A new lamppost banner outside of the Surf Ballroom depicts an artistic rendering of previous owners, the late Dean and Joanne Snyder, dancing, alongside a quote from Dean about his decision to purchase the Surf.
CORRECTION: This story has been changed to reflect the Surf's intent to refurbish the ballroom's booths, not replace them.
For the first time in 25 years, the Surf Ballroom & Museum in Clear Lake is getting a new roof.
The rubber-membrane roof, which was last replaced when the Dean Snyder family purchased the historic building in 1994, is worn thin due to its exposure to the elements, and the freezing and thawing of water has caused it to tear, resulting in “problematic leaks” in the historic venue.
“It won’t last any longer than this,” said Laurie Lietz, Surf Ballroom & Museum executive director. “It’s time.”
The Surf Ballroom, a 30,000-square-foot historic rock ‘n’ roll landmark known as the last stage rising musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson performed on before they died in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959, hosts about 30 shows — and thousands of visitors — annually.
It’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2012 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, recognized the Surf Ballroom as a historic rock ‘n’ roll landmark as part of its ongoing landmark series in 2009.
Earlier this year, it was one of five nominees for the Venue of the Year – Small Capacity Academy of Country Music Award.
Lietz said the roof replacement won’t affect the Surf’s scheduled indoor events.
Within the next month, it’s hosting more than 10 events, including concerts and gatherings.
Northern Cedar Services Co. of Mason City has been hired to replace the roof, and Lietz said it was scheduled to begin in early July; however, work has not started. Equipment and material has slowly arrived at the building within the past two weeks.
The project is being paid for by the North Iowa Cultural Center and Museum, which is organized to preserve, maintain and manage the property; a grant from the Historic Revitalization Subgrant program and the city of Clear Lake.
Jeff Nicholas, North Iowa Cultural Center and Museum president, and Lietz requested $35,000 from the city, which the Clear Lake City Council unanimously approved at its July 15 meeting.
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“We just need to do it,” Nicholas told the council. “Obviously, everyone now understands if you don’t have a good, secure roof on the facility, you really don’t have anything.”
Mayor Nelson Crabb, who voiced support for the Surf Ballroom, said it is one of Clear Lake's, one of North Iowa’s, and one of the Midwest’s sovereign buildings.
“We must not let that go to the point where it’s in total disrepair,” he said. “It’s money well spent certainly for this community, and for the Midwest, in my opinion.”
Councilman Bennett Smith described the Surf as an “important asset ... historic legacy for Clear Lake.”
“We’re happy to provide this support,” he said.
Clear Lake City Administrator Scott Flory said he spoke with Nicholas and Lietz earlier this year when they applied for the grant funding, noting the project is 50 percent private, 25 percent local and 25 percent grant contributions.
“The historic tax credits will take the edge off it,” Lietz said. “We’d hoped we’d get a couple more years out of it, to get further on the historical trademark status, but historic tax credits can account for about 25 percent of replacement. That’ll help.”
According to a Feb. 27 letter written to Flory and Nelson, it costs about $300,000 annually to keep the doors open at the Surf, and the Surf’s limited reserves are needed to support its “on-going non-profit mission and to fund needed building maintenance projects that arise frequently.”
Lietz said the roof is among several improvements the Surf Ballroom will undergo in the future. Others include restoration of the dance floor and booths, and updating the plumbing.