Three years ago, Nancy Dana Norton was asked by her boss at the Mesa Public Library to write a book about the Mezona — a dance hall and auditorium at the heart of Mesa’s social life for 63 years and to which she had a blood connection to boot.
The city’s fiscal problems scuttled plans for the library to publish the book, but Norton couldn’t stop writing.
"I figured I had to finish it, to leave a legacy of my greatgrandfather and what he did for the town," she said.
Last month, she had a local printer publish 200 copies for her to sell at $20 apiece. Now she’s getting ready to order more, as she has only about 30 books left.
"Mezona Memories: A Sentimental Journey" is 177 pages of history, photographs, news clippings and blurbs from almost 50 people who remember the Mezona as if the last Saturday dance were this weekend, although the hall was torn down almost 33 years ago.
The Mezona is best remembered for its Friday and Saturday night dances, but it also hosted variety shows, plays, citrus fairs and other events.
John T. Vance was Norton’s visionary ancestor and one of Mesa’s first Mormon settlers. He built the Vance Auditorium at Main Street and Morris to save his family and friends from the hazards of getting caught overnight in Phoenix after a show.
About 1,600 people lived in Mesa in 1908. About 2,500 people came to the auditorium’s first dance, on Valentine’s Day of that year.
In 1919, Vance, who lived beneath the building with his family for a time, sold the auditorium to the Maricopa Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church expanded the building and renamed it in 1926.
Though the Mezona was church-owned, its heyday in the 1940s and ’50s had dances that were attended by people of all walks of life in Mesa. A good percentage of the city’s couples met, got engaged or announced their engagements there.
Three generations in the family of Mesa insurance salesman Dilworth Brinton Jr. managed the Mezona. His father earned the trust of Mesa parents by strictly enforcing rules banning alcohol, tobacco and other substances as well as activities frowned upon by the Mormon Church.
Brinton himself was put to work at the Mezona in 1956, at age 8.
"It was my job to turn on the red, blue and yellow lights for the fast dances and turn the yellow lights off for the slow dances," he said.
He came back in 1970 to become the Mezona’s last manager.
"By that time it was more and more LDS, just because there were more places to go, things to do," he said.
Termites had moved into the Mezona’s dance floor by 1971. The building was declared unsafe by the city, and the church tore down the building and sold the land. The Best Western Mezona Inn now stands on that spot.
Norton, who frequented Mezona dances as a teenager in the 1960s, makes about $5 from each book she sells.
"Because it isn’t there, it makes for even more sweet memories," she said.
Anyone interested in buying the book may call Norton at (480) 396-2356.