Retro concert may be springboard to historical project. As Storm Lake rocked and rolled Sunday night, it also geared up for its next challenge - saving the Cobblestone.
"We're going to start now," announced Chris Nolte, CEO of the Storm Lake Chamber and Area Development Corporation, between sets of the 2002 Rock 'N' Roll Winter Dance Party. Nolte's announcement was met with applause and cheers from the 500-plus audience.
"We need some vehicle to show our good faith efforts to do what we intend to preserve the Cobblestone," Nolte told the Pilot-Tribune. Interestingly, Nolte's own father played at the landmark Cobblestone as part of a big band in its heyday.
The Winter Dance Party celebrates the last tour of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, as well as pilot and Alta-native Roger Peterson. They died when their plane crashed Feb. 3, 1959, after playing a show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.
Many of those who were on the 1959 tour were back in Storm Lake Sunday night for a six-city tour to raise money for a scholarship fund for college-bound music students.
On Monday morning, the musicians from the Dance Party wiped sleep from their eyes for a rare glimpse inside the locked doors of the Cobblestone Inn, shut down since the late 1980s.
"If the Cobblestone was open, that's where we'd be playing tonight," tour organizer Paul King said.
George Tomsco of The Fireballs remembered when his band played at the Cobblestone in the summer of 1959.
"Any Midwest tour always included the Cobblestone," he said. "You remember the name and going to the Cobblestone, along with the Surf and Val Air.
"If you were a musician, the Midwest ballrooms were a good place to play," he said.
Steve Brown, director of the Iowa Rock 'N' Roll Music Association, also toured the Cobblestone yesterday morning.
He remembered visiting the Cobblestone in 1969 and 1970, but said ballrooms across the state have had a "rough go" since then.
"All ballrooms have amazing personalities with all the history that goes into them," Brown said. "It's too bad to see them sitting like this. But it's difficult to keep going with the changes in lifestyles.
"It would be tremendous to buy this and open it up again and make it a viable operation," he added. "Everyone from garage bands to major names played these ballrooms back in the day. They're an important part of not only Iowa's history but the country's."
The Cobblestone stands very much the same today as it did when the doors were closed in the 1980s. Glasses and dishes are stacked in the kitchen. Pads of order slips bearing the name of the Cobblestone Inn and the upstairs-bar the Circus Lounge sit next to cash registers. A coat rack next to the dance floor has a nylon jacket, on the back, "Cobblestone Inn and Ballroom, Lakeside, IA."
Nolte said it is time to take another step in preserving the Cobblestone. Yesterday the chamber explored two options - establishing a charitable corporation to accept tax-deductible donations or seeing if the chamber itself can collect those donations.
Dr. Wendell Petty is the owner of both the Cobblestone and the old Harbor House restaurant in Storm Lake.
"We'll begin an effort of making people aware of the potential we have here, and show Dr. Petty we're sincere as a community," Nolte said.
"You hear people say we've got to save the Cobblestone, and now it's time to take another step," he added. "This is very important to the community of Storm Lake and the community of Lakeside, and the whole Northwest Iowa area."
While directing local preservation efforts, Nolte said the chamber will also explore the available public and private programs and organizations that could possibly play a role in saving the Cobblestone.
"It works hand-in-hand with main street preservation - this is a preservation of our past," Nolte said. "These ballrooms are fun, fun places."