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March 4, 2002

Suspicious Fire Destroys Historic Whalom Park Ballroom

Article written by:
Eric Gieszl, Editor

Lunnenberg, MA – A three-alarm fire Saturday destroyed the historic ballroom at Whalom Park. The ballroom built in 1933, boasted the largest dance floor in New England and hosted some of the big bands of the past including the Dorsey Brothers and Duke Ellington.

Firefighters from Lunenburg, Leominster and Shirley responded to the call Saturday evening to find the amusement park's ballroom engulfed in flames.

"They did an amazing job of containing the blaze," said Allyson Bowen, part owner and organizer of the Save Whalom Park effort. "They hosed down the Flyer Comet roller coaster, which is a short 25-feet from the ballroom and saved it from catching on fire."

No other structures were lost and only one tree burned, despite the fact that there were trees literally two feet from the ballroom, according to Bowen.

"I really thank the firefighters for protecting Whalom," said Bowen. "It was devastating to watch the fire."

The cause of the fire is being investigated and it may have been arson.

Whalom Park, opened in 1893 as the playground for Central New England, but the park closed following the end of the 2000 season and was put up for sale by its current owners.

Recently, Allyson Bowen, whose family holds a minority stake in the park, started a campaign to save Whalom Park. The Bowen family is now leading a group of private investors in an attempt to purchase the park and preserve it as a classic amusement park.

Through a web site www.savewhalompark.com the family has been selling "Whales" in an effort to generate capital and gain widespread support from the community. The Bowen family had controlling interest in the park from 1935 to the late 1990's.

Whales are being sold for $50 each and for every one you purchase, you receive free general admission to the park for the entire year and 25% off a season pass for the next operating season. The family needs your help if Whalom Park is going to be saved.

"There's no risk in participating," according to Bowen. "If we can't beat the developers bid, you get your money back. The only risk is not doing anything."

Local developers have been looking at the park as a potential site for new housing. The Whalom Park Amusement Company recently indicated that it entered into a purchase and sale agreement with a developer interested in purchasing the land.

But according to Bowen the effort is still going strong despite the agreement and the fire.

"The ballroom was one of the most historic structures in the park. However, it wasn't the whole park," said Bowen. "We are not going to give up our efforts to save the park because we lost the ballroom. There are 35 acres and 110 years of memories still worth fighting for."

Those interested in helping to save Whalom Park should visit www.savewhalompark.com for further information.