Surf Ballroom

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Surf Ballroom
Surf Ballroom Feb 1988.JPG
The Surf as it looked 29 years and a few days after "The Day the Music Died".
Surf Ballroom is located in Iowa
Surf Ballroom
Location Clear Lake, Iowa
Coordinates 43°8′24″N 93°23′22″W / 43.14000°N 93.38944°W / 43.14000; -93.38944Coordinates: 43°8′24″N 93°23′22″W / 43.14000°N 93.38944°W / 43.14000; -93.38944
Built 1948
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 10000261
Significant dates
Added to NRHP September 6, 2011[1]
Designated HRRL January 27, 2009

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.[1]


The original Surf Ballroom opened on 17 April 1933.[2] It burned down on 20 April 1947 at an estimated loss of $250,000.[3] On 1 July 1948 it reopened,[4] having been rebuilt across the street from its original location.[5] It still hosts numerous events and has a seating capacity of 2,100 and a 6,300-square-foot (590 m2) dance floor.[6] Attached to the building is the Surfside 6 Cafe. The facility includes a museum of music memorabilia, a Hall of Fame 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, and the neighborhood around it, has changed very little since the 1950s. Backstage, in an area known as "The Green Room," acts that have played in the ballroom, 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.

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 fiftieth anniversary of the February 2, 1959, "Winter Dance Party" concert and the tragic incident of February 3, 1959.[7]

The Day the Music Died[edit]

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.[8]

The plane took off at 12:55 AM Central Time on Tuesday February 3, 1959. Shortly after takeoff, young pilot Roger Peterson, in a combination of spatial disorientation and misinterpretion of a flight instrument, flew the plane into the ground,[9] killing everyone aboard. According to the report, Peterson was not certificated to fly commercially at night, nor was he qualified to fly in the adverse weather (IFR) conditions which prevailed at the time of the flight. Although Peterson underwent formal IFR training, he failed his final checkride weeks before the accident.

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.

Winter Dance Party Tribute[edit]

Each February 2, since the 1979 twentieth anniversary of the original "Winter Dance Party" concert, the Surf Ballroom hosts a "Winter Dance Party" tribute show.[10] The next day, a memorial service in Clear Lake officially honors the February 3 anniversary of the deaths of the three musicians.


  1. ^ a b Weekly List Of Actions Taken On Properties: 9/06/11 through 9/09/11
  2. ^ "Opening Night Dance: Easter Monday April 17th," Mason City (IA) Globe-Gazette, 11 April 1933. Many sources incorrectly give its opening as 1934.
  3. ^ "Dance Hall at Clear Lake, Iowa Burns," Winona (MN) Republican-Herald, 21 April 1947
  4. ^ "Announcing the New Surf Ballroom," Mason City (IA) Globe-Gazette, 30 June 1948
  5. ^ "Surf Ballroom & Museum". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  6. ^ "Surf History". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  7. ^ "Surf Ballroom Recognized", Mason City (IA) Globe Gazette, Peggy Senzarino, Thursday, January 29, 2009
  8. ^ Minneapolis Star/Tribune January 25th, 2009
  9. ^ Civil Aeronautics Board (September 23, 1959). "Aircraft Accident Report". NTSB. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  10. ^ "Winter Dance Party". Retrieved 2011-02-03. 

External links[edit]