Ridotto Ballroom

2010 - Ballroom

In a farm field on Hwy. 4 near Havelock , the Ridotto Ballroom was built by Darlowe Oleson, as a festival site. 4,000 people attended the opening on Aug. 24, 1937 with Jan Garber on stage.

Many bands played there including Lawrence Welk, Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo, Little Tiny Little, Ted Lewis, etc. Unfortunately in 1946 fire took the ballroom down

While Oleson served as a pilot in World War II, his sister Darralene Oleson Carroll ran the ballroom. A fire destroyed the original building but Oleson rebuilt. A tornado took the ballroom and one of the houses in 1952 but was rebuilt again and back in operation by 1953.

The laws of the land changed and he could not get a liquor license. So Darlowe moved in five houses, recruited people to move there and incorporated Ridotto as a town in October of 1950; the smallest incorporated town in Iowa . While serving as mayor, with his wife as one of the members of the town council, the town granted the Ridotto Ballroom a liquior license and the place was flourishing once again.

In 1958, Oleson sold the ballroom to John and George Cullen from Emmetsburg who operated it until deciding to sell in 1964. Oleson, who was now running the Roof Garden Ballroom in Arnolds Park , leased the ballroom. He knew the impact rock and roll was having in Iowa and gave many area garage bands the opportunity to play before huge crowds and hone their performance skills at the Ridotto. The ballroom was fondly referred to as the ‘Bloody Bucket’ due to all the fights staged there. Rock and Roll was here to stay and the bands loved playing at the Ridotto. The rock and roll fans flocked to the rural setting to dance and enjoy the music of such great bands as: Dee Jay & the Runaways, Al’s Untouchables, The Trashmen, Conway Twitty, Sensational Soul Company and The Senders.

When Cullen made the decision to close and sell, a Laurens teacher sent the newspaper article to Johnny Carson in California . Carson put the sale of the town on his television show and a national hoopla occurred. Nearly 31,000 inquiries were made about purchasing the town and its ballroom but it didn’t sell. The homes were rented out as well as the ballroom which housed hogs and even chickens through the years.

The families moved on and the ballroom burned down in 1975. The town no longer exists but the memories of that famous ballroom out in a rural Iowa setting continue to live on. Fond memories of the Ridotto are discussed often as people tour the IRRMA museum. Never a negative word is spoken; only the fondest of recollections bringing smiles to their faces. For all those memories of the glory days of the Ridotto, it takes it place in Iowa music history with the IRRMA Hall of Fame Class of 2010.

The Iowa Rock 'n Roll Music Association Hall of Fame & Museum exists to preserve the legacy of rock and roll music in Iowa by honoring achievements, educating youth and inspiring artists. Established in 1997, we are a501(c)(3) non-profit statewide organization with many areas of service.

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