Neptune Park

West 41st street by the river
The Neptune Park Casino shortly before it opened in 1928.
On May 9, 1927, the city received a permit to sell stock in a place called Neptune Park. City commissioner Ellis O. Smith was president of the newly-formed Neptune Amusement Company, which hoped to sell $20,000 worth of stock to fund a multi-purpose amusement area southwest of the city near the old packing plant. The 20-acres of land that the company owned used to be known as Broughton Grove and was on what was not yet called 41st Street, near the river, about where the Olive Garden is now. The idea was for a pleasant, green space for families to come and enjoy the outdoors. Most welcome of all was a proposed 100 by 200 foot pool. At the time there were no pools in the city. There was a wading pool at McKennan park, but it wasn’t deep enough for real swimming. The kids would swim at the beach in Sherman Park, but bathers often left the muddy water hoping for a clean swimming pool like they had in Beresford. At the time it was well-known in the area that Sioux Falls was one of the largest cities in the nation to not have a proper outdoor swimming pool. It was hard to live down when those snobs from tiny Avoca, Iowa came high-hatting around bragging about their fancy pool.
Ellis O. Smith, city commissioner, and president of Neptune Amusement Company.
Neptune Park was an overwhelmingly popular idea. It was hoped that enough progress would be made on the pool so that it could open by July 4th of that year. By June, Smith was still scrambling to raise the funds for the project. By January of 1928, there still were no definite plans to have the pool open, but as a sort of concession, a dance hall was planned for the park. It would be called Neptune Casino, and it would be the largest ballroom in the area. Once built, the casino was large enough to enclose a 70 by 100 foot dance floor, a band shell, coat check, and restrooms. The dance floor had enough room for 1200 people and was free of any columns or support structures which could get in the way of the enjoyment of dancers.

The Casino was scheduled to open on Labor Day, September 3, 1928, accompanied by the opening of Soo Skyways Airport, which occupied a vast swath of land just to the southeast of Neptune Park. South Dakota’s first air derby would herald the event, complete with 100 planes, wing walkers, skydivers, all manner of daredevils, plane races and feats to astound. The South Dakota National Guard would be on hand to keep things orderly. In early August, Soo Skyways announced that the ground there was not yet ready to handle the traffic of 100 planes, especially the larger ones. The ground was just too loose. The opening and air derby would have to be delayed, but Neptune Casino would carry on as planned.

On August 16, 1928, the inaugural event of the Neptune Park Casino was held. The American Legion held a dance to honor the newly-crowned Miss South Dakota, June Hannon of Pierre. She was to be celebrated at the Elmwood Park Pavilion, but attendance was expected to be too great for the venue. The Neptune Casino was the chosen replacement. Clarence DeLong and his Oldsmobile Orchestra and Gene Cashman, “the singing policeman” would provide music for the event. For this event and many events to follow, busses would pick up attendants at 20 minute intervals from the corner of 7th and Phillips. Each trip cost 25¢.

Dances were frequently held at the Neptune Casino, and the park area surrounding was open to picnicking families. There were ball diamonds put in and there was also roller skating at the Casino. The Neptune Park and Casino became popular very quickly.
The Neptune Park Casino is razed by fire, August 27, 1931.
On August 27, 1931 at 2:45 a.m., lightning struck a transformer at Neptune Park, resulting in the loss of a popcorn stand, two amusement tents and the Casino itself. Damage was estimated at $14,000, only some of which was covered by insurance. The night watchman who had been sleeping in a shed at the time was unable to call the fire department. The Harmony Kings’ instruments, valued at $2,000, which were being stored there in advance of a show later that week, were also destroyed. Plans were quickly made to rebuild the Neptune Casino. By May 7, 1932, the Neptune Casino was back. The ad for first big shindig proclaimed: “Risen from the ashes! The new and mighty Neptune Casino”.

At this point there were a couple of things holding back the proposed pool. One was the burning of the parks main money maker. Another was the Great Depression. Residents would just have to make due with the more swimming hole-type attractions at Sherman Park and Covell Lake.
July 9, 1932 a tornado left this mess of the dance pavilion.
Early in the evening of July 9, 1932, the new and mighty Neptune Casino was laid flat by a tornado that tore through the area. A nearby two-lane bridge that ran over the river near the dance spot was ripped to shreds by the same tornado. One large piece of twisted metal plunged through a tree trunk in the park. At some point after, the city came by and removed the tree trunk and metal piece and brought it to the courthouse. This angered Ellis O. Smith as the piece was a curiosity he wanted as an attraction. Officials claimed the steel was city property, while Smith said the tree was his. Cooler minds eventually prevailed and Smith got the piece returned to Neptune Park. He agreed to donate the piece to the Minnehaha County Historical Society once its use as a curiosity was exhausted. That piece of twisted metal and the tree it ran into is still available for viewing at the Old Courthouse Museum.

Within a few days, the Neptune again held dances, though they were open-air dances. The roof was restored within three weeks for the remainder of the dance season.

For years, the Neptune Casino continued to be a big draw, but in 1925, was sold to Thomas Archer, the man who opened the Arkota. Archer began to move more of his dances out to the Neptune to take advantage of the large floor there. In 1945, things got pretty wet out at Neptune Park, and more and more dances had to be cancelled or moved to the Arkota. The waters of the Big Sioux made things too muddy out there. On November 18, 1945, the Argus Leader announced that the Neptune Park Casino was gone. Archer packed up the dance hall onto the backs of several trucks to send down to St. Joseph Missouri. It was to replace the Frog Hop Ballroom there which had burned a year earlier. For years after, old Neptune Park was used as a landmark when describing an area, and in looking back columns of the day.
The Frog Hop circa 1945.
The Frog Hop interior, also 1945.
The Frog Hop Ballroom that was once the Neptune burned down early in the morning of November 23, 1952. The Roman god Neptune could not be reached for comment.