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Cobblestone owner: reopen ballroom for antique shows

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

he Cobblestone interior remains virtually as it was in its heyday - with its vast dance floor, stage, classic booths, wall murals and even dishes in place for the dining room. Former Storm Lake resident Casey Walton, now of Florida, recently got permission to tour and photograph the interior that has not been seen by the public for more than a quarter of a century.
If many locals are frustrated with the state of the classic Cobblestone Inn ballroom at Lakeside, the longtime owner is equally perplexed.

"I can't believe the lack of progress we've made. It is an incredible frustration," says Dr. W.M. Petty.

Retiree Petty, a former Storm Laker now living in Colorado, and his wife Nancy, told the Pilot-Tribune this week that they still have hopes the site can be renovated and re-opened. While they have been unable to connect with any local group or developer with the energy and cash to take on a project that could require a couple million dollars, they are now encouraging the community to seek a plan to renovate a portion of the building - perhaps just enough to host regular antique shows and flea markets.

Getting the public inside the Cobblestone again could spark the momentum needed to restore and reopen the building in phases.

The storied "Cobb" dates to the late 1920s. The doors were locked in November 1986, leaving everything just as it was in the Iowa Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame honored ballroom, a virtual time capsule.

The Pettys obtained the site years ago, hoping to see it re-opened. During early stages of renovation work, water seeped in through the opened roof and did considerable damage. Petty had a steel roof built to encapsulate the building, which remains structurally sound.

"For a very long time we have been interested in getting the Cobblestone reopened, and at least preserving what we have left. I still want to see something get going - I think this site could be a tremendous benefit to King's Pointe and the Storm Lake community," Petty said.

The Pettys admit they cannot complete the project alone. "We simply don't have the time, energy, expertise or funds to renovate the inn without an investor group," Petty says, adding that it was never their intention to renovate on their own.

He said they would be willing to sell the property to an investor or group of investors that commits to preserving the ballroom for future generations, or to participate themselves in a group to invest in renovation.

"There's been lots of talk but no serious investors. We would prefer to sell to an investor who would preserve the inn instead of developing it in some other manner," Petty says.

He tried to interest the county historical society. At one point, he said, he discussed offering the Cobblestone to Buena Vista University to develop as an adjunct site.

"We were told that they didn't see the property as a fit with their future plans and if donated BVU would likely sell off the property," Petty said of the college. "Everyone says it would be nice to have it open, but no one has been ready to step up with the time and the energy,"

Petty says he still gets calls from New York to Florida from people with fond memories of the classic ballroom - but it is going to take more than good wishes.

"No matter how you cut it, it is going to cost money," Petty said.

Ideally, he said his dream remains to see the building reopened as a ballroom.

However, live music is not as common as it once was, and people often aren't willing to spend much on enterainment in the current economy. Realizing this, Petty proposes that the community take on a project in stages.

"You could have a small restaurant, a game area and have the ballroom available for music on the weekend, even if it was only a DJ sometimes," he said.

With the explosion in interest in antiques and "picking," he suggests the Cobblestone also be used as a site for antique auctions or even flea markets every Sunday where locals could buy and sell their collectibles in a historic setting that would be an attraction in itself.

With parks and campgrounds nearby, a recreation attraction outside the Cobblestone might also be a good development for Storm Lake, Petty feels.

"The biggest thing is to get the doors open and get started. Once you have people in there again there will be interest and you can restore a little at a time. There are a lot of ways to go with it, but I think it has to be approached with some common sense."

It may take a local committee of some kind with a longterm commitment to the site to get momentum going, Petty feels. "I still think it is priceless - it's totally unique. It would bring people into Storm Lake from a long way away."

After years of absorbing the cost of taxes and site maintenance, Petty is unsure how long he can continue. The option, tearing down the Cobblestone and selling the lakefront land for development, is not one he finds appealing.

"It could reach that point eventuallty. It is burdensome, but I just haven't wanted to take it down," he says, but adds that the couple remains committed to the history of their former hometown. "We have no intention of demolishing the building now or any time in the near future."

While locals are frustrated by the slow decomposition of the once beloved ballroom, Petty finds himself equally saddened.

"It's horrible," he says. "Eventually it will reach the point of no return, and that is just sad. I never thought it would come to that."

Former Iowa Cultural Affairs Director Anita Walker toured the Cobblestone in 2001. "Oh my gosh - this is just like walking into a time capsule," she said of the experience. "You have such a treasure here - and all the parts are still here for you to put it back together again. It can be an amazing attraction," she said.

The 5,300-square-foot maple dancefloor stands intact, a microphone still resting in its stand in front of the dusty stage that hasn't been used in almost 30 years. Colorful wall murals survive, along with big band era posters and hundreds of antique fittings, from early Coke machines to a Coast Guard hat left behind at some long-forgotten dance.

"This is a living museum," agrees a historical expert send by the Sanford Museum in Cherokee to investigate the building. "Every nook and cranny here holds the history of the region."

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. "If you were a musician, you remember the name and going to the Cobblestone, along with the Surf and Val Air."

Steve Brown, former director of the Iowa Rock 'N' Roll Music Association, 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. 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."

A cobwebbed calendar affixed to the wall inside the Cobblestone still marks the day the music died - November 8, 1986.

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I have come across families who would like the Cobblestone come back and reopen with dances and other events. Cobblestone was a big part of Storm Lakes History.

I have submitted or attached a 1975 aerial of the Cobblestone.

This is one of the 1975 aerials of Storm Lake with other earlier 1971 aerials.

Would like to see our community history preserved

not torn down.



-- Posted by Colt on Tue, Jul 3, 2012, at 6:45 PM

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