchased one big round lens from someone for a guilder. I hid it in a cave in the coral, knowing better than to take the lens home and have to explain where it came from. The lens was great. I could focus the sun on a piece of paper and start a fire. It was getting a lesson in physics and didn't know it.
The movie screen was still standing. It had been pelted with glasses, chairs had been thrown against it, causing a few cuts and rips, but it was still whole, one of the few things left in the Old Esso Club.
We could not leave the screen still standing. Someone found a ladder, someone else had a hunting knife and one of my deardevil friends decided to climb the ladder to the top of the screen.
The plan was, he would jump off the ladder into the screen. There he would stick the knife in the screen and ride down the screen holding the knife. We had seen it done in a movie. It was probably Errol Flynn who had preformed this great feat, not on a movie screen but on a large window curtain. We knew it would work, we had seen it done in the movies.
Up he went, off the ladder he came, into the screen went the knife and down he came, holding the knife as it cut the screen from top to bottom, but the screen did little or nothing to slow the fall. Faster and faster he fell, Tommy Gregersen hit the floor hard, nothing was broken but Tommy was pretty sore.
I think it was at that moment that I realized you could not believe everything you saw in the movies.
As time went on there was nothing left of the inside of the Old Esso Club. Anything that could be broken was broken, or bent, or pushed out and smashed. We stopped going there. We found other places to play.
Sometime later my Mother, Father and I were eating lunch, I remember the day like I remember the day Kennedy was shot.
My father asked; "What do you know about the Old Esso Club?"
"Nothing", I replied, It had been a couple of months since I had been inside, there was no reason to go there, there was nothing left to break. I did not tell this to my Father.
"Good", my Dad replied, "I am glad."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because Mr. Eddy Deveer has purchased the buildings as well as the contents. When we went inside to start dismantling the building we found the inside had been completely demolished. Chief Brook is coming to the High School this afternoon and asking everyone if they knew anything about it. There is going to be Hell to pay for this. I am glad you are not involved".
My heard sank. I knew I was in deep shit!
When I arrived back at school after lunch, Chief Brook's truck was parked in the parking lot. As we assembled in our home rooms the public address system announced that all boys were to report to the auditorium.
Chief Brook addressed the gathering of boys, grades 7 to 12. He told us how he was our friend and if we came clean it would be the best thing to do. We were told the Old Esso Club had been vandalized, it was sold and now the man who purchased the club was demanding his money back and whoever did the wrecking would have to pay for the damage. So much for him being our friend, I thought.
We all sat and listened. No one said a word and no one raised his hand when asked if anyone knew anything. We all sat there in silence, Chief Brook looking down from the stage, all of us looking up at Chief Brook. After a long silent stare we were told to return to our classes.
Then the loudspeakers in each classroom started to call names. Specific persons were told to report to the office. I knew this was it. The individual interrogation, the naked light bulb, the hot room with endless questions, the fear of torture and death. I had seen it all in the movies.
Mine was not the first name called but I remember being up there, close to the first. I must have had a reputation.
I walked into the office. Chief Brook told me to sit in the chair. Chief Brook was a big, big man. He stood right over me and looked down at me.
"Have you been inside the Old Esso Club in the past year?" he asked.
"What were you doing there?"
"Playing! What were you playing at?" "The place is a disaster, did you wreck the place?"
"No, not by my self." Damn, the cat was out of the bag, that was not the right answer.
"Not by yourself." "Who helped you wreck it?"
"I don't know." I did not want to tell on my friends.
"You better tell me or you will get all the blame."
This was all it took. He had broken me. I was scared and started to sing.
"Lad Mingus, John Tully, Bobby Griffin, Bruce Kilpatrick, Tommy Gregersen, we were all in there playing and I saw John Wade and Neal Ray and a lot of the bigger kids in there also. The names came forth.
Chief Brook took down all the names on a yellow pad.
He said; "This is not the end of it." and sent me back to class.
In class the whispers started, when the teachers told us to stop talking we sent notes.
"He made me tell. We are all in a lot of trouble." This was the extent of most of the notes.
As the afternoon periods dragged on more boys were called to the office. First the older boys, then the younger ones. By three o'clock almost the entire male population of the school had been called to the office. Chief Brook was leaving no stone unturned in his quest for the culprits.
By the three-thirty bell I was gripped with panic. I knew the older boys were going to beat me up for telling. As we left school I realized everyone had told more or less the same story. Everyone was involved or had been inside the Old Esso Club at one time or the other. So much for a code of silence.
Chief Brook had been frightening, but nothing compared to my Father when he arrived home from work. I had forgotten about the telephone or the fact that he would be told. I had never seen him so mad at me.
In the end I was restricted to the house for six months, except to go to school, and the matter was dropped. To this day I do not know how Lago Oil & Transport Company, Ltd. handled the matter. Did Mr. Deveer get his money back from Lago? How did upper management explain a "trashed" Old Esso Club to the people in New York? These questions are still a mystery to me. I never spoke of the matter to my Father or Mother again, even after retirement. It was a dark period in the lives of the kids involved, and their parents.
Soon after the Old Esso Club disappeared, Caliche covered coral was all that remained, even the concrete dance floor was jack hammered into little pieces and trucked away.
Within a short time a house near the Old Esso Club was converted into The Youth Canteen. I guess the parents must have thought there needed to be a place for the kids to go and gather and play where they could be supervised.
Today, people ask me if I think violence on TV and the movies affect the youth. I sure do! Look at us, we were a product of the movies of the times, acting out the Westerns and Errol Flynn adventures and look what we did to the Old Esso Club. It is a good thing we did not see Rambo or The Terminator, or we would probably have found a way ot blowing the place up.