Letter from the Editor

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Now or never for Cobblestone?

The iron is as hot as it's going to get if this community plans to really do something to get the Cobblestone Inn preserved and restored to some positive public use.

The Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will honor the site this summer as one of two ballrooms in the state to be placed in the Hall of Fame, a bow to the history of this place, its importance in local society, and the vital role it played in bringing big band, jazz and pioneer rock 'n' roll music to the people.

That's great news for Storm Lake. It should be cause for a rocking local celebration.

Instead, it's going to be an embarrassment if our landmark is inducted into the Hall of Fame as a boarded-up, cobwebbed, overgrown and slowly crumbling shell of its former glories.

If a Hall of Fame induction isn't motivation to finally get something going with this landmark building, I don't know what is. The town and its leaders have been woofing about restoring and developing the building off and on since the day it closed 17 years ago.

We have the support of the state's cultural department, which sent its officials to tour the building and stirred a lot of enthusiasm. We have exciting talk of a potential State Park destination development into which a historic lakefront landmark might well fit. A firm proven in Iowa ballroom restoration has already stepped forward and shown interest in taking on the job. The stars are pretty nicely aligned, and if this isn't the time to get a serious effort underway, one has to wonder if it ever will be.

To be honest, time is a factor. A building doesn't sit empty forever without falling further into disrepair.

A few other Iowa towns have seen their historic ballrooms fall to fires or demolition in recent years. Always, they seem to find that they wished they had those places and the opportunities they represent back. We still have our opportunity standing.

As time goes by, we lose more and more of that segment of our community that remembers the glory days of this great ballroom first-hand, and it will be that much harder to motivate a restoration.

If we are never going to see anything positive of this exceptional place, we might just as well tear it down before it becomes an eyesore. The same is true for the railroad depot - a National Registry of Historic Places site that is in such run-down shape, we should be ashamed. What a loss that would be to lose such places, though!

Doing something with the Cobblestone is a daunting task, but not an impossible one.

It needs to be obtained in local hands, either for a private developer, public use or a working museum. That will take some money and a lot of work.

Inside, the place is a virtual time capsule, with many of the fittings from its glory era still there, just waiting as they were left years ago. The huge ballroom floor is basically intact. The fantastic Circus theme murals are still there, the plush 1950s-style booths.

It would be expensive to restore it, but it would be impossible to duplicate it, at any price.

It is unlikely that some fatcat is going to come in with a bottomless checkbook to magically turn a run-down vacant building back into a swinging hotspot. If it's going to happen, it will take some real local effort. This seems like as good a time as it's ever going to get.