Danceland Ballroom

2000 - Ballroom

Danceland was billed as "Iowa's Smartest Ballroom" and it would be hard to argue that point. The ballroom was built in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids in 1926 and soon became a popular social destination for all of Eastern Iowa. In the early years the ballroom welcomed many of the popular orchestras and big bands of the day: Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Lawrence Welk and Louis Armstrong were some of the bigger names that passed through.

Danceland entered the rock 'n roll era on October 6, 1955 with the appearance of Bill Haley & the Comets. The ballroom eventually evolved into a rock 'n roll hot spot after Darlowe Oleson and Bernie Storck became the co-managers in 1956. Under Darlowe and Bernie's tutelage Danceland became the place in Cedar Rapids to see, hear and dance to live rock 'n' roll music. In the late '50s /early '60s the ballroom presented a "who's who" of rock's pioneers: Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Brenda Lee, The Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran, Conway Twitty, Gene Vincent & his Blue Caps, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Chubby Checker, Bobby Vee, Del Shannon, Joey Dee & the Starliters, The Ventures, Bobby Darin, Johnny Horton, Wanda Jackson, Gene Pitney, The 4 Seasons, Neil Sedaka, The Fendermen, Marty Robbins, Duane Eddy, Brian Hyland, Johnny & the Hurricanes and Bobby Rydell are but a mere sampling.

The "Winter Dance Party" tour was scheduled to play Danceland on February 6, 1959. Three days before that highly-anticipated concert Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson perished in rock 'n' roll's first tragic plane crash. The old show-biz saying "the show must go on" applied in this case. A revamped lineup was rushed together to finish the remaining thirteen dates of the tour. The "Winter Dance Party" lineup that appeared at Danceland included holdovers Dion & the Belmonts, The Crickets (with Ronnie Smith on lead vocals) and Frankie Sardo who were joined by Frankie Avalon, Jimmy Clanton and Fabian.

Other 1960s hit-makers that graced the Danceland stage include (take a deep breath) The Beach Boys, The Yardbirds, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, The Animals, The Turtles, Beau Brummels, The Ronettes, The Hollies, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, The Music Machine, Lonnie Mack, The Strangeloves, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, The Castaways, The New Colony Six, The Crystals, ? & the Mysterians, Jan & Dean, The Gentrys, The Marketts, Linda Scott, Sam The Sham & the Pharaohs, The Left Banke, Jay & The Americans, Lou Christie, The McCoys, The Kingsmen, Guess Who, The Trashmen, Cannibal & The Headhunters, Bobby Goldsboro, The Fabulous Flippers, Dee Jay & the Runaways and The Velaires to name a few!

The ballroom also provided a musical-proving-ground that allowed many of the top bands in the area to "hone their skills". Regional favorites like Eddie Randall & The Downbeats, Dale Thomas & the Bandera Boys, The Rock 'N Flames, The Escorts, Al's Untouchables, The Legends, The Stompers and others all rocked Danceland's stage as headliners or as the opening act for a national touring group. Danceland was a second story ballroom (it was above a bowling alley!) At the top of the large stairway were large (28" x 44") hand-painted posters that informed the concert-goers of upcoming shows.

These beautiful one-of-a-kind posters were the creative work of local artist Andy Jennings. The surviving posters from the "Legendary Danceland Poster Collection" have become quite the collector's item today. Danceland remained an active ballroom until 1968. The building then became the victim of urban renewal and was torn down to make room for the Cedar Rapids Five Seasons Center. Cedar Rapids lost not only a terrific music venue but it also lost one of its most popular gathering places and the hub the local music community revolved around. The building is gone, but the memories live on.

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