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Gowanda’s Hollywood Happening
By Chad Neal
Gowanda, New York is nestled on the border of Cattaraugus and Erie Counties, surrounding the Cattaraugus Creek. Gowanda isn't a small town, but it's not a large city either. It does have a lot going on though, and this summer it will host the 14th annual Hollywood Happening.
An event like no other in the area, Hollywood Happening continues to grow in popularity and pageantry year after year. Introduced in 1999, the original event - dubbed the Harley Happening at Hollywood - was a one-day local event started to help raise funds to restore the Hollywood Theater in Downtown Gowanda.
The Theater’s History
The Hollywood Theater was built in 1926 by Industrialist Richard Wilhelm, following a fire that destroyed the original opera house and other buildings in its vicinity. According to www.gowandahollywoodhappening.com: “When the Hollywood first opened, generations of patrons had passed through her beautiful brass and glass doors to enjoy countless movies, live stage shows and concerts. However, time took her toll on the theater and, as did many small community theaters, she closed her doors to the public in 1992.”
The Gernett Family of Companies purchased the theater in the mid-‘90s. Shortly thereafter, a grassroots organization was formed with the purpose of restoring the New York State and National Historic registered theater to its original 1926 condition. The Hollywood Happening fundraiser is now a three-day event and is “one of the largest and most anticipated motorcycle events in the region, attracting enthusiasts from all across the U.S. and Canada.”
The Main Event
The Hollywood Happening runs Friday through Sunday, June 1-3. Opening ceremonies will feature a Bike Parade leading from the Harley Davidson Dealership in Gowanda and ending in town, where all the action will be.
As the event has grown through the years, it has had to expand, and this year the American Legion Post #409 has stepped up to the plate to host many exciting activities including a simulated motorcycle drag race and a burn-out pit. Vendors will be in abundance, selling food, wares, souvenirs and much more. Live music will keep the party rolling throughout the weekend with bands such as That 80's Hair Band, Bar King Spiders and the modern/Southern rock music of 100 Proof Justice. The AC/DC tribute band, Ballbreakers, Busted Stuff and the country music of Wendy Owens and the Renegades will take stage as well.
Other attractions of the Hollywood Happening include a Tattoo Contest (with plenty of categories to choose from); a Ride in Bike Show for cash prizes; and the AmVets Hollywood Theater Charity Run, a 65-mile ride through some great WNY landscape with plenty of stops and food along the way. Comedian/entertainer for all ages, Matt Episcopo, will perform inside the theater, and “performer, speaker and oddball” In Jest with Nels Ross will also perform. The Starboyz Extreme Stunt Riding Team is slated to show off their skills on S. Water Street, and the Eden Chopper Class (Central School’s Technology Education students) will show off their complete and functioning V-twin they fabricated themselves. (This is their 5th year building choppers.)
The event is a weekend long extravaganza which has campsites available for both RV camping and tent camping.
Thank You Volunteers and Sponsors
Gowanda’s Hollywood Happening could not function without the help of the many volunteers and sponsorships that pull through year after year. Delaney Peters, Board member for the Hollywood Happening, had some words to share to help promote the event: “Theater, performance art and movies all have a way of making the viewer feel that they have been transported to another place or time, giving them the opportunity to step away from real life for a moment. Walking into the Hollywood Theater has that same effect on people … seeing the architecture, the art, the amazing plasterwork, the grand curtain and balcony.”
Peters went on to say, “A lot of the Hollywood Theater Board members’ conversations are often started with ‘I remember when ...’ These longing memories are the driving energy of this project, and Mark Burr with his wife, Karen, have been the great motivators for almost 20 years. Of course, without the efforts and generosity from Gernatt Gravel and Gowanda Harley Davidson, the project would not have come as far as it is now.”
See It For Yourself
Peters expressed his passion for small town America not becoming a conglomerate of urban sprawl. He feels that theater is a way for America's youth to realize “that it is okay to be talented and to appreciate and praise it.” Peters wants to see and be a part of the growth of live performance in local theaters as he is a vocalist and guitarist in a band as well, The Barley Tones.
“The Hollywood Theater is at a point now where the realization of needing to hire people is part of the future planning. Stop in to the Theater during Hollywood weekend to see for yourself; this year will be the year that people will be able to see drastic changes in the project and realize just how close the Hollywood Theater is to opening. You should definitely make it a point to come down and see this truly historic piece of American history, and maybe even talk with Mark Burr and many other Board members about making a donation, or better yet a really big donation to help really get this important project finished,” Peters concluded.
The Gowanda Hollywood Happening will take place the first weekend in June, and it is sure to be the biggest one yet. The entertainment, vendors, and special events are all described fully on the website, www.HollywoodHappening.com. The Hollywood Theater is an historical building that Gowanda's residents feel needs to keep standing and bring folks back into a more simple time. Get on your bikes and ride on in!
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