Imagine an island paradise in Lubbock County. A place where you were greeted by a seven-foot tall Tiki statue upon arrival then as you entered the building, bamboo walls, coconuts, paper lanterns, palm trees and a lava waterfall became your eye candy. A glassed in rainforest section held a banana tree, parakeets, and cockatoos.
At its center was a revolving bandstand highlighted by a foot pine dance floor.
This island paradise was The Palm Room that grew out of the Hallmark Farms Dairy Barn east of Lubbock. The farm was run by J. P. (Jim) Hallmark a long-time Lubbock county resident, who married Oleta Price from Tahoka in June 1942.
The origins of The Palm Room are unclear on how the Hallmarks came up with the idea. In August 1953 a frame shed burned on the property killing 12 cows. Later in August 1955 their farm went up for sale with no buyers. Within a year the large diary barn was converted into a club. The Palm Room officially opened on September 14, 1956.
It became West Texas’ finest ballroom and reportedly sold the best steaks. Orchestra music filled The Palm Room from local bands playing to guests, along with appearances from the Barons, Chuck Cabot, Larry Fontaine, Harry James, and Tony Douglas and the Shrimpers.
The dress code was always semi-formal. No blue jeans were allowed. Women wore long dresses and men wore tuxes or suits. Profanity was never tolerated.
The dry precinct made The Palm Room BYOB. Patrons had special onsite liquor lockers to store their alcohol.
Eventually, the vision grew from the original barn to around 25,000 sq. feet. In 1967 the ballroom was added onto and the Tropics Club was built so members could swim indoors year round.
After Jim died in 1968, Oleta operated The Palm Room by herself. Not wanting her husband’s dream to fall to the wayside she approached Jimmy and Dorothy Blakley of Roswell, NM to buy The Palm Room.
The Blakley’s were solid recording artists, who often worked with Norman Petty in Clovis, NM. Their record labels included Mercury, Starday, Dixie, D, Darsa, Midas and United Artists.
The couple decided it was time to be their own bosses and purchased The Palm Room in early 1971.
The change of ownership meant the island paradise changed the music from orchestra-based to country/country swing. Initial attendance fell off, but it soon grew to a place where area farmers and others came to The Palm Room for dinner and dancing.
Everyone in the Blakley family worked at running and maintaining the club. However, it was the family working as musicians that captivated club goers. Everyone in the family was a singer and a musician. Dancers danced to their music played on steel guitars, guitars, fiddles, banjo, bass guitar, organ, piano and drums.
The place could cater and serve up to 1,000 people. A back bar sold cokes, ginger ales, tomato juices, buckets of ice, as well as party trays with homemade onion dip. Dorothy loved to cook and was often found in the kitchen and on the bandstand.
Bill Winner recalled, “It was such a cool Island paradise feel in the middle of a cotton patch. It impressed me as a youngster new to the club life.”
The Blakley’s daughter, Debbie Blakley-Eaton memories of The Palm Room are strong. She can still see the faces, smell the rooms, see the ambiance of lights and decor, hear the music, the clamor of the kitchen, the busyness of the folks filing in and out of the front door, and even sense the eeriness of being in the building late at night with her Dad as he methodically made his rounds with a .38 on his belt. “He was a gentle man, but no one’s fool.”
The band was highlight reason to go to The Palm Room. It was a place where dancers went to dance. At its height the music echoing from its walls included the Sons of the Pioneers, Hank Williams, Sammi Smith, Janice Joplin, Anne Murray, Ray Price, Bill Anderson, to Glen Miller. Even Merle Haggard stopped by once for a visit.
Jimmy loved fulfilling written song requests scribbled on napkins, and singing multitudes of “Happy Birthday” and the “Anniversary Waltz” for patrons. If the dance floor was not filled with every song then he made certain those songs were never played again.
It was their passion for music that drove the Blakley’s. The Palm Room gave them a platform to perform their music. Their recording career spanned from the mid-1950s to mid-1970s. The couple later recorded at The Palm Room on their PR International label.
The musical legacy of the Blakley’s lives on in three of their children becoming musicians. Dorothy died in 1983 and Jimmy kept The Palm Room going for two more years. Eventually, he sold it. The outside of the building remains today as a former reminder of a dream to bring a fantasy world of Polynesian décor, music, dancing and great food to the often dust filled Llano Estacado.