Mayfair Building plays big part in area history

Published on Sunday, 27 July 2014 23:18 - Written by KELLY GOOCH

Performers, such as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, have walked through its doors, military trainees have been entertained there, and in more recent years, various local groups have used it for events.

Many things have happened at the Mayfair Building, which is at the East Texas State Fairgrounds, and it has been a big part of Tyler’s history, Ginger Haberle, executive director of Historic Tyler, said.

Since its construction, celebrities, such as Dolly Parton, Smiley Burnette from “The Gene Autry Show,” Minnie Pearl, Little Jimmy Dickens, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Horton, Roy Acuff and Bob Barker have performed on the Mayfair Building’s stage.

A red carpet used to lead up to the building under a long breezeway, allowing celebrities and socialites to be welcomed glamorously.

During World War II, soldiers based at Camp Fannin would meet there for dances.

“For more robust entertainment at civilian night spots, especially on Saturday nights, many of the trainees took their dates to the Mayfair Building at the East Texas Fairgrounds or to Mack’s Town Tavern on West Erwin,” according to the Chronicles of Smith County, Texas, published by the Smith County Historical Society. “Dances were held each Saturday night at the Mayfair, featuring the music of Raymond Rhone and his orchestra. Talented soldiers, professional musicians in civilian life, often played with the orchestra or presented special solo numbers. Among these were Private Kenneth Farrar, pianist and singer; Private Nick Cea, singer, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Private Oliver (Ollie) Petrini, an unusually talented accordionist.”

According to an article by James Wilkins, an amateur historian, Elvis Presley had released three Sun records by the time he first played at the Mayfair Building in January 1955. Elvis then returned in August 1955 with guitarist Scotty Moore and Bill Black on bass.

At the time they returned, “they had two other Sun recordings being played all over East Texas: ‘I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone’/ ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ and ‘Mystery Train’/ ‘Remember to Forget.’ Both times, promoter Tom Perryman, of Gladewater, filled the Mayfair at $1 for adults and 50 cents for children,” the article said.

Some concert-goers purchased $1 photos for Elvis to autograph, and some people went to hear “the King of Rock and Roll” in other East Texas towns after he performed in Tyler.

In its early days, the Mayfair Building held some of the Rose Queen coronations.

President George W. Bush spoke at a convention held there while he was governor.

The building also has hosted ice shows and children’s circuses.

It also has been leased to the Shriners and children’s theater groups during the fair’s off-season.

The Junior League of Tyler and Parents Anonymous also have used the building, and the wood flooring is one of the building’s neatest features, Ms. Haberle said.

East Texas State Fair President John Sykes said the fair stopped renting the building and leasing it in late winter or early spring because of issues with its roof, among other things. The building also does not have air conditioning.

“It’s been a wonderful building, but it was never upgraded to the human being today,” he said, explaining that people today don’t want to be in the uncomfortable heat.

So now it is at a point where “it’s reached its lifespan, so what are we going to do?” Sykes said.

He said the same goes for the Creative Arts Building, where the air conditioning units do not work.

City of Tyler Plannning Director Heather Nick said Sykes approached the city about the idea of demolishing the buildings, and a structural engineering study was commissioned. The results, which were received in March, showed the Mayfair Building to be in “fair” condition and the Creative Arts Building to be in “good” condition.

Ms. Nick said the study indicated there was water damage associated with the roof and floor in the Mayfair Building, and the recommendation was to remove flooring in some areas requiring repair and replace any deteriorated floor framing.

Generally, the Creative Arts Building was found to be in “good” condition. Both buildings are on city property and are more than 50 years old. The fair association maintains the buildings.

Sykes said it has been determined that the Mayfair Building is not in danger of collapsing — it is just not economically feasible to restore it.

Ms. Nick said no plans are in place to demolish the Mayfair Building or the Creative Arts Building. She said Sykes did approach the city again after the study in regard to demolition, and given the report, the city decided it would not pursue it at this time.

In the meantime, the Mayfair and Creative Arts buildings will be standing in September when the East Texas State Fair opens, and the Mayfair Building may be used during the fair, Sykes said.

In the past, it has been used for Bingo on Senior Day, but he said the weather-related issues can overwhelm the desire to use the building.

He noted that no matter what happens to the Creative Arts Building in the future, it doesn’t mean that the fair will do away with the Creative Arts program.


Business Editor Casey Murphy contributed to this story.