Coliseum Ballroom

Coliseum Ballroom 1950’s

Excerpt below from the February 25, 2016 edition of the Oelwein Daily Register.

Read more of this story in the Oelwein Daily Register :

OELWEIN — The Oelwein Area Historical Society is hoping to make the dreams of many area people a reality with Wednesday’s announcement that the OAHS has purchased the former Coliseum ballroom. OAHS President Dave Moore told the Daily Register that he and a few historical society members have been working in the building the past two weeks.

OAHS

Volunteers from the Oelwein Historical Society have already started making renovations at the former Coliseum building. Working on Wednesday were (L-R) Jake Ledesma, Dee and Duane Brandt, Gilbert Brandt, Bob Reider, Garland and Dave Moore and Josh Moor

“Right now we are creating piles and piles of garbage to be hauled out. It needs a lot of work, but we are getting there,” Moore said.

Even though the 88-year-old structure is in disrepair, Moore said there are some positive aspects. He said some of the base work such as new heating and air-conditioning, wiring and plumbing has already been done, and the building has a new roof. Unfortunately, it leaked badly for a number of years before a new roof was put in.

“It will be a beautiful dance floor when I get it done,” Moore said.

Contact the Oelwein Area Historical Society to ask what you can do to help bring back the Coliseum to Oelwein.

Send donations (designated for the Coliseum) to the Oelwein Area Historical Society or contact Dave Moore or Duane Brandt. The OAHS is currently investigating options for online donations.  Updates for online donations will be posted on this page.

Oelwein Area Historical Society
900 2nd Ave SE
PO Box 445
Oelwein, Iowa 50662
Phone: (319) 283-2627


The Coliseum Ballroom in Oelwein, Iowa opened its doors for the first time in 1928 with Paul Tremaine of New York providing the music for a capacity crowd.

coliseumPoster

Poster from the Coliseum Ballroom

Vern Sissel purchased the business in the mid 30’s and brought in big name bands.

In its heyday, the Coliseum Ballroom used to feature numerous big bands (Sammy Kaye, Dorsey BrothersLes BrownGuy LombardoLawrence WelkGlenn Miller, Tex Ritter, Big Tiny LittleDon Glasser  OrchestraBobby Hankins ShowJan Garber Orchestra, Floyd Warren Show, Tony Hill, Bob and Bobby Thomas of the WGN TV Barn Dance and many others) throughout the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. In the 60’s and 70’s, rock bands were the standard attraction at the Coliseum. Andy Doll owned and operated the Coliseum from 1963-1973. He bought the Coliseum in 1963 from Vern and Edna Luther.

Ray Stoddard, retired Oelwein police chief, recalled the admission to Lawrence Welk on a Saturday night was 50 cents per couple. He also remembered Sammy Kaye’s appearance in 1945 or 1946. Kaye drew 4,100 paid admissions at $2.50 per person. When Orrin Tucker appeared there with Wee Bonnie Baker, those who could not squeeze into the ballroom danced on the street to music from speakers set up outside.

Over many decades countless thousands of people passed through the main entrance double doors, past the ticket booth and coat check rooms to the main bar. A double line of wooden booths lined the walls from the entry to the stage. A balcony sat atop the entrance to the dance floor area; filled with booths for sitting and watching. The balcony also had a bar with food offered such as hamburgers and pizza.

Heavy curtains blocked the tall windows so the only light in the ballroom came from globe type lights suspended from the picturesque dull red metal ceiling. After the big band era waned, the newest owner Andy Doll gave teen dances a try. Rock and roll music filled the air in the ballroom. By that time other parts of the Coliseum building had closed. The second story apartment was unoccupied and the six-lane bowling alley in the basement shut down permanently in the 60s.

The Oelwein Register (July 12, 1973) announcing the final dance at the Coliseum. Pictured is Andy Doll, owner/operator at that time.

Doll purchased the ballroom in December of 1962. Doll was a musician and in that same year had the hit record “Wild Desire” on the national charts. He won the second best country western dance band award in the from the National Ballroom Operators Association, behind the legendary Hank Thompson.

The era of the Coliseum ended on July 14, 1973 when the ballroom held its final dance with music by Dave Dighton, one of the top bands in the area. Doll played the Coliseum’s famous grand piano for the final number at the final dance.

On Tuesday, July 24, 1973, the contents of the entire building, from the bowling balls to the drinking glasses were sold at a public auction billed as a “wall to wall” quitting business sale.

The Coliseum was one of Iowa’s Grand Old Ballrooms that is sadly now but a memory.


The Coliseum was once one of many ballrooms in Iowa. Today very few remain active.

The Coliseum Ballroom was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

 

17 comments on “Coliseum Ballroom
  1. sharzhills44gmailcom says:

    We had a wonderful informative tour from Dave Moore, he is truly a inspiration to the community. My parents met there, my dad Ralph Sweeney from Waukon loved to dance and would play the drums for his brother Ray, The Triolians when Ray took a break. That’s when dad met Miss Oelwein, Ileen Birdsell, they later married, had 11 children.
    We will spread the word of your hard work to bring history and stories back to many of us.

    Thanks to all

    Doc and Sharon Sweeney Schulte
    Strawberry Point,Ia

    • indianakelly says:

      Doc and Sharon,
      HubCityMusic thanks you for your kind words. This is the first time we heard of the Trolians band. If they played the Coliseum, they must have been good.
      Also, many thanks for Dave Moore on his efforts in the restoration.

  2. Douglas Seedorff says:

    lived in Arlington Iowa and never missed a Saturdayi night dance at The Coliseum 1953 to 1956

  3. Terry Knapp, Cedar Falls says:

    Thanks for your site. Hope the Coliseum gets restored. I just acquired a postcard sent from the Coliseum in June of 1940 advertising the Glenn Miller Band for Monday night July 1st. What a night that would have been. The Miller Band arrived from Wisconsin and went on the next day to Lincoln, Nebraska and did a Chesterfield broadcast. If you would like a photo of the card for your site, please let me know. Best wishes.

  4. Chad Thompson says:

    My dad was Keith Thompson. He played piano and sang with Bobby Hankins. If anyone has photos or memorabilalia or even memories say hello. Nycchad1@gmail.com

    Thanks so much!
    We miss him dearly.

    • Larry Soper says:

      Yes I knew your father and mother.

    • Kathy Jennings says:

      Did he play at Oelwein Coliseum around 1949 and did he have red hair?

    • Garry Davidson says:

      Your Dad and Uncle Ken were two of my very best friends when we were growing up. Spent many weekends and holidays with the family or they came to visit us. Began our companionship at age 3 until your Dad’s passing. Music was our number one interest. We spent hours at the piano.

  5. Kathy Jennings says:

    Does anyone remember the name of a band playing in oelwein in early 1949?

  6. Kaylee Foley says:

    I stumbled upon this page while researching Andy Doll. He was my great uncle (my grandma’s brother) and he died the year I was born (1984). I have found many audio clips of his music and pictures and stories. I even found a forum with posts by guys who played with him on stage. Very wonderful and interesting stuff, I will certainly have to share with my family.

    • Marilyn Lawrence says:

      Andy Doll’s band was our favorite. He played for our wedding dance at the Prairiemoon Ballroom in Prairieburg, Iowa on April 19, 1958. The hall, which sadly burned down in later years, was jam-packed. We followed Andy at all the local dances. One thing that I thought of as a sort of “trademark’ of his was that at each dance he played the Hawaiian War Chant and after playing it through once the drummer would take over. There would be nothing but drumbeats but the dancers would keep dancing without stopping until the rest of the band joined in again. We missed him when he retired. Marilyn L.

  7. dennis king says:

    Thanks for the history lesson , Coliseum. Kingdennis25@yahoo.com

  8. Greg Ohl says:

    One of the biggest nights for the Coliseum in 1968 was the benefit for Toby Tobiason, the owner of Marsh Music, who had been badly burned in the fire that destroyed the business. My mother, Mary Ohl and Lucille Beckner went to Bobby Hankins with the idea, and he made the arrangements with the ballroom. The line up included Pages, High Society, Top Brass, Avengers, to name a few. The crowd filled the place. Toby died later from his injuries, but Oelwein came together that evening in appreciation of all the young people introduced to music by Marsh Music.

  9. Lois Dudley Stout says:

    I had a fantastic time dancing at the Coliseum. I lived in an apartment less than a block away and went almost ever week.

  10. Mary Ricchio says:

    My Dad, Alex Ricchio played there many nights. The Coliseum was where I was introduced to Tex Ritter. What a nice man! He sat with us and had coffee after the dance. The Rubber Band was another band who played there.

    • Brett Stahr says:

      My Dad was Tom Stahr. He played guitar in The Rubber Band. Also my Uncle Mark Stahr played drums. The Rubber Band was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

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