Iconic Buildings

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Charles Granger Blanden had been the mayor of Fort Dodge from 1887 – 1889. He later became a banker in Chicago, and subsequently devoted his time to creating poetry. He was renowned for his poetry, receiving many awards throughout the United States.

Mr. Blanden’s wife Elizabeth was a teacher in Fort Dodge when they lived here. She was the daughter of a Fort Dodge clergyman, Reverend Mills, one time pastor of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Later in their lives they moved to California and in 1929, Mrs. Blanden passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.

Mr. Blanden wanted to something to honor his wife’s life and decided to build an art museum, but he wasn’t sure if he should build it in Fort Dodge or in San Diego, California.

A group of ladies that lived in Fort Dodge in the late 1920’s really wanted Mr. Blanden to build the museum here. But at that time, there was a state law that only allowed cities with a population of 50,000 or more people to have a municipal museum. Fort Dodge had around 30,000 people living in it at that time, not enough for a municipal museum. A State Senator from Fort Dodge helped the group and through the Iowa government system, sponsored a law that lowered the population requirement to 20,000 – this way; Fort Dodge could build a museum.

The Blanden Memorial Art Museum was designed by architect E. O. Damon, Jr., of Fort Dodge in 1931 and was modeled after the neo-classical design of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. The façade (front) of the Blanden was influenced by the architectural design of other builds, such as the Petit Trianon at Versailles near Paris, France.

At the time of the Blanden Memorial Art Musuem’s opening, there were not light fixtures in the galleries, so skylights open to the outside were on the ceilings. These have since been covered, and special light fixtures added that better protect the artwork.

The Blanden Memorial Art Museum continues to be a vibrant art museum in northwest Iowa today. It has multiple exhibits each year, art classes for adults and children, creative community outreach and artist talks throughout the year. The Blanden permanent collection includes the Ann R. Smeltzer Modernist collection of European and American painting and sculpture, the Harold D. Peterson collection of European and American prints, American photography, contemporary American art, Iowa artists and Japanese screens and prints. The Blanden’s mission continues to be to integrate visual arts into everyday life.

Sources:

*Fort Dodge Messenger

*www.blanden.org

*Webster County Historical Society





Blanden Art Museum

1932

920 3rd Ave S

The Blanden Memorial Art Museum was constructed in 1932 as the first art museum in Iowa in the Historic Oak Hill District.  Charles Blanden donated the funding to build the museum. 

Boston Centre

1914

809 Central Ave 

The building that housed the Boston Store at 809 Central Ave., consisted of four floors and a basement for the retail activity and a balcony for the general offices, mail order department, credit department and exchange desk. The third floor also featured a small restaurant and tea room.

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Location: 809 Central Ave.

Construction Timeline: 1914

Architect: Thomas Reely & Max Nippell

Original Owner: Richard Snell (Clinton, Illinois)

Size: 6 stories (Boston)

Purpose of Building: Retail Department Store

Richard Snell, from Clinton Illinois, was the original owner of the Boston Centre and also the Snell Building, both located at 809 and 805 Central Avenue. He received the land on which both buildings are located from his father, Thomas Snell, who owned it when it was originally platted in 1856.

Although the two buildings differed in size, appearance and function, they were both part of the same investment project for Snell. Both buildings were constructed at the same time, however the building for the Boston Store was completed first and had its formal opening in September of 1914, while the Snell Building was completed in January of 1915.

The building that housed the Boston Store at 809 Central Ave., consisted of four floors and a basement for the retail activity and a balcony for the general offices, mail order department, credit department and exchange desk. The third floor also featured a small restaurant and tea room. Below is a list of the various departments and merchandise that was on each floor:

The First Floor

Women and children’s shoes, woolen dress goods and linings; silks and velvets; linens, wash goods and white goods; patterns; embroideries, laces, trimmings; neck wear, handkerchiefs and veiling, jewelry, leather goods, parasols and umbrellas, toilet goods and drug sundries; knit underwear and hosiery; gloves and notions and bed spreads.

“Worthy of particular mention is the department store innovation, the drug sundries and the toilet article department under the management of George Gilman. Mrs. Helga Rand, for fifteen years a well-known and efficient clerk in Fort Dodge, is in charge with Miss Rose Pelican as her assistant. The outlay of merchandise in this section of the big store has attracted a great deal of attention because of its completeness and beauty. One particularly interesting line of goods shown there is the imported French white ivory toilet articles. Purchased before the war, it is on sale at prices greatly under the average price for imported stuff in other markets. That it is soon to be a rarity on the American market if the war continues, is also adding to the interest in the display. In addition to this, the department shows a complete line of toilet articles in every line, including perfumes, toilet articles and powders. A full line of rubber goods is also carried. Cottons, gauzes and bandages are also to be seen. This department undoubtedly will be particularly popular with the feminine shopper.” - The Fort Dodge Messenger. September 19, 1914

On the Balcony

In the balcony placed across the south end of the first floor are the general offices, mail order department, cash cages for the five floors, credit department and exchange desk.

The Second Floor – “Ready to wear department”

Millinery (women’s hats); suits, coats and dresses, skirts, waists, furs, kimonas, petticoats and sweaters.

“This department is beautifully equipped with mahogany furnishing. A deep green velvet carpet covers the floor. Many glass cases enclose dresses and suits and coats on forms and an abundance of long mirrors gives the buyer every opportunity to see herself as others will see her.” - The Fort Dodge Messenger. September 19, 1914

The Third Floor

Hair goods and beauty parlor, muslin underwear and corsets; infant’s department, and the art goods and yarn department. The restaurant and tea room occupied the southeast quarter of this floor as well. With a beautiful atmosphere with very fine mahogany furniture, chairs and tables with heavy opaque glass tops, the restaurant and tea room was not expected to make money, but was provided “as a matter of convenience to the people.” Special lunches were served each day from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. During the afternoon, the regular dishes were served.

The Fourth Floor

Rugs, linoleums, carpets; draperies and curtain goods, photograph studio, wall paper, paints, window shades, pictures and picture framing.

Basement

Various kinds of general merchandise and special sales. Trunks and suit cases; stationery; bedding, blankets and comforters; domestic prints, percales, cotton goods and bakery goods.

Today, the Boston Centre is home to Olde Boston’s Restaurant; “Within” Marketing Company; Action Reality, Inc.; Alyssa Kenville, P.C.; Fort Dodge Reality; Johnson & Bonzer PLC; Johnson Law Firm; RDG Media Inc.; Snyder & Associates, Inc.; Storey Kenworthy office supplies; Valentine Law Office, P.C.





HISTORY
Carnegie Library

1903

605 1st Ave N. 

Built in 1903, the Carnegie Library was considered one of the best libraries of it time.

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Location: 605 1st Ave N.

Construction Timeline: 1901 - 1903

Architect: Henry Koch

Original Owner: City of Fort Dodge

Size: 2 stories with basement

Purpose of Building: Library

Captain W.H. Johnston is considered the founder of the Fort Dodge Public Library. Captain Johnston had an unselfish commitment to public service and untiring application of his talents to library interests. He was first to establish a private library association in Fort Dodge in 1874. In 1890, the first free public library was opened in Fort Dodge. Captain Johnson induced others to help him in the creation of the small library and reading room in his office. He served gratuitously as the librarian for many years. Nine years later, a group of citizens began planning for a much larger building to house the growing collection of boos. Out of this grew the initiative to build the Fort Dodge Carnegie Library that served the Fort Dodge community for 98 years. The continued desire of the community for high quality library services led to the present Fort Dodge Public Library which largely through the labors of Captain Johnston, has become more than merely a beautiful edifice housing a collection of books, but has developed a deep and genuine taste by the public of Fort Dodge for library advantages.

In June of 1899, Martha Haskell, a local citizen and early library supporter, offered $10,000 for the construction of a new library building. Three other leading citizens, Webb Vincent, O.M. Oleson and George Ringland offered a site on 1st Avenue North and 7th Street and $5,000 if the rest of the community would donate another $8,000. Within three weeks the goal was reached. Shortly after this fundraising campaign, it was discovered a larger sum of money may be available from Andrew Carnegie and his Carnegie Foundation. Carnegie, who made an immense fortune in the steel industry in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, was a nationally known philanthropist that made grants to help communities across the nation construct public libraries. Two prominent Fort Dodgers who lived in Washington D.C., George Roberts, Director of the U. S. Mint, and M. D. O’Connell, Solicitor General of the federal government, were asked to personally contact Carnegie with the city’s request. On Christmas Day 1900, Roberts and O’Connell telegraphed the mayor of Fort Dodge announcing that Carnegie had approved $30,000 for the construction of a new public library building.

The architect for the new building was Henry Koch and the construction was done by Northwestern Building Company – the same architect and construction company that was hired for the new courthouse that was being constructed at the same time.

The building layout was a modification of what was referred to as the “Chariton Plan” which provided for the entrance in the center of the front of the building, a hall leading to the “delivery” room with the stacks directly behind. To one side of the delivery room was a general reading room and to the other was a children’s room. The stone for the new building came in rough from the Black Hills Stone Company, then was smoothed and fashioned on the construction grounds by the cutters. The total cost of the building was $47,293.

The new library was formally dedicated on October 12, 1903. However, from the very beginning, the new building had one major flaw – that being the roof leaked severely, which constantly caused interior damage and staining. For fifteen years, all types of remedial measures were tried to fix the roof, yet all were unsuccessful. In 1919, the library board of trustees committed itself to action to the point of asking two architects to submit repair/improvement plans. T. W. Reely was chosen for the job and recommended that the only real cure would be the addition of a second story, a change which had been allowed for in the original plans in the event more space might be needed in the future.

For the next ten years the proposal was considered, only to be rejected because of a lack of funds and the hope that a cheaper solution might be found. In an attempt to overcome this financial impasse, the state legislators from the county, M. J. Mitchell and C. V. Findlay, who also served as the president of the library board, proposed a bill to the state General Assembly which would give cities in Iowa with a population of 20,000 the power to levy a property tax to provide funds for necessary repairs and alterations to public libraries.

Although the bill passed, nothing was done with the library building until 1929 when the building began to rapidly deteriorate because of the leakage. After 26 years of roof problems, Frank Griffith, a local architect was hired to handle the job of adding a second story, which he estimated the cost at $33,000. However, when the economy and stock market crashed, contractors were eager to get any work they could, and the contract for the second story was awarded to John Smith for only $16,200. Originally, that cost was intended to be covered by a tax payer approved property tax levy, but with the drastically lower bid, the trustees felt that it could come out of the regular budget.

Plans for the new addition called for the west room to serve as the children’s library, which had previously been moved to the basement, a small room on the east to be the board room, a second large room to be an auditorium and another to be used as an art gallery. The construction of the Blanden Gallery changed plans for that gallery room and it became a library for teachers to house reference books, supplemental reading materials and picture collections for classroom use. The second story addition was opened to the public on October 6, 1930.

With the addition of the second floor, the library enjoyed the luxury of having far more space than was needed. In November of 1930, it was decided that the west room in the basement could be used as a museum to collect and preserve data and relics pertaining to Fort Dodge and Webster County history. As the collection expanded, so did the need for more space. In 1934, the adjoining hall was used for the museum and later in 1937, with $1,000 donated by Alice Granger, another room was renovated for additional historical relic exhibit space. The museum remained in those quarters until 1964 when the Fort Museum was established.

The library remained in operation in this building until 2001, when it moved into its new building at 424 Central Ave. The Carnegie building was bought privately and the interior was renovated for market-rate apartments.

Source:

*Roget Natte & Fort Dodge Historical Society





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Location: 809 Central Ave.

Construction Timeline: 1914

Architect: Thomas Reely & Max Nippell

Original Owner: Richard Snell (Clinton, Illinois)

Size: 6 stories (Boston)

Purpose of Building: Retail Department Store

Richard Snell, from Clinton Illinois, was the original owner of the Boston Centre and also the Snell Building, both located at 809 and 805 Central Avenue. He received the land on which both buildings are located from his father, Thomas Snell, who owned it when it was originally platted in 1856.

Although the two buildings differed in size, appearance and function, they were both part of the same investment project for Snell. Both buildings were constructed at the same time, however the building for the Boston Store was completed first and had its formal opening in September of 1914, while the Snell Building was completed in January of 1915.

The building that housed the Boston Store at 809 Central Ave., consisted of four floors and a basement for the retail activity and a balcony for the general offices, mail order department, credit department and exchange desk. The third floor also featured a small restaurant and tea room. Below is a list of the various departments and merchandise that was on each floor:

The First Floor

Women and children’s shoes, woolen dress goods and linings; silks and velvets; linens, wash goods and white goods; patterns; embroideries, laces, trimmings; neck wear, handkerchiefs and veiling, jewelry, leather goods, parasols and umbrellas, toilet goods and drug sundries; knit underwear and hosiery; gloves and notions and bed spreads.

“Worthy of particular mention is the department store innovation, the drug sundries and the toilet article department under the management of George Gilman. Mrs. Helga Rand, for fifteen years a well-known and efficient clerk in Fort Dodge, is in charge with Miss Rose Pelican as her assistant. The outlay of merchandise in this section of the big store has attracted a great deal of attention because of its completeness and beauty. One particularly interesting line of goods shown there is the imported French white ivory toilet articles. Purchased before the war, it is on sale at prices greatly under the average price for imported stuff in other markets. That it is soon to be a rarity on the American market if the war continues, is also adding to the interest in the display. In addition to this, the department shows a complete line of toilet articles in every line, including perfumes, toilet articles and powders. A full line of rubber goods is also carried. Cottons, gauzes and bandages are also to be seen. This department undoubtedly will be particularly popular with the feminine shopper.” - The Fort Dodge Messenger. September 19, 1914

On the Balcony

In the balcony placed across the south end of the first floor are the general offices, mail order department, cash cages for the five floors, credit department and exchange desk.

The Second Floor – “Ready to wear department”

Millinery (women’s hats); suits, coats and dresses, skirts, waists, furs, kimonas, petticoats and sweaters.

“This department is beautifully equipped with mahogany furnishing. A deep green velvet carpet covers the floor. Many glass cases enclose dresses and suits and coats on forms and an abundance of long mirrors gives the buyer every opportunity to see herself as others will see her.” - The Fort Dodge Messenger. September 19, 1914

The Third Floor

Hair goods and beauty parlor, muslin underwear and corsets; infant’s department, and the art goods and yarn department. The restaurant and tea room occupied the southeast quarter of this floor as well. With a beautiful atmosphere with very fine mahogany furniture, chairs and tables with heavy opaque glass tops, the restaurant and tea room was not expected to make money, but was provided “as a matter of convenience to the people.” Special lunches were served each day from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. During the afternoon, the regular dishes were served.

The Fourth Floor

Rugs, linoleums, carpets; draperies and curtain goods, photograph studio, wall paper, paints, window shades, pictures and picture framing.

Basement

Various kinds of general merchandise and special sales. Trunks and suit cases; stationery; bedding, blankets and comforters; domestic prints, percales, cotton goods and bakery goods.

Today, the Boston Centre is home to Olde Boston’s Restaurant; “Within” Marketing Company; Action Reality, Inc.; Alyssa Kenville, P.C.; Fort Dodge Reality; Johnson & Bonzer PLC; Johnson Law Firm; RDG Media Inc.; Snyder & Associates, Inc.; Storey Kenworthy office supplies; Valentine Law Office, P.C.





Carver Building

1916

1007 & 1003 Central Ave.

The 8-story high Carver Building, built in 1922, housed over 150 office rooms and suites

First National Bank/Beh Building

1908

629 Central Ave. 

Built in 1908, this was one of Fort Dodge’s most prestigious buildings

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The armory in Fort Dodge was built in 1904, spearheaded by the City’s Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce) which raised $8,000 to construct the castle-like building that housed the National Guard Regiment and provided a venue for the 56th Regiment Band, the community band and various civic events. The Armory was equipped with a gymnasium, swimming pool and bowling alley.

The Armory Committee was chaired by Captain W. T. Chantland, a Spanish-American War Veteran and worked to raise the money and oversee the project. The architectural firm of Libbe, Nourse and Rasmussen from Des Moines designed the building to resemble an impregnable fortress, with imitation spots for gun placements. Especially durable, hard paving brick was used in the front part. The grand opening and dedication on February 11, 1904 was “the most brilliant function Fort Dodge social life had ever witnessed,” according to the Messenger.

During two world wars, soldiers were drafted at the Armory, and ration books were issued to residents. After Pearl Harbor, many people worried that armories might be attacked, so soldiers were stationed around the building. It was also used to “capture” those who were not obeying gas rationing.

The basement of the Armory was first used as a rifle range; it has also been used as a shower all for horses, skaters, locker room, and restaurants.

By 1927, the Traffic Bureau, C of 1929, Iowa Airways, A. M. Auto Association, Ft. Dodge Grocers Association, and the Geer Dancing Emporium were added to its use. Over the net years, other companies: R. L. Polk Company, Men’s Civic Glee Club, F. D. Drum Corp, Allied Food Stories, F. D. Community Chest, and the Iowa National Guard and many others were housed at the Armory.

In 1903, Fort Dodge secured the regimental band of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, Iowa National Guards. This organization was composed of members from a number of local musical organizations. Under the leadership of Carl Quist, the band reached a high stage of efficiency, and soon became known among the musical organizations of the state. For five years they played at the Iowa State Fair. Three times they were the official band at the head camp of the Modern Woodmen of America, attending the encampments at Indianapolis, St. Louis and Milwaukee. They were the official band of the Iowa delegation to the national convention of the B. P. O. E. held at Detroit in 19 10. They were also the official band for American Day at the Dominion Fair in Calgary, Alberta, during 1908; and were also the official band for Iowa Day at the World's Fair at St. Louis.

During the year 1910 the band was mustered out of the service of the militia, and since that time has maintained its organization under the name of the Iowa Military Band. The Fort Dodge Armory remained the home for the band.

In 1938, the armory was purchased by Larry and Margaret Geer from the Chamber of Commerce and became the Laramar Ballroom. From the 1930’s to the 1960s it became one of Iowa’s premier ballrooms hosting most the famous big bands of the day and the rock and roll bands of the 50s and 60s. When the ‘Big Bands’ and singers were touring the country, as well as the territorial bands, you could find the best of them right here. Such names as Skippy Anderson, Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk, Guy Deleo, Leo Piper, Benny Goodman, Kay Kaiser, The Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, Al Minke, Jan Gaber, just to name a few, performed here. In the late 1970s, the Laramar was purchased by Dick and Lee Derrig and operated for twelve years as the Twilight Ballroom.

In 1985, the Derrigs sold the Twilight and the ballroom retained its original name as the Laramar. The ballroom continued to offer various events for the next three decades. In recent years, the Laramar has been used for a variety of purposes: as a site for weddings, mixed martial arts bouts and as a Spanish bar with music and dancing, but has struggled for an identity. The Laramar building remains on at its same location but has been used sporadically for various events and is now vacant and for sale.





Fort Dodge Armory

1904

710 1st Ave N

The armory in Fort Dodge was built in 1904, spearheaded by the City’s Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce) which raise $8,000 to construct the castle-like building that house the National Guard Regiment and provided a venue for the community  band and various civic events.

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The armory in Fort Dodge was built in 1904, spearheaded by the City’s Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce) which raised $8,000 to construct the castle-like building that housed the National Guard Regiment and provided a venue for the 56th Regiment Band, the community band and various civic events. The Armory was equipped with a gymnasium, swimming pool and bowling alley.

The Armory Committee was chaired by Captain W. T. Chantland, a Spanish-American War Veteran and worked to raise the money and oversee the project. The architectural firm of Libbe, Nourse and Rasmussen from Des Moines designed the building to resemble an impregnable fortress, with imitation spots for gun placements. Especially durable, hard paving brick was used in the front part. The grand opening and dedication on February 11, 1904 was “the most brilliant function Fort Dodge social life had ever witnessed,” according to the Messenger.

During two world wars, soldiers were drafted at the Armory, and ration books were issued to residents. After Pearl Harbor, many people worried that armories might be attacked, so soldiers were stationed around the building. It was also used to “capture” those who were not obeying gas rationing.

The basement of the Armory was first used as a rifle range; it has also been used as a shower all for horses, skaters, locker room, and restaurants.

By 1927, the Traffic Bureau, C of 1929, Iowa Airways, A. M. Auto Association, Ft. Dodge Grocers Association, and the Geer Dancing Emporium were added to its use. Over the net years, other companies: R. L. Polk Company, Men’s Civic Glee Club, F. D. Drum Corp, Allied Food Stories, F. D. Community Chest, and the Iowa National Guard and many others were housed at the Armory.

In 1903, Fort Dodge secured the regimental band of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, Iowa National Guards. This organization was composed of members from a number of local musical organizations. Under the leadership of Carl Quist, the band reached a high stage of efficiency, and soon became known among the musical organizations of the state. For five years they played at the Iowa State Fair. Three times they were the official band at the head camp of the Modern Woodmen of America, attending the encampments at Indianapolis, St. Louis and Milwaukee. They were the official band of the Iowa delegation to the national convention of the B. P. O. E. held at Detroit in 19 10. They were also the official band for American Day at the Dominion Fair in Calgary, Alberta, during 1908; and were also the official band for Iowa Day at the World's Fair at St. Louis.

During the year 1910 the band was mustered out of the service of the militia, and since that time has maintained its organization under the name of the Iowa Military Band. The Fort Dodge Armory remained the home for the band.

In 1938, the armory was purchased by Larry and Margaret Geer from the Chamber of Commerce and became the Laramar Ballroom. From the 1930’s to the 1960s it became one of Iowa’s premier ballrooms hosting most the famous big bands of the day and the rock and roll bands of the 50s and 60s. When the ‘Big Bands’ and singers were touring the country, as well as the territorial bands, you could find the best of them right here. Such names as Skippy Anderson, Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk, Guy Deleo, Leo Piper, Benny Goodman, Kay Kaiser, The Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, Al Minke, Jan Gaber, just to name a few, performed here. In the late 1970s, the Laramar was purchased by Dick and Lee Derrig and operated for twelve years as the Twilight Ballroom.

In 1985, the Derrigs sold the Twilight and the ballroom retained its original name as the Laramar. The ballroom continued to offer various events for the next three decades. In recent years, the Laramar has been used for a variety of purposes: as a site for weddings, mixed martial arts bouts and as a Spanish bar with music and dancing, but has struggled for an identity. The Laramar building remains on at its same location but has been used sporadically for various events and is now vacant and for sale.





Laramar Ballroom

1920s

710 1st Ave N

For the thousands who frequented the ballroom over the years, the brick building with loft seating that rings the wooden dance floor holds many special memories.

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For most of its 115 years, this joint was jumpin' – On January 30, 1959, the Laramar Ballroom was hoppin’ when the Winter Dance Party and its headliners – Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Dion and the Belmonts - performed on its stage on a cold, snowy night in Fort Dodge.

It was the Laramar Ballroom, and some 1,000 fans crowded into the downtown building at 710 First Avenue North to watch, dance and sing along as the musicians played their hit songs - never imagining that a few days later, in the early hours of Feb. 3, 1959, three of them – Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson Jr. and Valens — would die in a plane crash after performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

"The whole show was great. Little did we know that this was the last time we would see them,” said Wes Trickel, of Fort Dodge, who was at the Laramar with his wife, Bertha, that night and got to meet Richardson and Valens. “We were so sad when we heard the news that we all never wanted to believe what had happened.”

That tragic moment on a wintry night in a cornfield north of Clear Lake was “the day the music died” as Don McLean would sing in his 1971 classic "American Pie.”

But until the last few years, there was still plenty of music left to play at the Laramar - later known as the Plamor and then the Twilight Ballroom before becoming the Laramar again. The old brick building that started as the Fort Dodge Armory in 1904 is now vacant and for sale.

For the thousands who frequented the ballroom over the years, the brick building with loft seating that rings the wooden dance floor holds many special memories. For some, it was where they met their future spouse.

Many of the top performers of the day – playing all genre of music - mesmerized their audiences. And newbies to the dance floor were introduced to the “trap.” A trap would be set up by three or more girls or three or more boys, who would wander through the dance floor and surround a dancing couple. If it was a guy trap, the girl dancing would choose one of those in the trap or stay with her partner. If it was a girl trap, the guy dancing would choose one of those in trap or stay with his partner.

Some remember a Laramar bouncer of the late 1960s - John Matuszak, an All American football player at Fort Dodge Junior College for one season who later became the No. 1 pick in the 1973 NFL draft. Big John played several years for the Oakland Raiders of the NFL and then went on to appear on television and in movies (He died in 1989 at age 38).


The history of the Laramar Ballroom began in 1903 when the Armory in Fort Dodge was built, spearheaded by the City’s Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce). $8,000 was raised to construct the castle-like building that housed the National Guard Regiment and provided a venue for the 56th Regiment Band, the community band and various civic events. The Armory was equipped with a gymnasium and a bowling alley. The basement was first used as a rifle range; it has also been used as a shower all for horses, skaters, locker room, and restaurants.

The building was designed to resemble an impregnable fortress, with imitation spots for gun placements. Especially durable, hard paving brick was used in the front part. The grand opening and dedication on February 11, 1904 was “the most brilliant function Fort Dodge social life had ever witnessed,” according to the Messenger.

In the 1920s, the Armory also offered commercial space for various businesses and organizations. By 1927, the Traffic Bureau, C of 1929, Iowa Airways, A. M. Auto Association, Ft. Dodge Grocers Association, and the Geer Dancing Emporium were added to its use. Over the years, other companies: R. L. Polk Company, Men’s Civic Glee Club, F. D. Drum Corp, Allied Food Stories, F. D. Community Chest, and the Iowa National Guard and many others would be located there.

During the two World Wars, soldiers were drafted at the Armory and ration books were issued there to Fort Dodge residents. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many were worried that armories would be attacked so soldiers were stationed around the building. Over the years, the Armory was the scene of many charity balls, police and firemen's balls, craft shows, reunions, banquets, dance parties and much more.

Music has always been part of the building's DNA from the outset, when it was built so the Company G, 56th Infantry would have a place for a regimental band under the direction of Carl Quist to rehearse and perform.

The end of World War I marked an upswing across the country in ballrooms where people would gather to dance to the new music of the times. The Jazz Era was where they got their start and the 1930s and 40s were the highpoint of the ballroom era. Ballrooms, some elegant and some plain, could be found in the biggest cities or smallest rural areas. All shared a common denominator of music and dancing.

Gradually, it became an entertainment center. As a dance hall, its fame was legendary in Iowa. The first dance was held in 1925. When the ‘Big Bands’ and singers were touring the country, as well as the territorial bands and other musical performers, one could find the best of them at the Armory or later at the Laramar. Such names as Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Glen Miller Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Skippy Anderson, Guy Deleo, Leo Piper, Benny Goodman, Kay Kaiser, The Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, Al Minke, Jan Gaber, Johnny Cash and others all performed at the Laramar.

The Armory was purchased by Larry and Margaret Geer from the Chamber of Commerce around the time they were married in 1938. Larry Geer had operated the ballroom at the armory since the 1920s, possibly before. Their first names – Larry and Margaret — were merged to create the name Laramar. Geer said that at one of Welk's appearances, his father had to loan Welk enough money for gas so he and his five-piece band to get to their next stop. The biggest crowd was brought in by Guy Lombardo when a record 2,400 were crowded in elbow to elbow. The Geers sold the business around 1964, when it became the Plamor for the next eight years.

In the '50s-'60s teen era, performers Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper performed at the Laramar just three days before the fatal plane crash in 1959 during the ‘Winter Dance Party’ tour. Some other stars that appeared at the Laramar included: Johnny Cash, Barbara Mandrell, Del Shannon, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Bobby Vee, the Coasters, Tommy James and the Shondells, Freddie Cannon, Jimmy Clanton, the Crew Cuts, the Everly Brothers, the Diamonds, the Fabulous Flippers, and the famous Midwest band, the Rumbles, among others.


Over the years, there have been charity balls, Police and Fireman’s Balls, craft showers, wedding receptions, class reunions, banquets, and so much more. This building is truly a part of Fort Dodge history.

Geer was 15 at the time of the Winter Dance Party performance in 1959 and as the son of the owners, it was not his first chance to be around big stars. One of his lasting memories was helping Johnny Cash climb through a back window and back stairway to his dressing room one night, to get through the crowds."

About 1,000 people were on hand that night 60 years ago, with the balcony reserved for adult spectators and the dance floor for teens only, Geer said. The 11 performers arrived late on an old bus that didn't have a heater that worked. One of the members of Holly's Crickets band was future country star Waylon Jennings.

The book, “The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens - and the Fatal Air Crash That Took Their Lives" detailed the musicians' appearance at the Laramar.


The ballroom's next owners were Dick and Lee Derrig. Dick had worked at the ballroom under two different owners prior to buying the building. Dick and his wife Lee loved the ballroom and when they had the opportunity, they took the leap into proprietorship. Dick and Lee began running the ballroom as The Twilight on New Year’s Eve 1972. In 1979, Dick and Lee actually purchased the ballroom. For twelve years, they had a great reputation for bringing quality entertainment to Fort Dodge. People would come not just from Fort Dodge but also miles from the surrounding towns to enjoy the fun.

The Twilight Ballroom was always known as ‘the Fun Spot and rock n' roll wasn't all the Laramar offered as there were old-time dances on Thursday nights with waltzes, swing, polkas and even square dances. Thursdays at the Twilight was the place to be for great big bands and ballroom dancing. Some favorite big bands Dick and Lee brought to you are: Jeff & Eddie Skeets, Kenny Hofer, Erv Reutzel, Jack Schultz, Al Godfredsen, Jan Garber, Don Glasser, Greg Spevak, Billy Redman, Riney Rinehart, Vern Claussen, Al Pierson (currently director of Guy Lombardo orchestra), Wayne King, Don Hoy, Ted Weems, Sammy Jensen, Russ Morgan (under direction of Jack Morgan), and many others.

On Saturdays, you would find 50s and 60s rock n roll. Many ‘oldies’ bands that Dick and Lee brought back for repeat performances here were: The Cleavettes, The Do’s & The Dont’s, Rockin’ Hollywoods, American Grease, Faze Four, Hot Moose & Da Sharks, Spirits of the Past, Sundown, Travelin’ Band, Studebaker, Reflections, Last Shades of Dawn, Nifty Fifties, White Sidewalls, The Backbeats, Buckeye, Phoenix, Fantasia, Vixen, and so many more; too numerous to name them all who also donated their time for benefits. Aside from the local and regional bands, Dick and Lee also brought their share of major recording artists from the 50s and 60s to town: Tommy James & the Shondells, Bobby Vee, The Coasters, and Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

Lee was also well known in town for her cake decorating. The Twilight was pretty much ‘one-stop shopping’ for wedding receptions. You could pick out your cake, decorations, food, and entertainment. Dick and Lee took care of most of the decorating for you as well as the clean-up. Reunions, retirement and anniversary parties, charity events, craft shows, and other benefits were also held here. They donated the ballroom for use and many bands donated their time for benefits held here. The Twilight was simply the place to have a big event. Crowds would gather for some of the dances, filling the main floor and the balcony both. The Fireman’s Balls and the Policeman’s Balls used to always be held at the Twilight and they were always packed!

People liked Dick and Lee and how they managed and promoted the Twilight Ballroom. The Twilight enjoyed a good reputation. There were very few problems or disturbances. People, young and old, were there to have fun.

In 1985, the Derrigs sold the Twilight and the ballroom retained its original name as the Laramar. The ballroom continued to offer various events for the next three decades. In recent years, the Laramar has been used for a variety of purposes: as a site for weddings, mixed martial arts bouts and as a Spanish bar with music and dancing, but has struggled for an identity.

Sometime between 2001 – 2013, Jorge Blanco, whose family owned Blanco roofing business in Fort Dodge, purchased the Laramar. Since that time, the Laramar has been used sporadically for various events and is now vacant and for sale. The hope of many is that someone will purchase the building, restore it and bring it back as a recreational asset for our community, like it once was.

Sources:
*Messenger Spotlight…. January 30, 2019 by Paul Stevens
*Twilight Ballroom Memories… 1972-1985… Dick and Lee Derrig
*www.iowarockandroll.co/ballrooms
*www.rockandrollroadmap.com





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Location: 819 1st Ave. S

Construction Timeline: 1914 – 1915

Architect: E. O. Damon (Fort Dodge)

Original Owner: City of Fort Dodge

Size: 2 stories with basement

Purpose of Building: Municipal building for all of the city’s departments, police, jail and fire department

In February of 1914, the commissioners of the city of Fort Dodge unveiled their plan to build a new city hall that would house the various city departments, the police, jail and fire department. Up until that point, the city’s offices and departments were scattered around the town.

The city commissioners had their offices in the court house. The police, city jail and central fire station were located in a building one block south of the court house. A half block east of the fire station, the city leased ground for the storing of its hook and ladder truck for the fire department. Across the street from that was the Duncombe Auto Company, where the fire department was able to keep their chemical wagon. In the Keenan building, half a block west of the central fire department was fire station Number 2 for the hose wagon and horses. On the lot next to the Keenan building, a section of open land was rented to store more fire equipment. The city engineer’s office was on the second floor of the Butler and Ryan building on North 7th street, over the Independent Printing Company.

With the increasing population and prominence of Fort Dodge, having one location for the city’s departments was necessary for the efficiency of the city departments operation and the progressive and professional appearance of growing Fort Dodge.

On Tuesday, June 30, 1914, the city commissioners held a public vote on the issuance of $100,000 bonds with which to purchase the site and pay for the construction of a new city hall on First Avenue South and Ninth Street. Women were allowed to participate in this vote, however, separate ballots were printed for men and women. The June 29, 1914 edition of The Fort Dodge Messenger reported the city council planed “a building that will be large enough for future needs. It will contain a modern jail in place of the present quarters that have been condemned repeatedly by grand juries. It will contain adequate quarters for the police department. The fire department apparatus, instead of being housed in various places about the city to the detriment of quick work, will be where it will be instantly available. The city engineer’s office and that of superintendent of sewers and water works will be under one roof with the rest of the departments.”

The proposition for the issuance of bonds for a new city hall passed by a majority of only 56. Men cast a total of 899 votes and women of 124. The men returned a majority of 82, but the women voted down the proposition by 26.

After the passing of the proposition, the city quickly began to advertise and seek out buyers for the $100,000 bonds. However, the outbreak of World War 1, which occurred just days earlier, greatly upset the world financial markets. It was reported there was an urgency to sell American securities by Europeans who had to have the gold that there was no demand for five percent bonds, which was what the city of Fort Dodge was trying to market. On November 16th, the city agreed to sell $80,000 in five percent bonds to C. W. McNear & Company of Chicago. Eight days later, the city contracted with the J. B. Evans Construction Company of Mexico, Missouri, for their bid of $68,920 for the general construction work of the new city hall building. Excavation of the land then construction began shortly thereafter.

Although this project was viewed as a major and necessary improvement for Fort Dodge, a certain aspect of the funding was met with opposition. On August 5, 1915, Charles Trost filed an action asking that Mayor John Ford and Councilmen C. H. Smith and F. W. Collins be restrained from spending more than the approved $100,000 for the new city hall project. Trost claimed to have been “credibly informed” that the project will cost about $120,000 and that the city council intends to pay the $40,000 difference out of the general funds. Trost also alleged that he had information regarding the city paying J. J. Ryan and Richard Snell $27,000 for the site of the new city hall and that Councilman Collins had already negotiated the sale of $3,200 worth of general fund warrants to fulfill obligations in connection with the construction of the building. He also claimed he had information about the city administration’s plan to borrow $40,000 on the city’s credit and issue bonds to be paid from the general fund. Trost believed this was illegal and asked for a restraining order against it.

A few days later, Frank Maher, attorney for the Evans Construction Company, made a public statement saying they were owed a payment from the city for $3,750 for work that had been completed and if they did not receive that payment, work on the city hall would be suspended until payment is made. The next day, Councilmen Collins and Smith addressed the issue and acknowledged that payment had not yet been made. Smith went on to say the usual time for submitting payment requests and estimates was between the tenth and fifteenth of the month and the payment request in question was submitted prior to the permitted timeframe. There was no dispute over the payment request and Smith said it would be processed and taken up in the usual course of business. The payment was made to Evans Construction on the same payment schedule as the six previous payments were made.

On August 17th, the trial of the suit for injunction brought by Charles Trost against the city was held. Before Judge R. M. Wright, testimony was heard from Trost, Councilman F. W. Collins- head of the department of accounts and finance for the city, W. L. Tang- city clerk, and Otto Weiss- city assessor.

The Fort Dodge Messenger reported that late in the hearing, Trost asked for a dismissal of the case. Judge Wright denied this request and said this case was of great concern to the people of Fort Dodge and these issues should be examined. The next day, Judge Wright made his ruling which denied the injunction restraining the city council from using money from the city’s general fund to cover any costs that were more than the voter-approved $100,000 for the city hall project. According to The Fort Dodge Messenger, Judge Wright found the following:

1. That the defendants have been guilty of serious and very reprehend sensible irregularities.

2. That they have made the moneys of one fund perform the function of moneys of another and different fund in the manner not only not contemplated by the statute, but against both its letter and spirit.

3. I do not find, however, that any intentional wrong has been committed by the defendants, nor do I find that, because of such irregularities, any such injury (as complained of) is contemplated by them in the future as would warrant or call for the issuance of a temporary injunction at this time. The application for the writ is, therefore, denied and the plaintiff excepts.

Work on the new city hall continued and became open for business in early December of 1915. The following is from an article in The Fort Dodge Messenger describing the layout of the building.

Fireproof from top to bottom, it will furnish a city hall of adequate size when Fort Dodge reaches a population of 50,000.

In back of the first corridor are rooms for meter reader and repairer, coal bunkers and boiler rooms, a “bull pen” for the police where drunks may be kept and storage quarters under the fire department.

On the first floor opposite the head of the stairs leading to that floor, are the quarters for the city clerk. A long counter faces the lobby. Two private rooms also are provided for the use of the clerk. At the east end of the building are the offices for councilmen and at the other end, are the offices for the mayor and the water department. Opening from the hall near the mayor’s office is the council room.

On the second floor, some rooms will be vacant at the east end of the building to be used when necessary in the future. At the other end of the building are the office of the chief of police and locker room for the patrolmen. Over the city clerk’s office is the court room where police court is held.

The west wing of the building will be for the police. A jail, as complete as any in the middle west, with separate wards for women, juveniles and men, is to be found. The jail is connected with the first floor by a stairway. Underneath the jail is room for the patrol wagon and other police equipment.

In the east wing of the structure is the fire department. The big room on the ground floor with its high ceiling will house the apparatus. The big doors swing our on Ninth Street. On the second floor are the dormitories and gymnasium for the firemen.

In the basement in the rear are driveways and garage rooms. The driveway will also be used by coal wagons and delivery of coal to the bunkers will be easy.

Fort Dodge’s new city hall was considered one of the best in the state and the concept of one building that housed the city administration, police department, jail, city court and fire department was one of the first such municipal buildings in the state. The layout and construction of the building were both seemingly very well done because over the years, virtually no changes or repairs to the building were needed. In 1966, the Fire Department moved to 1515 Central Avenue and is still located here. In the early 1980s, the Fort Dodge Police Department and the Webster County Sheriff’s Department moved into the new constructed County Law Enforcement Center at 701 First Avenue South.

A 1984 renovation plan which was not carried out, called for moving the City Council meeting room to the ground floor on the Ninth Street side of the building.

In 2002, Haila Engineering Group Ltd., of Boone, prepared a plan for renovating the building. The estimated price of that project was $5,485,000. Two years later, that same firm returned with a plan for an entirely new Municipal Building at the corner of Eighth Street and Second Avenue South that would cost between $5 million to $5.8 million. Both plans were rejected.

In 2008, a new roof was installed. In 2011 and 2012, the boilers were replaced, the concrete floor in the boiler room was repaired, a ventilation system was installed and a new electrical service connection was put in place.

In July of 2016 a major interior renovation project was completed. An old garage port that was originally used by the fire department then subsequently housed various city vehicles and abandoned bicycles collected by police officers was transformed into a very modern and accommodating City Council meeting room that can seat an audience of more than 100 people. An elevator was installed in the southeast corner of the building that could provide access to all levels of the building and the original steps on the front of the building were replaced.

Another remodeling project was completed in January of 2018. The Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department offices were moved from the back of the building to an area in the front where the city clerk’s office used to be. The move provided for easier access to the office for walk-in customers.

The utility billing office was remodeled and restrooms the second floor were updated.

Today, the Fort Dodge City Hall / Municipal Building continues to house the offices for the city’s administrative departments. This building is a significant historical and architectural landmark in Fort Dodge. The fact that this structure has, and continues to serve the city as the municipal building without any major repairs or a dire need for more space, serves as a major testament to the city leaders and architects who designed this building for that exact purpose – to be able to adequately serve and meet the needs of Fort Dodge as a municipal building for numerous generations.

Sources:

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. February 24, 1914

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. June 29, 1914

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. July 1, 1914

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. July 2, 1914

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. August 15, 1914

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. November 2, 1914

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. November 24, 1914

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. November 16, 1914

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. August 5, 1915

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. August 9, 1915

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. August 10, 1915

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. August 17, 1915

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. August 18, 1915

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. November 20, 1915

*The Fort Dodge Messenger. January 25, 1916

*The Messenger. February 26, 2008

*The Messenger. July 17, 2016

*The Messenger. April 11, 2017





Municipal Building

1914

819 1st Ave S 

In February of 1914, the commissioners of the city of Fort Dodge unveiled their plan to build a new city hall that would house the various city departments, the police, jail and fire department.

Sears Building

1916

610 Central Ave.

This eight-story building built in 1916 was the tallest structure in Fort Dodge.

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Location: 610 Central Ave.

Construction Timeline: 1916 – 1917

Architect: E.O. Damon (Fort Dodge)

Original Owner: E.E. Prusia (Fort Dodge)

Size: 8 stories

Purpose of Building: Prusia Hardware Company

E.E. Prusia, who came to Fort Dodge in 1855, in many ways was the great American success story. His occupation was that of a tin smith, a minor but essential skill on the frontier. He was, however, quick to recognize opportunities as they developed. Every frontier settlement needed blacksmiths and blacksmiths in tum had a need for iron. The closest supplier of iron was in Dubuque, some two hundred miles away with no railroads to deliver it. By the time of the Civil War, Prusia had established himself as the primary wholesaler of the metal in northwestern Iowa. The next logical step was to move into the general hardware business. In 1866 he built his own two story brick store on the site of the current building, only to lose it in a fire in the 1880s. It was rebuilt as a three story structure only to have it too destroyed by fire again in 1914.

Prusia decided to rebuild at the same site, only this time he called for a building which would be the most modern and technologically advanced for the time. It was to be large enough to accommodate the growth that the community's leaders predicted and was to be as fireproof as could be built. A local architect of statewide reputation, E.O. Damon, was employed to design the building. The C.E. Atkinson Construction of Webster City was given the job of contractor. The company previously had built the local Congregational Church, the Loomis Building, the National Bank, the Wahkonsa Hotel, the McQuilkin building, Mercy Hospital and an addition to the Fort Dodge Grocery Company.

Damon responded with a building in the Chicago Commercial style which had been developed in Chicago in the late 1890s. The rapid growth of the cities of the period required additional office and retail enterprises. Land space was at a premium so the best way to build was to build up and create skyscrapers defined in 1900 as any building of five or more stories. This required new building methods and technology. Prior to the 1890s most buildings were constructed with thick load bearing walls. This type of construction limited the height to five or so stories. Architects offered a new model, a building with a skeleton framework of iron, steel, or reinforced concrete which carried the load and with the walls filling in with non-load bearing masonry. The new system allowed for structures of virtually unlimited height.

Damon's first plan was for a seven story building but when the plans were finalized an eighth story was added making it the tallest structure in Fort Dodge. The total square footage was 82,000. The eighth floor was reserved for the company's office and the first floor was to be retail. The second through seventh would be the warehouse area. This explains why there are no windows on the east and west sides of the building except for the eighth floor. Warehouse areas had no need for windows which would just reduce storage space. Windows in the office areas, however, would provide light and ventilation. The windows that were used were double sash windows which could be open to allow for air flow.

In constructing the building, reinforced concrete pillars were used to provide the supporting framework. The walls between the pillars were brick. Since these walls were non-load supporting, windows could easily be installed. The Chicago Commercial Style buildings are characterized by a much greater use of windows than earlier commercial buildings. The Prusia building followed this pattern with seventy windows on the Central Avenue face. With the increase in the number of windows and the reduction in the amount of wall space there was reduced room for architectural decoration. Damon did, however, include some decorative elements; the fancy brick work on the front facade and the ceramic heads of the kings and lions on the top story just below the cornice.

The windows used in the front are called the Chicago style are in sets of three, a large single pane window in the middle, flanked by double pane sash windows, again allowing for ventilation and illumination.

After losing two previous buildings to fire, Prusia was adamant about making the building fireproof. Wood was to be as limited as possible in the basic construction, extra thick concrete and block walls were used to enclose stair wells and elevator shafts and fire proof doors were used at all points of access. Regular window glass was to be rejected where illumination was not a primary consideration in favor of wire glass which in case of a fire would be less likely to blow out and allow for fire or wind drafts.

The construction of buildings exceeding three or four stories required the inclusion of elevators.

This building was designed with two elevators, a passenger elevator and a freight elevator. The freight elevator was made extra-large to allow the entry of a delivery truck. The elevator would carry the truck to the appropriate floor where it would be unloaded, eliminating as much unloading and moving of goods as possible.

Another feature employed was the use of chutes to move goods. A spiral chute allowed boxes to slide from an upper floor to a destination on a lower level. Another chute carried mail and documents.

Prusia wanted the latest technology where possible. The passenger elevator was self-operated with the passenger just pushing the button for the correct floor. Every other building with an elevator depended upon an operator. To facilitate communication among the departments, forty telephones were installed and three trunk lines to the outside were created. A centralized money handling system was installed using a pneumatic tube carrier system. A departmental clerk would send the money by tube to a cashier in the office who would then return the receipt. The system consisted of 2,200 feet of tubing.

The Prusia Company remained in operation in Fort Dodge until 1930 when it declared bankruptcy, a victim of the Depression. For the next six years the building remained empty. In 1935 the building was leased to Sears and Roebuck. Sears had been established as a catalog store in 1886 and it was not until 1925 that it opened its first retail department store. In 1936 it leased and opened the store in the old Prusia Building. Sears made few changes in the building itself which was a tribute to the planning and foresight of Prusia and Damon some twenty years earlier. The telephone system, the elevator system, the pneumatic tube arrangement and the structure as a whole were barely changed. The only apparent change was the installation of a black glass and chrome trim street level facade to suit the art deco taste of the time.

Sears’ grand opening came on November 1936, a welcome economic boost to a city which was suffering through the Great Depression. The new store provided jobs for some 85 local residents.

The Sears store remained downtown until 1965 when the Crossroads Mall opened in East Fort Dodge. The old building remained vacant. Over the years there have been several changes in ownership but none have been able to put together a plan of restoration or usage. In 1969, a referendum for downtown renewal failed to pass. Fires in the meantime destroyed several downtown blocks and buildings. Ed Breen, in the 1970s, led a move to rehabilitate the area by establishing a downtown mall. Part of these proposals called for the demolition of the buildings between the City Square and 9th Street on the north side of Central Avenue and on the south side from the City Square to the Court House. Many of the buildings were demolished and replaced by parking lots, empty lots and two new banks on 9th Street. The Prusia Building was the only historic building in the 600 block north side to survive and it remained vacant.

The Historic Preservation Commission attempted to place the building on the National Register of Historic Places but the City Council rejected the move. However, the downtown district has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places which gives the building Register status.

Today, the Prusia/Sears Building is home to Heartland Senior Housing, which provides 1 & 2 bedroom, income-based rental apartments for senior citizens.

Source:

*Fort Dodge Historical Society





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For most of its 115 years, this joint was jumpin' – On January 30, 1959, the Laramar Ballroom was hoppin’ when the Winter Dance Party and its headliners – Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Dion and the Belmonts - performed on its stage on a cold, snowy night in Fort Dodge.

It was the Laramar Ballroom, and some 1,000 fans crowded into the downtown building at 710 First Avenue North to watch, dance and sing along as the musicians played their hit songs - never imagining that a few days later, in the early hours of Feb. 3, 1959, three of them – Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson Jr. and Valens — would die in a plane crash after performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

"The whole show was great. Little did we know that this was the last time we would see them,” said Wes Trickel, of Fort Dodge, who was at the Laramar with his wife, Bertha, that night and got to meet Richardson and Valens. “We were so sad when we heard the news that we all never wanted to believe what had happened.”

That tragic moment on a wintry night in a cornfield north of Clear Lake was “the day the music died” as Don McLean would sing in his 1971 classic "American Pie.”

But until the last few years, there was still plenty of music left to play at the Laramar - later known as the Plamor and then the Twilight Ballroom before becoming the Laramar again. The old brick building that started as the Fort Dodge Armory in 1904 is now vacant and for sale.

For the thousands who frequented the ballroom over the years, the brick building with loft seating that rings the wooden dance floor holds many special memories. For some, it was where they met their future spouse.

Many of the top performers of the day – playing all genre of music - mesmerized their audiences. And newbies to the dance floor were introduced to the “trap.” A trap would be set up by three or more girls or three or more boys, who would wander through the dance floor and surround a dancing couple. If it was a guy trap, the girl dancing would choose one of those in the trap or stay with her partner. If it was a girl trap, the guy dancing would choose one of those in trap or stay with his partner.

Some remember a Laramar bouncer of the late 1960s - John Matuszak, an All American football player at Fort Dodge Junior College for one season who later became the No. 1 pick in the 1973 NFL draft. Big John played several years for the Oakland Raiders of the NFL and then went on to appear on television and in movies (He died in 1989 at age 38).


The history of the Laramar Ballroom began in 1903 when the Armory in Fort Dodge was built, spearheaded by the City’s Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce). $8,000 was raised to construct the castle-like building that housed the National Guard Regiment and provided a venue for the 56th Regiment Band, the community band and various civic events. The Armory was equipped with a gymnasium and a bowling alley. The basement was first used as a rifle range; it has also been used as a shower all for horses, skaters, locker room, and restaurants.

The building was designed to resemble an impregnable fortress, with imitation spots for gun placements. Especially durable, hard paving brick was used in the front part. The grand opening and dedication on February 11, 1904 was “the most brilliant function Fort Dodge social life had ever witnessed,” according to the Messenger.

In the 1920s, the Armory also offered commercial space for various businesses and organizations. By 1927, the Traffic Bureau, C of 1929, Iowa Airways, A. M. Auto Association, Ft. Dodge Grocers Association, and the Geer Dancing Emporium were added to its use. Over the years, other companies: R. L. Polk Company, Men’s Civic Glee Club, F. D. Drum Corp, Allied Food Stories, F. D. Community Chest, and the Iowa National Guard and many others would be located there.

During the two World Wars, soldiers were drafted at the Armory and ration books were issued there to Fort Dodge residents. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many were worried that armories would be attacked so soldiers were stationed around the building. Over the years, the Armory was the scene of many charity balls, police and firemen's balls, craft shows, reunions, banquets, dance parties and much more.

Music has always been part of the building's DNA from the outset, when it was built so the Company G, 56th Infantry would have a place for a regimental band under the direction of Carl Quist to rehearse and perform.

The end of World War I marked an upswing across the country in ballrooms where people would gather to dance to the new music of the times. The Jazz Era was where they got their start and the 1930s and 40s were the highpoint of the ballroom era. Ballrooms, some elegant and some plain, could be found in the biggest cities or smallest rural areas. All shared a common denominator of music and dancing.

Gradually, it became an entertainment center. As a dance hall, its fame was legendary in Iowa. The first dance was held in 1925. When the ‘Big Bands’ and singers were touring the country, as well as the territorial bands and other musical performers, one could find the best of them at the Armory or later at the Laramar. Such names as Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Glen Miller Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Skippy Anderson, Guy Deleo, Leo Piper, Benny Goodman, Kay Kaiser, The Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, Al Minke, Jan Gaber, Johnny Cash and others all performed at the Laramar.

The Armory was purchased by Larry and Margaret Geer from the Chamber of Commerce around the time they were married in 1938. Larry Geer had operated the ballroom at the armory since the 1920s, possibly before. Their first names – Larry and Margaret — were merged to create the name Laramar. Geer said that at one of Welk's appearances, his father had to loan Welk enough money for gas so he and his five-piece band to get to their next stop. The biggest crowd was brought in by Guy Lombardo when a record 2,400 were crowded in elbow to elbow. The Geers sold the business around 1964, when it became the Plamor for the next eight years.

In the '50s-'60s teen era, performers Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper performed at the Laramar just three days before the fatal plane crash in 1959 during the ‘Winter Dance Party’ tour. Some other stars that appeared at the Laramar included: Johnny Cash, Barbara Mandrell, Del Shannon, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Bobby Vee, the Coasters, Tommy James and the Shondells, Freddie Cannon, Jimmy Clanton, the Crew Cuts, the Everly Brothers, the Diamonds, the Fabulous Flippers, and the famous Midwest band, the Rumbles, among others.


Over the years, there have been charity balls, Police and Fireman’s Balls, craft showers, wedding receptions, class reunions, banquets, and so much more. This building is truly a part of Fort Dodge history.

Geer was 15 at the time of the Winter Dance Party performance in 1959 and as the son of the owners, it was not his first chance to be around big stars. One of his lasting memories was helping Johnny Cash climb through a back window and back stairway to his dressing room one night, to get through the crowds."

About 1,000 people were on hand that night 60 years ago, with the balcony reserved for adult spectators and the dance floor for teens only, Geer said. The 11 performers arrived late on an old bus that didn't have a heater that worked. One of the members of Holly's Crickets band was future country star Waylon Jennings.

The book, “The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens - and the Fatal Air Crash That Took Their Lives" detailed the musicians' appearance at the Laramar.


The ballroom's next owners were Dick and Lee Derrig. Dick had worked at the ballroom under two different owners prior to buying the building. Dick and his wife Lee loved the ballroom and when they had the opportunity, they took the leap into proprietorship. Dick and Lee began running the ballroom as The Twilight on New Year’s Eve 1972. In 1979, Dick and Lee actually purchased the ballroom. For twelve years, they had a great reputation for bringing quality entertainment to Fort Dodge. People would come not just from Fort Dodge but also miles from the surrounding towns to enjoy the fun.

The Twilight Ballroom was always known as ‘the Fun Spot and rock n' roll wasn't all the Laramar offered as there were old-time dances on Thursday nights with waltzes, swing, polkas and even square dances. Thursdays at the Twilight was the place to be for great big bands and ballroom dancing. Some favorite big bands Dick and Lee brought to you are: Jeff & Eddie Skeets, Kenny Hofer, Erv Reutzel, Jack Schultz, Al Godfredsen, Jan Garber, Don Glasser, Greg Spevak, Billy Redman, Riney Rinehart, Vern Claussen, Al Pierson (currently director of Guy Lombardo orchestra), Wayne King, Don Hoy, Ted Weems, Sammy Jensen, Russ Morgan (under direction of Jack Morgan), and many others.

On Saturdays, you would find 50s and 60s rock n roll. Many ‘oldies’ bands that Dick and Lee brought back for repeat performances here were: The Cleavettes, The Do’s & The Dont’s, Rockin’ Hollywoods, American Grease, Faze Four, Hot Moose & Da Sharks, Spirits of the Past, Sundown, Travelin’ Band, Studebaker, Reflections, Last Shades of Dawn, Nifty Fifties, White Sidewalls, The Backbeats, Buckeye, Phoenix, Fantasia, Vixen, and so many more; too numerous to name them all who also donated their time for benefits. Aside from the local and regional bands, Dick and Lee also brought their share of major recording artists from the 50s and 60s to town: Tommy James & the Shondells, Bobby Vee, The Coasters, and Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

Lee was also well known in town for her cake decorating. The Twilight was pretty much ‘one-stop shopping’ for wedding receptions. You could pick out your cake, decorations, food, and entertainment. Dick and Lee took care of most of the decorating for you as well as the clean-up. Reunions, retirement and anniversary parties, charity events, craft shows, and other benefits were also held here. They donated the ballroom for use and many bands donated their time for benefits held here. The Twilight was simply the place to have a big event. Crowds would gather for some of the dances, filling the main floor and the balcony both. The Fireman’s Balls and the Policeman’s Balls used to always be held at the Twilight and they were always packed!

People liked Dick and Lee and how they managed and promoted the Twilight Ballroom. The Twilight enjoyed a good reputation. There were very few problems or disturbances. People, young and old, were there to have fun.

In 1985, the Derrigs sold the Twilight and the ballroom retained its original name as the Laramar. The ballroom continued to offer various events for the next three decades. In recent years, the Laramar has been used for a variety of purposes: as a site for weddings, mixed martial arts bouts and as a Spanish bar with music and dancing, but has struggled for an identity.

Sometime between 2001 – 2013, Jorge Blanco, whose family owned Blanco roofing business in Fort Dodge, purchased the Laramar. Since that time, the Laramar has been used sporadically for various events and is now vacant and for sale. The hope of many is that someone will purchase the building, restore it and bring it back as a recreational asset for our community, like it once was.

Sources:
*Messenger Spotlight…. January 30, 2019 by Paul Stevens
*Twilight Ballroom Memories… 1972-1985… Dick and Lee Derrig
*www.iowarockandroll.co/ballrooms
*www.rockandrollroadmap.com





Snell Building

1915

805 Central Ave.

Built in 1915, the Snell Building was seven stories tall and Fort Dodge’s first “skyscraper.”

Wahkonsa Hotel

1909

927 Central Ave.

The Wahkonsa Hotel (currently Wahkonsa Manor) is a five-story, plus basement building, featuring symmetrical brick facades with Italian Renaissance Revival-style influenced brick detailing including quoining and relief brickwork.

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For most of its 115 years, this joint was jumpin' – On January 30, 1959, the Laramar Ballroom was hoppin’ when the Winter Dance Party and its headliners – Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Dion and the Belmonts - performed on its stage on a cold, snowy night in Fort Dodge.

It was the Laramar Ballroom, and some 1,000 fans crowded into the downtown building at 710 First Avenue North to watch, dance and sing along as the musicians played their hit songs - never imagining that a few days later, in the early hours of Feb. 3, 1959, three of them – Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson Jr. and Valens — would die in a plane crash after performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.

"The whole show was great. Little did we know that this was the last time we would see them,” said Wes Trickel, of Fort Dodge, who was at the Laramar with his wife, Bertha, that night and got to meet Richardson and Valens. “We were so sad when we heard the news that we all never wanted to believe what had happened.”

That tragic moment on a wintry night in a cornfield north of Clear Lake was “the day the music died” as Don McLean would sing in his 1971 classic "American Pie.”

But until the last few years, there was still plenty of music left to play at the Laramar - later known as the Plamor and then the Twilight Ballroom before becoming the Laramar again. The old brick building that started as the Fort Dodge Armory in 1904 is now vacant and for sale.

For the thousands who frequented the ballroom over the years, the brick building with loft seating that rings the wooden dance floor holds many special memories. For some, it was where they met their future spouse.

Many of the top performers of the day – playing all genre of music - mesmerized their audiences. And newbies to the dance floor were introduced to the “trap.” A trap would be set up by three or more girls or three or more boys, who would wander through the dance floor and surround a dancing couple. If it was a guy trap, the girl dancing would choose one of those in the trap or stay with her partner. If it was a girl trap, the guy dancing would choose one of those in trap or stay with his partner.

Some remember a Laramar bouncer of the late 1960s - John Matuszak, an All American football player at Fort Dodge Junior College for one season who later became the No. 1 pick in the 1973 NFL draft. Big John played several years for the Oakland Raiders of the NFL and then went on to appear on television and in movies (He died in 1989 at age 38).


The history of the Laramar Ballroom began in 1903 when the Armory in Fort Dodge was built, spearheaded by the City’s Commercial Club (Chamber of Commerce). $8,000 was raised to construct the castle-like building that housed the National Guard Regiment and provided a venue for the 56th Regiment Band, the community band and various civic events. The Armory was equipped with a gymnasium and a bowling alley. The basement was first used as a rifle range; it has also been used as a shower all for horses, skaters, locker room, and restaurants.

The building was designed to resemble an impregnable fortress, with imitation spots for gun placements. Especially durable, hard paving brick was used in the front part. The grand opening and dedication on February 11, 1904 was “the most brilliant function Fort Dodge social life had ever witnessed,” according to the Messenger.

In the 1920s, the Armory also offered commercial space for various businesses and organizations. By 1927, the Traffic Bureau, C of 1929, Iowa Airways, A. M. Auto Association, Ft. Dodge Grocers Association, and the Geer Dancing Emporium were added to its use. Over the years, other companies: R. L. Polk Company, Men’s Civic Glee Club, F. D. Drum Corp, Allied Food Stories, F. D. Community Chest, and the Iowa National Guard and many others would be located there.

During the two World Wars, soldiers were drafted at the Armory and ration books were issued there to Fort Dodge residents. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many were worried that armories would be attacked so soldiers were stationed around the building. Over the years, the Armory was the scene of many charity balls, police and firemen's balls, craft shows, reunions, banquets, dance parties and much more.

Music has always been part of the building's DNA from the outset, when it was built so the Company G, 56th Infantry would have a place for a regimental band under the direction of Carl Quist to rehearse and perform.

The end of World War I marked an upswing across the country in ballrooms where people would gather to dance to the new music of the times. The Jazz Era was where they got their start and the 1930s and 40s were the highpoint of the ballroom era. Ballrooms, some elegant and some plain, could be found in the biggest cities or smallest rural areas. All shared a common denominator of music and dancing.

Gradually, it became an entertainment center. As a dance hall, its fame was legendary in Iowa. The first dance was held in 1925. When the ‘Big Bands’ and singers were touring the country, as well as the territorial bands and other musical performers, one could find the best of them at the Armory or later at the Laramar. Such names as Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, Glen Miller Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Skippy Anderson, Guy Deleo, Leo Piper, Benny Goodman, Kay Kaiser, The Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, Al Minke, Jan Gaber, Johnny Cash and others all performed at the Laramar.

The Armory was purchased by Larry and Margaret Geer from the Chamber of Commerce around the time they were married in 1938. Larry Geer had operated the ballroom at the armory since the 1920s, possibly before. Their first names – Larry and Margaret — were merged to create the name Laramar. Geer said that at one of Welk's appearances, his father had to loan Welk enough money for gas so he and his five-piece band to get to their next stop. The biggest crowd was brought in by Guy Lombardo when a record 2,400 were crowded in elbow to elbow. The Geers sold the business around 1964, when it became the Plamor for the next eight years.

In the '50s-'60s teen era, performers Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper performed at the Laramar just three days before the fatal plane crash in 1959 during the ‘Winter Dance Party’ tour. Some other stars that appeared at the Laramar included: Johnny Cash, Barbara Mandrell, Del Shannon, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Bobby Vee, the Coasters, Tommy James and the Shondells, Freddie Cannon, Jimmy Clanton, the Crew Cuts, the Everly Brothers, the Diamonds, the Fabulous Flippers, and the famous Midwest band, the Rumbles, among others.


Over the years, there have been charity balls, Police and Fireman’s Balls, craft showers, wedding receptions, class reunions, banquets, and so much more. This building is truly a part of Fort Dodge history.

Geer was 15 at the time of the Winter Dance Party performance in 1959 and as the son of the owners, it was not his first chance to be around big stars. One of his lasting memories was helping Johnny Cash climb through a back window and back stairway to his dressing room one night, to get through the crowds."

About 1,000 people were on hand that night 60 years ago, with the balcony reserved for adult spectators and the dance floor for teens only, Geer said. The 11 performers arrived late on an old bus that didn't have a heater that worked. One of the members of Holly's Crickets band was future country star Waylon Jennings.

The book, “The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens - and the Fatal Air Crash That Took Their Lives" detailed the musicians' appearance at the Laramar.


The ballroom's next owners were Dick and Lee Derrig. Dick had worked at the ballroom under two different owners prior to buying the building. Dick and his wife Lee loved the ballroom and when they had the opportunity, they took the leap into proprietorship. Dick and Lee began running the ballroom as The Twilight on New Year’s Eve 1972. In 1979, Dick and Lee actually purchased the ballroom. For twelve years, they had a great reputation for bringing quality entertainment to Fort Dodge. People would come not just from Fort Dodge but also miles from the surrounding towns to enjoy the fun.

The Twilight Ballroom was always known as ‘the Fun Spot and rock n' roll wasn't all the Laramar offered as there were old-time dances on Thursday nights with waltzes, swing, polkas and even square dances. Thursdays at the Twilight was the place to be for great big bands and ballroom dancing. Some favorite big bands Dick and Lee brought to you are: Jeff & Eddie Skeets, Kenny Hofer, Erv Reutzel, Jack Schultz, Al Godfredsen, Jan Garber, Don Glasser, Greg Spevak, Billy Redman, Riney Rinehart, Vern Claussen, Al Pierson (currently director of Guy Lombardo orchestra), Wayne King, Don Hoy, Ted Weems, Sammy Jensen, Russ Morgan (under direction of Jack Morgan), and many others.

On Saturdays, you would find 50s and 60s rock n roll. Many ‘oldies’ bands that Dick and Lee brought back for repeat performances here were: The Cleavettes, The Do’s & The Dont’s, Rockin’ Hollywoods, American Grease, Faze Four, Hot Moose & Da Sharks, Spirits of the Past, Sundown, Travelin’ Band, Studebaker, Reflections, Last Shades of Dawn, Nifty Fifties, White Sidewalls, The Backbeats, Buckeye, Phoenix, Fantasia, Vixen, and so many more; too numerous to name them all who also donated their time for benefits. Aside from the local and regional bands, Dick and Lee also brought their share of major recording artists from the 50s and 60s to town: Tommy James & the Shondells, Bobby Vee, The Coasters, and Gary Lewis & the Playboys.

Lee was also well known in town for her cake decorating. The Twilight was pretty much ‘one-stop shopping’ for wedding receptions. You could pick out your cake, decorations, food, and entertainment. Dick and Lee took care of most of the decorating for you as well as the clean-up. Reunions, retirement and anniversary parties, charity events, craft shows, and other benefits were also held here. They donated the ballroom for use and many bands donated their time for benefits held here. The Twilight was simply the place to have a big event. Crowds would gather for some of the dances, filling the main floor and the balcony both. The Fireman’s Balls and the Policeman’s Balls used to always be held at the Twilight and they were always packed!

People liked Dick and Lee and how they managed and promoted the Twilight Ballroom. The Twilight enjoyed a good reputation. There were very few problems or disturbances. People, young and old, were there to have fun.

In 1985, the Derrigs sold the Twilight and the ballroom retained its original name as the Laramar. The ballroom continued to offer various events for the next three decades. In recent years, the Laramar has been used for a variety of purposes: as a site for weddings, mixed martial arts bouts and as a Spanish bar with music and dancing, but has struggled for an identity.

Sometime between 2001 – 2013, Jorge Blanco, whose family owned Blanco roofing business in Fort Dodge, purchased the Laramar. Since that time, the Laramar has been used sporadically for various events and is now vacant and for sale. The hope of many is that someone will purchase the building, restore it and bring it back as a recreational asset for our community, like it once was.

Sources:
*Messenger Spotlight…. January 30, 2019 by Paul Stevens
*Twilight Ballroom Memories… 1972-1985… Dick and Lee Derrig
*www.iowarockandroll.co/ballrooms
*www.rockandrollroadmap.com





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Location: 809 Central Ave.

Construction Timeline: 1914

Architect: Thomas Reely & Max Nippell

Original Owner: Richard Snell (Clinton, Illinois)

Size: 6 stories (Boston)

Purpose of Building: Retail Department Store

Richard Snell, from Clinton Illinois, was the original owner of the Boston Centre and also the Snell Building, both located at 809 and 805 Central Avenue. He received the land on which both buildings are located from his father, Thomas Snell, who owned it when it was originally platted in 1856.

Although the two buildings differed in size, appearance and function, they were both part of the same investment project for Snell. Both buildings were constructed at the same time, however the building for the Boston Store was completed first and had its formal opening in September of 1914, while the Snell Building was completed in January of 1915.

The building that housed the Boston Store at 809 Central Ave., consisted of four floors and a basement for the retail activity and a balcony for the general offices, mail order department, credit department and exchange desk. The third floor also featured a small restaurant and tea room. Below is a list of the various departments and merchandise that was on each floor:

The First Floor

Women and children’s shoes, woolen dress goods and linings; silks and velvets; linens, wash goods and white goods; patterns; embroideries, laces, trimmings; neck wear, handkerchiefs and veiling, jewelry, leather goods, parasols and umbrellas, toilet goods and drug sundries; knit underwear and hosiery; gloves and notions and bed spreads.

“Worthy of particular mention is the department store innovation, the drug sundries and the toilet article department under the management of George Gilman. Mrs. Helga Rand, for fifteen years a well-known and efficient clerk in Fort Dodge, is in charge with Miss Rose Pelican as her assistant. The outlay of merchandise in this section of the big store has attracted a great deal of attention because of its completeness and beauty. One particularly interesting line of goods shown there is the imported French white ivory toilet articles. Purchased before the war, it is on sale at prices greatly under the average price for imported stuff in other markets. That it is soon to be a rarity on the American market if the war continues, is also adding to the interest in the display. In addition to this, the department shows a complete line of toilet articles in every line, including perfumes, toilet articles and powders. A full line of rubber goods is also carried. Cottons, gauzes and bandages are also to be seen. This department undoubtedly will be particularly popular with the feminine shopper.” - The Fort Dodge Messenger. September 19, 1914

On the Balcony

In the balcony placed across the south end of the first floor are the general offices, mail order department, cash cages for the five floors, credit department and exchange desk.

The Second Floor – “Ready to wear department”

Millinery (women’s hats); suits, coats and dresses, skirts, waists, furs, kimonas, petticoats and sweaters.

“This department is beautifully equipped with mahogany furnishing. A deep green velvet carpet covers the floor. Many glass cases enclose dresses and suits and coats on forms and an abundance of long mirrors gives the buyer every opportunity to see herself as others will see her.” - The Fort Dodge Messenger. September 19, 1914

The Third Floor

Hair goods and beauty parlor, muslin underwear and corsets; infant’s department, and the art goods and yarn department. The restaurant and tea room occupied the southeast quarter of this floor as well. With a beautiful atmosphere with very fine mahogany furniture, chairs and tables with heavy opaque glass tops, the restaurant and tea room was not expected to make money, but was provided “as a matter of convenience to the people.” Special lunches were served each day from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. During the afternoon, the regular dishes were served.

The Fourth Floor

Rugs, linoleums, carpets; draperies and curtain goods, photograph studio, wall paper, paints, window shades, pictures and picture framing.

Basement

Various kinds of general merchandise and special sales. Trunks and suit cases; stationery; bedding, blankets and comforters; domestic prints, percales, cotton goods and bakery goods.

Today, the Boston Centre is home to Olde Boston’s Restaurant; “Within” Marketing Company; Action Reality, Inc.; Alyssa Kenville, P.C.; Fort Dodge Reality; Johnson & Bonzer PLC; Johnson Law Firm; RDG Media Inc.; Snyder & Associates, Inc.; Storey Kenworthy office supplies; Valentine Law Office, P.C.





Warden Plaza Building

1922

908 1st Ave S

The sheer half-block size of downtown Fort Dodge’s Warden Plaza is enough to pique one’s curiosity, but a brief glimpse at the building’s rich history confirms its significant place in the city’s past history.

Webster County Courthouse

1900

701 Central Ave.

The courthouse when finally turned over to the county, was a plain, two story' stone building, fifty by one hundred feet in size. The basement was used for the county jail, the first floor for offices, and the second floor for the courtroom and court offices.

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Location: 908 1st Ave. S

Construction Timeline: 1922 – 1923

Architect: E. O. Damon (Fort Dodge)

Original Owner: Theodora Warden (daughter or Theodore Warden)

Size: 8 stories

Purpose of Building: Retail shops, apartments, office suites

The sheer half-block size of downtown Fort Dodge’s Warden Plaza is enough to pique one’s curiosity, but a brief glimpse at the building’s rich history confirms its significant place in the city’s past history. The 316,000-square-foot building, located at 908 First Avenue South, represents more than just the architectural skill of E.O. Damon Jr. in combining bricks, mortar and marble; it represents the soul of this Midwest city. From the mid-1920s through 1970, the Warden Plaza Building was the social, economic and political center of Fort Dodge.

The Warden Shops and Apartments are the outgrowth of the original Wahkonsa hotel built by the public spirited men of Fort Dodge, under the name of the Fort Dodge Hotel Company. O. M. Oleson was the principal stock holder of this company. The original building covered two lots at the corner of Central Avenue and Tenth Street, 120 feet on Central Avenue and 140 feet on Tenth Street. It has 165 rooms and four store rooms.

The hotel was first leased to R. W. Johnston and Company, who opened it on September 17th, 1910. On September 9th, 1915, the hotel was sold to Theodore G. Warden of Chicago.

Within a few months after Mr. Warden took over tho Wahkonsa, he decided to enlarge his property, so on April 12th, 1916, he bought the two lots south of the hotel, at the corner of Tenth street and First avenue South. On this property was erected the Annex, four stories in height, which was opened on January 21, 1916.

Early in 1919, Mr. Warden decided that there was an urgent need for kitchenette apartments in Fort Dodge and in May of that year began the construction of three additional floors on the Annex. These floors were completed a year later and contained eighty-five apartment rooms that greatly relieved the housing shortage of the city at that time.

The need for the kitchenette apartments having been demonstrated, and knowing the ever increasing popularity of the specialty shops throughout the country, Mr. Warden decided to erect a building that would offer patrons combined shops, store-rooms and apartments, a combination at that time was rare or unknown in the United States.

Mr. Warden first purchased the three lots just west of his Annex properly on which he proposed to erect the Warden Shops and Apartment building. One of these lots was purchased from Chris Hohn and the other two from the George W. Mason estate.

The excavation for the building began on August 22, 1922. On November 8, 1922, the contract was let to W. J. Zitterell and company for the basement and first floor. They also secured the contract for the super structure, when the other was completed in May, 1923. It took just one year to complete this eight story building.

The new Warden building contained thirty-six shops and five medium sized stores. The three upper floors had 84 apartments, which were mostly of the dinette-kitchenette type, while a few others were labeled "bachelor" type apartments because they did not have the dinette-kitchenette feature. The apartments were seen as ideal living quarters. At that time, every convenience was provided for “eliminating most of the hard work in house-keeping.” The kitchenettes had electric ranges and cabinets; the refrigerators were placed so that the ice, which was furnished for free, could be put in the boxes from a hall; the garbage and waste paper are removed from the hall by the porter.

The first and mezzanine floors were truly a sight to be seen. In addition to the large and beautiful lobby, there were fourteen shops on the first floor that opened on to an eighteen foot L-shaped corridor that faced Ninth street and First avenue South.

On the mezzanine floor was a large and exquisitely furnished lounge that overlooked the lobby. Also on this floor were twenty-two shops of different sizes that opened onto a walk that gave a view of the activities below.

In the basement of the building was a grocery and delicatessen store. The store had a street entrance on Ninth, and an entrance from the apartments. The elevators ran to the basement with a marble hall leading to the grocery. This store was a great convenience for those who lived in the building. They were able to secure their daily needs without leaving the building.

An Amazing Place

“The Warden Plaza was the place to live in Fort Dodge. It was absolutely marvelous,” recalled Drexel Peterson, who was a longtime radio personality for KVFD, which was founded by Ed Breen in the Warden on Christmas Eve 1939 and located there for many years. Peterson and his wife, Ruth, and children Anne and Drexel, Jr., lived in the Warden Apartments from 1945 to 1953, a time when few children lived in the facility.

“It was the only full-service apartment building in Fort Dodge, ant it had elevator and switchboard operators 24 hours a day. There was a head housekeeper, but you took care of your own apartment, and if you had pipe problems in the middle of the night, there was a maintenance man on duty to take care of it,” Peterson said. “There were marvelous people that lived there. Many were doctors, lawyers and people who worked downtown. All in all, it was an amazing place.”

His daughter Anne Miller, who lives in Concord, Mass., has fond memories of living on the fourth floor of the Warden Apartments and exploring the huge building as a child. “As a child I loved it! It used to be the classy place to live. If you didn’t have a house or wanted to live downtown, it was great,” Miller said.

She recalled the beauty salons, barber shops, bakery, drapery shop and “a wonderful place” called the Smoke Shop among other businesses that were located in the north arcade of the Warden Apartments. “The Smoke Shop was like a modern day 7-Eleven. It had pop, chips, cigarettes, cigars, milk, bread, etc., as well as a pinball machine. I wasn’t to hang out there but was sent down to buy bread, milk and pop,” she said.

The mezzanine, which is the floor located between the ground and second floors, “was a fun area as a child,” she said. “It had a huge ornate railing that looked down over the lobby, but half of the open space was filled with offices in the early 1970s.”

On Fort Dodge resident who at one time worked at the Warden as did his father, said the Warden also used to feature a fountain, a marble-adorned front desk, skylights and its own water tower. A well in the basement piped water up to the roof into two 5,000-gallon tanks, which would supply the apartments with water. He added that a Warden resident once told him that there were glass sidewalks in front of the Warden that were illuminated at night and a bowling alley in the basement.

In the fall of 1970, Glen Machovec and William Sergeant bought The Warden from Theodora Westenberger, who was the daughter of Theodore Warden, the original proprietor and visionary of The Warden. The building underwent extensive interior renovations; remodeling the existing apartments and finishing the construction of apartments and office spaces on the third and fourth floors. The office and commercial space on the ground floor and mezzanine remained essentially intact.

In the early 1980’s, many retail businesses were relocating to the Crossroads Mall area on the east side of Fort Dodge, and new office space was being developed in the community. These modifications led to a changing culture in downtown Fort Dodge and the detriment of the Warden Plaza. In 1983, the Warden Plaza was purchased by Real Property Services, a property management company from Carlsbad, California. Unfortunately, this marked the beginning of the slow, but steady demise of the Warden Plaza. In April of 1994, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) foreclosed on the property, due to the owners failing to make payments on the outstanding mortgage of more than $3.5 million.

A few months later, the building was purchased by Barry Smith, a private investor from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Smith had visions of bringing The Warden back to its former glory, however, the cost of the mandatory repairs to the occupied apartments that were needed in order to bring the building up to code along with other issues proved to be too costly for Smith. He sold the property to HLI Properties of Fort Dodge after just two years.

In December of 1996 HLI Properties acquired the ownership and management of The Warden. Deteriorating conditions within the building caused the few remaining tenants to move out of The Warden in 2005 and the building was permanently closed at that time.

From 2005 to 2016, Harvest Baptist Church then the company Corale LLC owned the once iconic building. During this period, The Warden remained vacant and uninhabitable. The interior and exterior became increasingly dilapidated and vandalized.

Fortunately, in June and July of 2016, the City of Fort Dodge was able to take possession of the building as part of a collaborative effort to renovate and restore The Warden back to the grand centerpiece of Fort Dodge that it once was.

For eight decades, the Warden Plaza served as the home for many businesses and organizations, as well as individuals who lived in the Warden apartments. The following is a list of some of the Fort Dodge businesses and organizations that were located in the iconic Warden Plaza building between 1922 – 2000.

· World Travel AAA

· AAA Motor Club of Iowa

· Otis Elevator

· Farmers National Co.

· Xerox

· Eddie Quinn Clothier

· Mid States Commodities Inc.

· Jet Print

· KSMX – Radio Station

· Maiwurm Assoc. – Architects

· Iowa Farms Associates

· Mid States Grain

· Equifax Inc.

· Land and Water Publication

· Bolt Security

· Heights Finance Corp.

· Schlotfeldt Engineering Inc.

· Webster County Red Cross

· Webster Construction

· Louis Rabiner Trust

· W. W. Wilson – Insurance

· One Hour Martinizing

· Household Finance Corp.

· Woodruff – Evans Construction

· Secretarial Answering Service

· Svana’s Imports

· Lakota Girl Scouts

· Bob Singer Insurance Agency

· KVFD – Radio Station

· March of Dimes

· Birthright

· Bergman Photos

· Old Northwest Co. – Insurance

· Mr. Bob’s Shoe Shine

· Aunt Nancy’s Day Care Center

· Comedia Musica Players

· Rasch Construction

· County Furs

· McClure Engineering

· Herbert-Hansen Fur Company

· The Terrace Lounge

· The 34th Club

· Home Federal Savings

· Katy’s Alterations

· Eddie’s Grocery

· Waller-Wendling Assoc. – Insurance

· Stark, Crumley & Jacobs – Attorneys

· Fort Dodge Chamber of Commerce

· City of FD Community Development Office

· Sergeant & Sergeant – Attorneys

· Sample Alley – Women’s Clothing

· Dr. Walter Gower & Dr. Matt Sander’s Office

The Fort Dodge Laboratories occupied the third floor and Quaker Oats occupied the second floor, which were later turned into residential floors.

Warden ownership timeline:

1924 – 1970: Theodora Westenberger (Warden)

1970 – 1983: Warden Plaza Partnership (Glen Machovec & William Sergeant)

1983 – 1994: Real Property Services – Carlsbad, CA

1994 – 1996: Barry B. Smith – Cedar Rapids, IA

1996 – 2005: HLI Properties, Inc. – Fort Dodge, IA

2005 – 2008: Harvest Baptist Church – Fort Dodge, IA

2009 – 2016: Corale LLC

2016 – 2017: City of Fort Dodge

2017 – Present: KDG LLC

Sources:

*The Messenger & Chronicle. November 8, 1924

*Fort Dodge Messenger. October 8, 1970

*Fort Dodge Today. Beth Buehler. February 199





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