Friday, June 20, 2014

Jersey Boys just off Route 22? The Four Seasons in Union

It's probably one of the most open "secrets" in North Jersey -- the legend that the singing group The Four Seasons got their name from a bowling alley on West Chestnut Street in Union. Depending on who tells the story, the quartet took the name either because their original one didn't sound as good, or because they wanted the alley's owner, who'd refused to hire them, to feel the sting of rejecting them when they hit it big.

Jersey Boys, Four Seasons, Hidden New Jersey, Frankie Valli
The Four Seasons in 1971. Courtesy Union Township
Historical Society.
Though I grew up in Union and threw my share of gutter balls in the establishment in question, I was always a little skeptical of the story. Yeah, Frankie Valli grew up in Newark, a straight shot down Route 22, so he might have tried to book some gigs in Union, but really? Every town looks for a claim to fame, leading some residents to make dubious connections to famous people or events, and I figured some well-meaning Unionite had made a logical but probably false connection between the alley and the falsetto-singing quartet.

Shame on me: it turns out the story is true, according to Valli's own website. His official bio states that in 1960 the band, then called the Four Lovers, "flunked an audition to play at the cocktail lounge of a bowling alley in Union, NJ, but they decided the lounge's name would make a classy moniker for a singing group: The Four Seasons."

As much as I'd like to invite you to meet me at the alley to bowl a few frames and sing a chorus of "Big Girls Don't Cry," I can't. It's not there anymore, having been torn down in 1998 to make room for a Costco. Yup, a Costco. Folks in the area may be grateful for a convenient place to score big bargains, but Union lost a very visible landmark of its incidental contribution to rock and roll history. That and a chance for a cameo role in the Jersey Boys movie.

It's not forgotten, though: in 2008 the Township of Union renamed a portion of West Chestnut Street "Four Seasons Lane" in honor of the group, complete with commemorative street signs. Given that none of the members of the group were actually from Union, I guess it's not surprising that more hasn't been done at the site to honor them, but a plaque would be nice. Maybe if Valli had scored a 300 game, things might have been different.


9 comments:

  1. Another place they appeared at frequently (as the 4 Lovers), was in Keansburg NJ at the original Miami Club, on the boardwalk.

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  2. Grew up going there too. So glad I was able to be apart of that. Right across 22 from there was and still is (in some form) the big ship building.

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  3. My bowling team took 1st place on the Monday Night Men's League in 1980-81.
    I want to go bowling there now, but some real estate agent decided to knock it down and build a Costco's. As if we don't have enough of them!

    I say rebuild the bowling alley exactly the way it was and let the 4 Seasons be the first act to perform there.

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  4. I had my first date - a double date - at the age of 12 at the Four Seasons bowling alley! Memories!

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  5. It's a shame that such an influential and important landmark in rock and roll history was demolished for a Costco. Would love to see it rebuilt elsewhere for posterity.

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  6. I grew up I. Union as well....had many fond memories of Four Seasons. Another spot is Petersons Hot Dog Stand( now Gallopping Hill). Lots of Union History there! Thanks .

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    1. Janice, we did a 'review' of sorts on the Inn a few years ago. http://www.hiddennj.com/2011/05/galloping-hill-inn.html

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  7. Wow...I grew up in Union.. ..graduated Union HS ...worked at Two Guys (then located right near Four Seasons)...bowled in a league, took a bowling class for a credit from then Newark State College... spent many after work dates there.....visited the "lounge"---saw the Duprees there-----and I never heard this story! Brought back many memories.

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  8. Maplewood was my hometown but Union was where I matured...late 70's into early 80's...hanging out at the Four Seasons arcade playing Defender...bowling some frames...trying to get a drink at "the lounge" (they weren't buying it)...girls in their Jordache jeans...that part of rt.22 was my stomping grounds...stretching from the Wiz next door... past the "The Flagship"... past the Union Drive-In Theatre(free movies watching from the sticks)...all the way west to the Lido Diner in Springfield...I was young...I wouldn't trade it for the world

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