The Surf Ballroom (the Surf) is a Historic Rock and Roll Landmark at 460 North Shore Drive, Clear Lake, Iowa. The Surf is closely associated with the event known colloquially as "The Day the Music Died" - early rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson gave their last performances at the Surf on February 2, 1959 as part of the "Winter Dance Party Tour".
On September 6, 2011, The Surf Ballroom was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Name and HistoryThe original Surf Ballroom opened on 17 April 1933. It was named that because the original owners wanted patrons to feel like they were at a surf beach club. Murals were painted on the club walls depicting ocean waves, boats on the water, and palm trees. The furniture is bamboo and rattan, giving a South Sea Islands ambience. Several fake palm trees rise on each side of the stage. Clouds are painted on the ceiling to give a feeling of dancing outdoors by the ocean. The original ballroom was across the street from a lake and the re-build was right by the lake, which may have something to do with the name as well, since the lake is water and the club name refers to water.
It burned down on 20 April 1947 at an estimated loss of $250,000. On 1 July 1948 it reopened, having been rebuilt across the street from its original location. It still hosts numerous events year round and has a seating capacity of 2,100 and a 6300 sqft dance floor. The facility includes a museum of music memorabilia, a Wall of Fame including many of the many famous artists who performed at the venue, and a souvenir shop.
The Surf Ballroom is currently owned by the Snyder family of Clear Lake and is open to the public daily. The exterior of the ballroom has changed very little since the 1950s. Backstage, in an area known as "The Green Room," acts that have performed on the ballroom's historic stage, such as Little River Band, Loverboy, The Righteous Brothers, The Temptations, The Beach Boys, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Rydell have signed their names on the whitewashed walls, as well as have had photos of themselves placed on a wall alongside those of early rock-and-roll pioneers.
In 1998, the Surf Ballroom was inducted into the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in the Ballroom category. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum designated the Surf Ballroom a historical landmark on January 27, 2009. The ceremony giving landmark status to the site kicked off a week-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the February 2, 1959, "Winter Dance Party" concert and the tragic incident of February 3, 1959.
The Day the Music Died
Holly, Valens and Richardson left The Surf immediately after the show, going to the nearby Mason City airport and chartering a small plane to take them to Fargo, North Dakota to prepare for their next show at the Moorhead Armory in Moorhead, Minnesota. The plane took off at 12:55 AM Central Time on Tuesday February 3, 1959. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed, killing everyone aboard.
A concrete monument was erected outside The Surf, and the ballroom is adorned with large pictures of the three musicians. A street flanking the facility's east property line is named Buddy Holly Place in his honor.