The story of the Old Dutch doesn’t end with hard times during WWII. Instead, it goes big-time. A hotel chain owner, Cliff Stiles, purchased the Old Dutch, a year before the end of the war. At the time, Mr. Cliff Stiles owned many hotels through the southeast.
Much like the originator of the Old Dutch, Frank Burghduff, and Cliff Stiles arrived in Panama City in the late 30’s. He had recently acquired the tallest building in Panama City, the Dixie Sherman Hotel.
The new owner of the Old Dutch knew very well how to operate nightclub venues and he also had a vast pool of talent to select from, given the volume of acts that played in his establishments.
The United States was slowly recovering from WWII and, by the end of the 40’s, there were new cars available. Gas was also plentiful and there was money to spend. Panama City Beach experienced a boom in tourism.
By 1950, the Old Dutch was the prime destination for many young adults, and a daydream for the underage. The Old Dutch did not turn a blind eye to age requirements, but they didn’t have 20/20 vision either.
The art of fake ID’s was refined by high school students throughout the southeast. Gaining entry into the Old Dutch, as a teenager, was a thrilling right of passage and provided the young scofflaw with eternal bragging rights. Rock n Roll was the juice that made the Old Dutch becoming more than simply a roadhouse; it became the original ‘beach club’.
The tourism boom continued to go up the scale, in the 50’s. During the birth of rock-n-roll, there were a few competitors for the entertainment dollar, on Panama City Beach. The strongest competition was probably from the ‘Hang Out’ in Long Beach Resort. The Hang Out did not have live entertainment and they sold only beer. The “all adult” atmosphere of the Old Dutch meant it was completely packed, shoulder to shoulder, every night of the summer. There were no crowd limits, in that era, and in the center of the club would hang a smoky, humid mist. Hoards of young people, like wild caribou, would migrate through the Old Dutch, over the course of any summer.
Late in the 50’s a pair of Old Dutch musicians were arrested for growing marijuana next to their apartment. I’m sure the constant attention required to keep a plant alive in the area’s sandy soil was their undoing. The Old Dutch continued to grow in reputation and popularity; in profitability too, apparently. Cliff Stiles divested his other properties and began to personally operate the Old Dutch with his wife.
The 60’s saw no slow down in the popularity of the Old Dutch, only the dances changed. By the 70’s, however, there was much more nightclub competition on the beach and the Old Dutch stucco was looking a little shabby.
The stucco was thoroughly washed in 1975, by hurricane Eloise. The Old Dutch foundation was badly eroded and determined to be damaged beyond repair. In 1976 the Old Dutch was demolished. A multi-story corporate hotel sits on the property today.
The list of entertainers that performed at the Old Dutch is a long list of recognizable stars. That story will be subject of another blog.