2002 - Ballroom
High on the hill overlooking Estherville, Iowa stood the Skyline Ballroom. It majestically ruled that hill for several decades, but not without adversity.
The Skyline had humble beginnings. In 1945, Lloyd Sampson had a vision and talked his wife Sylvia into going along with it. He wanted to buy the Woodley Hatchery and turn it into a ballroom. “Only Lloyd could look at a hatchery and see a ballroom,” she chuckled over 50 years later.
They bought it in ’45 and spent many months in remodeling; including the construction of a floating dance floor. They opened the Skyline doors for business in 1946. “It was during the Big Band era,” recalled Mel Loewenberg, the couple’s son-in-law who worked for them. “We sold set ups and food and featured local bands.” The family at one time managed four ballrooms.
The Sampsons lived in an upstairs apartment and ran the Skyline six nights a week. “We were closed on Monday nights,” Sylvia remembered.
Then rock and roll hit the nation and the Skyline joined in. They booked rock bands through KMOA Radio out of Kansas City through the 1950s and 1960s.“We featured area bands quite a bit,” Loewenberg noted. “I remember Myron Lee and the Caddies, DeeJay and the Runaways, The Rumbles and Dentairs played the Skyline often. When we were cleaning up on Sunday afternoons, the Dentairs and Runaways used to use the ballroom to practice.”
For a while Sampson booked bands out of Nashville including one group with green hair, according to Loewenberg.
While Sylvia Sampson was taking a nap late in the afternoon on Monday, July 25, 1966, her daughter smelled smoke and woke her. They fled down the backstairs as the Skyline burned due to electrical wiring problems in the ballroom’s kitchen. The building was a total loss, with the exception of a couple of refrigerators passersby helped to rescue. Not only had the Sampsons lost their business, but also all of their personal belongings.
Not to be deterred, they rebuilt the Skyline…with no living quarters this time around. “It was our life, our livelihood. Lloyd was a good mixer and friends with everyone,” Sylvia said. “He even made a special booth for a doctor we had because the doctor was too big to fit in our regular booths. On Monday, our only night off, we went to other ballrooms around to see what the competition was doing. But Lloyd never did learn to dance. He was too busy greeting everyone.”
The couple sold the ballroom in the spring of 1969. Lloyd Sampson passed away in 1983.
The couple raised three children and influenced the lives of hundreds of people by owning a ballroom where friendliness and the latest in musical entertainment gave everyone a place to relax, enjoy good food and dance the night away.
The building still stands today. Owned by the Estherville Elks, it continues to host dances, wedding receptions and meetings.