Riviera Ballroom 

2010 - Ballroom

The Riviera Ballroom, added to Riverview Park in Des Moines in 1940, was built to replace the original Dance Hall. It was an “open air” ballroom, meaning that the sides opened out to wooden decks or verandas with tables and chairs.

It cost $35,000 to build the ballroom in 1940. The warm summer nights furnished evening lake breezes that swept through the ballroom to keep the temperature tolerable for the dancers and guests. Enjoying a moonlit night on the veranda overlooking the lake along with Glenn Miller playing in the background are memories that are priceless for many yet today.

When inclement weather came upon the area, large canvas curtains could quickly be lowered by ballroom staff on all the openings and secured with naval fasteners making the interior fairly well protected from the elements. Wooden shutters could also be secured outside the dropped curtains if needed for a semi-permanent enclosure but this would take a crew a day to install.

The large wooden dance floor was column free and surrounded on both sides with alcoves dotted with tables and chairs as well as two cash bars. Another lounge area behind the band stage provided seating for around 60 people with a 30 foot long bar. Total seating in the Riviera was 1,000 people.

Directly behind the stage was a soundproof glass broadcast booth that windowed to the stage. Live radio broadcasts of the performances were sent over the local air waves. Many early broadcasters spend many a dance inside this glass “fishbowl.”

During the 1940’s, amusement parks offered a diversion from World War II; yet the war, for the most part, hurt that industry. Many parks closed and others refrained from adding new attractions due to rationing. Big band popularity and the Riviera Ballroom helped carry Riverview Park through the lean years.

When rock and roll came to Iowa in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the Riviera was a beautiful and exciting venue for the bands and solo performers. In addition to the national and international stars who performed there, the Riviera gave many local Iowa bands a stage on which to draw an audience of fans. Those bands included: Dominic and the Dominoes, Cavaliers, Spartans, Pendletons, Road Runners, Echos V, Novelles, Missing Links, Tommy Tucker & the Esquires, Pete Klint Quintet, Sir Richard & the Squires, Rhythm Masters, Pelican Peace Band….and the list goes on.

Adventureland bought the Riverview Park in 1979, moving many of the rides and attractions to the new park. The Riviera Ballroom, Merry Go Round Pavilion and the park office building remained while everything else was moved or torn down. The proper was ‘donated’ to the city of Des Moines for $1. The abandoned Riviera was burned down by suspected arsonists in August of 1981. Unfortunately, it was at that time that the Riviera was slated for possible inclusion onto the official list of Iowa ’s Historic Sites.

For its extensive promotion of Iowa bands and the many, many years of bringing music and dancing to thousands of Iowans, the Riviera Ballroom in Riverview Park is inducted in to the IRRMA Hall of Fame in 2010.

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