Woodcliff Ballroom

2008 - Ballroom

Nestled in the trees along the Little Sioux River a hundred yards off Highway 71 east of Spencer, a ballroom was constructed and opened by David H. Hugunin in 1935. He named his ballroom The Woodcliff after a nightclub in a long forgotten movie.

At the time, the site was two miles from the Spencer city limits and obscured by trees so the ballroom was secluded. The ballroom opened its doors during the Great Depression. There was a gravel road leading to the entrance and a bridge over the Little Sioux. Both still, to this day, are referred to as the Woodcliff Road and the Woodcliff Bridge.

Prohibition had recently been lifted and many people who intended to do some serious drinking. Being two miles from town in a secluded place had its pluses for them. Although Hugunin had envisioned a place like the Roof Garden in Arnolds Park, the first night was anything but. The ballroom filled up with drunks who wanted beer instead of dancing. After a time, the owner stopped hiring the bands and installed a juke box, adding more booths; reducing the size of the dance floor.

Retired USAF Colonel Guy (Jack) Hugunin recalls, “I worked for Uncle David on weekends and there were fights almost every night. It was one of the wildest places in Iowa. Bootleggers were common in those first years.”

But Hugunin’s intention, when he built the Woodcliff, was to have a nice place promoting live music and dancing. Within a few years he would reach his dream. He would sometimes drive to Sioux City to hire bands. He would load them and their instruments into his Ford sedan and drive them back to the ballroom to play.

It would be the 1940s before the Woodcliff became a great stage for the big bands. However World War II broke out and Hugunin sold the ballroom and enlisted in the Army. Several others have owned the Woodcliff over the years. Eddie Skeets managed it for nearly two years. Some of the former owners included Russ and Lola Wright in the mid-60s followed by Jack and Betty Matthiesen for 16 years (1974-1990). The final owners were Marvin and Rhonda Smith (1990-1996). The final dance, complete with a closing ceremony, took place on Saturday, Aug. 31, 1996.

Rock and roll bands loved to play at the Woodcliff as did country groups and the big bands. In the 1960’s, the ballroom had a dance club called COD. The letters stood for Clay, O’Brien and Dickinson counties. Seven times each year, the club would bring back big bands for dances From the 60’s on, many rock and rollers danced at the Woodcliff to The Rumbles, Head East, DeeJay & the Runaways, The Senders, The Litterer Band and many, many more.

From the early big band years with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and a grand piano on stage, to rock and roll with big amp systems, to the last years of country music and boots shuffling across the dance floor, the Woodcliff Ballroom provided a great stage and enthusiastic audiences for bands that spanned the generations. It is with pride, the former owners of the ballroom accept the Woodcliff Ballroom’s induction into the Hall of Fame 2008.

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