The Modernistic Ballroom

2004 - Ballroom

It may not have started out as a ballroom, but the Modernistic Ballroom in Clinton evolved into what became known as “Iowa’s most beautiful ballroom.”

The building was constructed in 1904 by the Clinton Commercial Club at a cost of $110,000. It was made of hard red brick and used steel trusses to give it a beautiful arched roof that didn’t have to be supported by pillars. The open floor plan of that style of construction lent itself well to the building’s first purpose.. .as a National Guard Armory. It housed all the guard’s large military equipment.

Times were tough in the 1930’s but that wouldn’t stop the Clinton American Legion. A local Legionnaire had the foresight to go out on a limb and suggest turning this huge, cavernous open shell of a structure into a ballroom.

A second floor was installed and a beautiful ballroom was created. The first floor was still occupied by the National Guard but the ballroom stage would draw some of the top names in music to Clinton over and over again.

Dances were held almost every Wednesday and Saturday night. “The Mod”, as it was affectionately known, hosted small regional bands like Emil Flindt, Tiny Hill, etc.

Since Clinton was only a three-hour drive from Chicago (even on the two-lane roads of that day) where the country’s greatest ballrooms of that era were going strong (The Aragon and the Trianon), the Clinton Legion was able to book for one-night stands the country’s best dance bands. These bands welcomed the chance to pickup a fill-in date on Monday nights, when Chicago dance halls were dark; so twice monthly, Monday night at “The Mod” was the place to be.

Among the famous bands to play The Mod were Wayne King, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Sammy Kay, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, Tommy Dorsey and Lawrence Welk. Welk’s pianist at that time was Clintonian Tommy Sheridan. In the 1940’s Lawrence Welk and his 21-piece band played from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. for $1,100. A few years later when Welk’s band became nationally famous, it would cost $21,000 for a two-hour show. Welk’s band was extremely popular in the Clinton area. When the Welk Band played The Mod on April 6, 1942, 1,486 people attended. Admission price was 85 cents. For lesser known bands the admission price was 35 cents; a real bargain by today’s standards.

The Mod was well laid out with the stage up front and a beautiful oak parquet dance floor. Around the perimeter of the dance floor was a six-inch raised area with tables and chairs for watching and visiting. A large attractive bar added to the aura and the lighting was extremely effective. Many a romance began at The Mod.

Years later the first level of the building was converted into the plush Legion restaurant/nightclub. In the mid to late 50’s rock and roll hit the music scene like gang busters and The Mod was quick to put those bands on its famous stage.

Then tragedy befell The Mod. A Christmas dance was held in the ballroom on Dec. 23, 1958. Appearing that night were Ron Jordan & the Volcanoes (Hall of Fame 2003), Duane Eddy and Jimmy Clanton. By 2 a.m. the last person had left the building and by 4 a.m. the Clinton Fire Department arrived to find a fire that was out of control. By morning the building and the Masons’ Scottish Rite Cathedral next door were reduced to nothing but rubble.

Although the Mod’s demise was premature; the ballroom made a huge impact on music, offered area musicians a forum to promote their talents and showcased the best music the nation had to offer. For its “glory days” contributions to Iowa’s music history, the Modernistic Ballroom at Clinton enters the Hall of Fame in the Class of 2004.

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