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From Sports Field To Drive-In Theater; Site Will Next Revert To Sport Use

The ticket booth at Tanner Drive-In will be kept for the same use, selling tickets, when the sports field comes into use. On the backside, a folded wood chair leans against the little building, a reminder of the guy who took your money and handed it to the ticket issuer inside the booth. (If the line of cars wasn’t long, he had a place to rest while waiting for the next patron). In the background right is the concession stand, which has been razed. The remnants of the movie screen (left) are still up.


If you listen closely on a breezy summer evening, you can hear the voices coming from the east side of town: “Play Ball!” “Strike two!” “It’s a home run!” “He’s out, and the score is still five-to-five.”


The wind shifts a little, and a different voice beckons, “Step right up! Get your tickets here. See Marvo the clown. Watch Martina do tricks riding Ella the elephant. And in the third ring of our circus, Leonard the lion tamer will put his life at stake!”





Pana Blues 1930.png

Once, the 40-acre site at the east end of Pana was a ballpark and a place to hold circuses. Then it was a drive-in theater. Now, the site is being turned back into a field for sports. Pana Sports Foundation, made up of a non-funded group of people, is reshaping the land.


Here’s the evolution history:

Millot Ball Parked opened 52 years ago at “the end of Third Street.” The Pana Daily Palladium, in its May 4, 1925, issue, noted the new baseball park was formally opened Sunday afternoon, May 2.


There were circuses staged at the field, as well. An April 21, 1925 news account was headlined, “America’s Greatest Kid Show,” and described Gentry Brothers Famous Shows as “one of the best that is on the road.”


In 1950, the site was altered. It became Tanner Drive-In Theater, operated by the late Harry and Lena Tanner and their daughter, Rosa. A few years before Rosa died, two storms the same summer wrecked the theater’s screen. After the second loss just a few years ago, Rosa Tanner never reopened the drive-in. She died in 1993.


The property has been given to the recently formed Pana Sports Foundation by the Tanner Family. With donor labor and funding, it is being turned into a combination athletic field for soccer, junior football league, softball, and baseball.


New Athletic Field, East Likely to Bear Tanner Name

Going back to its earlier use as an athletic field is the former Tanner Drive-In site. Pana Sports Foundation is developing on the east side area into three fields. There will be one for soccer playing and the junior football league, the other two for softball and baseball. Playground equipment and a concession stand will be added.


Al Stupek, spokesman for PSF, said, “Progress is slow. We have no funding.”


Several people have provided labor, he said, with some donating some funds to help pay for work. Jerry and Eric Vieback have provided equipment and done excavation work, and Jannik’s Service has donated fuel. Farm Supply has donated weed killer to wipe out vegetation.


The foundation plans to apply for a grant June-July 1998, with the response of “yes” or “no” coming by that fall/winter.

Pana Blues 1930

In this era, says PNP publisher Tom Phillips, the plaza at the Illinois Central train station on Oak Street near Main Street was one of the most beautiful and well-maintained sites in Pana. It was south of the brick railway agency.


The team members photographed at the site, includes in front row, from left: Chink Thomas, John “Red” Lesko, “Lefty” Stebulis, “Soup” Sovanski, and Floyd Higgins. In center were Francis Yenck Sr., Stanley Chis and “Red” Fowler. In back are Henry “Heinie” Wolf, Bill Steping. Standing are Stanley Chis, Stanley “Yunt” Stalets, Joe “Riggs” Rugutsky, and Andy Cvengros.

The Stag Ball Team

Formerly the Pana Blues, in 1940. When Sam Vadelabene (second from left, in dark jacket, kneeling in front row) took over the ownership of the team that year, the name was changed to give credit to the sponsor, Stag. Vadalabene was also the manager. (Years later, he became senator for the Illinois Congress, and lived in Edwardsville.)

The ballplayers pictured, from left, front row, Stanley Chis, ---- Brutousky, “Chink” Thomas, Bo Sanderock, Mike “Christy” Kristian, Vadalabene, and Steve Dudra. In the back are “Skinny” Spinner, John “Red” Lesko, Aloys “Al” Dudra, ----- Walker, Stanley “Yunt” Stalets, Joe Dudra and “Dutch” Spinner. Only one of the extra people in the photograph is identified: Gilbert Baga, extreme right. Perhaps all are Blues fans – the two boys to the left of “Skinny” Spinner, the man in the truck bed, and the other two (one hanging from the back of the truck) to the right of “Dutch” Spinner.


This early 1900s Pana Blue baseball uniform belonged to Walter “Babe” Strech. The outfit is of light grey wool, including the leggings. This, dark blue lines are on the shirt and pants (elasticized at the knees), with wood buttons, and two rows of dark blue braid along the sleeve hems. Wide dark blue and violet stripes are on the leggings, which have denim show straps.


Millot Ball Park, Circuses, 1920s-40s & Years Earlier

During the spring of 1925 the community had two big projects underway: Millot Ball Park was being developed at the east end of Third Stret. The site also would host circuses which came to town.


Readers were asked a few months ago to share their memories of those wonderful days.


First, here’s the story about opening day, May 2, 72 years ago from the Pana Daily Palladium (May 4 Issue).


New Ball Park Formally Opened, Sunday

The new Pana baseball park on the Millot property at the city limits on East Third Street was formally opened Sunday afternoon with a game between Pana and the strong Moweaqua aggregation, with Pana the winners in a shut-out battle of seven to naught.


There was a fair-sized crowd in attendance, evidence that the great National game is always popular in Pana and Central Illinois.


The park has been put in good condition and makes an ideal site for the purpose. The diamond had been skinned off and rolled and was in fairly good shape for an opening game. It will be better as the season progresses.


Pana played a real article of baseball, all of the players giving a good account of themselves, especially Radmacher, who held the strong hitting bunch from Moweaqua to six hits. Pastor received him in great form. (None of the players’ first names were used in the article.)


The visitors managed to accumulate only three errors. Pana batted out 12 hits and had but 2 miscues. Hay was the slab artist for the visitors and was not in the best of form. R. Scarlett did the receiving (catching) for the Moweaqua boys.


The summary followed, with the following names and positions being listed, along with runs (R ), hits (H) and errors (E); Rademacher, pitcher 3H; Poster, catcher, 1R, 2H; Chis, rightfield; Medley, third base; 1R, 1H, 1E; Cloe, left fireld; Fowler, center field, 2R, 1H; Smith, first base, 2R, 3H; Vaughn, second base, 1R, 2H; Thomas, short stop, 1 error.


The Memories

In the summer of 1934, we moved from Tower Hill to Pana, in the 900 block of East Third Street, recalls LeRoy Barding of North Fort Myers, Florida. In the 1000 block lived Homer Millot, the taxi driver. He owned the field on the south side. The ball diamond was in the middle of the field, east and west – about 50 fee south of Third Street. There was a fence all around the field. When they were playing ball, my brother, Paul; a neighbor boy, Bobby Closser, and I would go to the gate. A man was charging to get in to see the game. We didn’t have any money. So we would stand there a few minutes and the man would tell us to go on in. We would run to the bleacher and watch the game. But we would get bored after watching for about one-half hour, and then we would get up and go home.


Barding referred to the field as “Pana Blues ball park”


Also that summer, the Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town. They set up the big three-ring tent west of the ball diamond. We watched from our front-yard as the whole circus paraded past on its way to the big tent. Two or three of the animal wagons were pulled by about 15 little black horses – which were about three feet tall.


Paul, Bobby and I went over to the circus grounds to see what was going on. We saw a man practicing with a bull whip about 25 feet long, made of leather. He had his helper – with a cigarette in his mouth – stand out in front of his and turn sideways. The man with the whip would cut off the cigarette. He was good but it scared us. We didn’t have any money; so, we didn’t see the circus perform.


Also that summer, there was a man with a horse and buggy driving around selling ice cream cones. They were the long cones with one, two, or three cups on top selling for 5, 10 and 15 cents. We did get one of them.


I was born in the corner house across the Millot lot where circuses were held, recalls Marguerite Bruns Seitz of Granite City. Although I was only six years old at the time, I remember sitting in the yard as the animals came down the street. Where they disembarked, I do not know. Quite a fascination.


We’d catch foul balls, driven from the field, related Mac McNeese who lived at 803 E. Second Street – a block north. We’d take them into the entry (where the drive-in exit was positioned later) and get into the games free.


Ringling Brother Circus was held there. They came on the train and unloaded animals and all behind the present Pana firehouse on East First Street (400 Block), walk them to the field and set up. The elephants were watered at the corner of Pine and Third.


Then the circus would bring everything (show people and animals) to town and have a parade – to build up business.


Fred Barber says the site was used for circuses much earlier. The first circus I was taken to was out on that ground. I watched them unload off railcars and parade out there. I think this must have been in 1912, when I was 7 years old. 


I don’t remember a ball game there. We moved to 703 S. Locust Street in 1919 and the Pana Blues played ball at what is now Brummet Field. 


Daily Palladium – April 2, 1925

Gentry Brothers – James Patterson Circus will exhibit here Friday, April 24 J.M. Beach, contracting agent arrived in town this morning to contract for a license, grounds, food supplied for over 400 people, and feed for 200 horses. It will be the 37th annual tour for the organization with a performance and parade.


Charles Weers of Pana grew up just across the road north from the large field commonly called “Millots’ Pasture.” In the last part of the 1930s, he said, it was a great place for us young boys to play ball. Several boys who grew up in Pana’s East End spent a lot of hours flying kits in those large open spaces.


I can remember when a circus came to Pana. They would use a lot of young boys to help put things together; we would get a free ticket to the matinee performance. After things were ready, ropes were attached to the poles and tents then were pulled by elephants to raise the big top.


In the late 1930s, a rodeo was put on. The East end boys would hang around there in the evening, and the “cowboys” would amuse us by doing various tricks with a lasso. Some of them were quite good with a rope. I can also remember one who liked to show his skill at rolling his own cigarette with one hand. Hagenbech-Wallace Circus once came to Pana.


Daily Palladium – April 21, 1925

“America’s Greatest Kid Show” describes Gentry Brother famous shows. This aggregation came in at four o’ clock Friday morning over the Baltimore and Ohio (railroad) from Springfield. By 8:00 the entire outfield had been unloaded from the B&O yards and on the Millot Circus grounds in east Pana. The usual parade was given between 11 and 12 this morning – a very creditable one.


Billy Senios, an old theatrical man, is with the show and an announcer. Will Hayes is the general press representative this season. The entire Palladium outfitof 15 carriers, boys and girls, will be Hayes’ guests at the performance this evening. Under the “big top” are to be seen these feature performers: The Franklin Family in Wire Act Supreme; Viola, the girl with the Golden Wheel, looping the loop without a hoop; Cottrell Powell Troupe, a fashionable English riding novelty; Jame’s Patterson’s string of 10 blue ribbon horses, group of clowns performing, dancing horses, jumping greyhounds, and monkeys. Over 200 human performers will be taking part, headed by Miss Ella Harris, prima donna of the white tops, whose wonderful contralto voice is heard in all parts of the big top.

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