New owners of Palace Park invite public to picnic for reminiscing

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
Stephanie Whalen and Brian O’Keefe are planning to refurbish Palace Park in Hunlock Creek. - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader
Brian O’Keefe points to the field at Palace Park where Sly and the Family Stone played a concert in July 1971. - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader
Brian O’Keefe and Stephanie Whalen talk about their plans for the Palace Park property. - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader
Brian O’Keefe moves the roller skating sign inside the Palace Park building on Thursday. O’Keefe bought the property at auction and plans to turn it into a destination spot in Hunlock Creek. - - Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

HUNLOCK TWP. — When Brian O’Keefe was a kid, he used to love going to Palace Park to swim, play baseball, and picnic with his family.

Several decades later, O’Keefe, 62, has purchased the park and plans to return it to those glory days.

But O’Keefe said there are no plans at this time to bring Sly and the Family Stone back for a repeat of its July 11, 1971, concert with Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. However, he does hope to return roller skating, bowling, baseball, sunbathing, picnicking and car racing to the sprawling grounds. Swimming may not be in the plans, but the old swimming hole will be there, even if it’s just for show.

To help O’Keefe and his partner, Stephanie Whalen, 56, put together the repair and refurbishment plans, they are inviting anyone willing to come to the park on July 21 at 1 p.m. for an open house — “Come and Reminisce” — to tell their stories of their times at Palace Park, which was called Rummage’s previously.

“We want it to be a family park,” O’Keefe said. “We want it to be a place where kids and families can come and have fun, whether it be to picnic in the pavilions, or to hold an event like a reunion or wedding or any type of get-together.”

O’Keefe, who owns Mooretown Mill in Sweet Valley/Red Rock, said he purchased the park a year ago for $100,000. He intends to put five times that into repairing and refurbishing the place.

Whalen said she and O’Keefe are calling the July 21 event a BYOBs — bring your own blanket, (picnic) basket, beverages, and ball glove.

“We want anyone who has a remembrance of the park to come and tell us about it,” Whalen said. “We want to hear their stories.”

O’Keefe said the Mountain Brothers Band will play at the event.

In its heyday, Palace Park featured three bowling lanes with pin boys and girls, a roller rink, an arcade, a restaurant, a large ball field, swimming and a dirt track. The last reigning track champion was Ed Spencer, father of former NASCAR driver Jimmy Spencer, O’Keefe said.

“We never realized how many people came here,” O’Keefe said. “And they came here for all types of events. We want everybody to know we are trying to reopen the park the way it was when it was in its glory.”

‘Such a great place’

After Palace Park closed, O’Keefe said it later opened as Country Gentleman, a bar/restaurant that closed in late 2013. He said he hopes to get the grounds finished this year and a new roof on the main building by the end of August. He intends to build a timber-frame room in the main building much like the one he did at the Beaumont Inn in Dallas and the Forty Fort Park.

The plan is to be open for events year-round.

O’Keefe said his passion is dirt bike racing — he earned a national title in 1981 at the National Hare Scrambles, a series held across the U.S.

O’Keefe found a few vintage signs from the Palace Park days — one that hung in the roller rink that lit up to give skaters instructions. In the middle was a logo for Frostie Root Beer.

The other sign used to hang at the park’s entrance: “You are now entering Palace Park Resort Area — We love our children — Please drive slow.”

Asked why he decided to tackle such an ambitious project, O’Keefe smiled.

“Hey, I’ve got a lot of horses to brand before I’m done,” he said. “This was such a great place when I was a kid and I want to bring it back.”

Stephanie Whalen and Brian O’Keefe are planning to refurbish Palace Park in Hunlock Creek.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_TTL071318palace2-3.jpgStephanie Whalen and Brian O’Keefe are planning to refurbish Palace Park in Hunlock Creek. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

Brian O’Keefe points to the field at Palace Park where Sly and the Family Stone played a concert in July 1971.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_TTL071318palace3-3.jpgBrian O’Keefe points to the field at Palace Park where Sly and the Family Stone played a concert in July 1971. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

Brian O’Keefe and Stephanie Whalen talk about their plans for the Palace Park property.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_TTL071318palace4-3.jpgBrian O’Keefe and Stephanie Whalen talk about their plans for the Palace Park property. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader

Brian O’Keefe moves the roller skating sign inside the Palace Park building on Thursday. O’Keefe bought the property at auction and plans to turn it into a destination spot in Hunlock Creek.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_TTL071318palace1-3.jpgBrian O’Keefe moves the roller skating sign inside the Palace Park building on Thursday. O’Keefe bought the property at auction and plans to turn it into a destination spot in Hunlock Creek. Aimee Dilger | Times Leader
New owners plan picnic at Hunlock site

By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.