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Iowa History Daily: April 17 - The Start of the Surf

Iowa History Daily: On April 17, 1933, the Surf Ballroom officially opened and charged guests $1.00 for a chance to take a spin on the dance floor. Internationally known as the final concert site of Buddy Holly on the infamous “day the music died,” the Surf has played host to the scores of famous bands and musicians including the Beach Boys, Count Basie, Conway Twitty, Duke Ellington, Roy Orbison, and the Temptations.

Founded by Carl J. Fox with the intention of opening an ocean beach club style establishment directly across the street from the current building. Featuring a 90 x 120 hardwood dancefloor, five enormous lakeside windows, and a rooftop garden for outdoor dancing. Carl Fox allegedly borrowed against his life insurance to get the club, as well as two others in Minnesota, off the ground. In 1946 he sold all the Surf, the Terp (Austin, MN), and the Prom (St. Paul, MN) to a Chicago developer for a neat $1,300,000.

The original Surf burned to the ground during the early morning hours of April 20, 1947. The owners quickly set in place plans to rebuild in the parking lot across the street totalling an estimated $350,000, and construction got underway on the venue known to many Iowans in the decades to follow. The current Surf opened on July 1, 1948, and quickly became a regular stop for the nation’s top musical acts during the 1940s.Under the leadership of manager Carroll Anderson, the Surf continued to build a reputation as a ‘must-play’ venue on the tours of many nationally famous musicians. By the time Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, Dion & the Belmonts, and Frankie Sardo took the stage for the Winter Dance Party concert on that tragic night in February of 1959, Iowans came from near and far to soak in the Surf.

The Surf continues to offer music lovers opportunities to see favorite acts new and old while preserving the charm and integrity of the original venue. Dedicated as a historic rock and roll landmark by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as well as an entrant on the National Register of Historic Places, the Surf promises to keep things swinging for years to come. #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD


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