The history of the Surf Ball Room (Provided by Lyndon Crist CLHS 1962)  Thanks Lyndon!

Carl Fox was one of Clear Lake's most inspired businessmen and his vision led to establishing the midwest's most enduring venue for dancing and big band entertainment. Built on the site of the former Petersen's Bath House and subsequently the nearly forgotten Tom Tom Emporium, the Surf further expanded the deco stylistic that defined this secondary commercial district of Clear Lake.

Essentially a large open space roofed with curved trusses, the street façade was the identifying feature. Initially this was a long single story, flat roofed structure punctuated by two obelisk-like towers.  The shorter of these served as the southeast corner terminal while the other taller unit to the northwest was the main entry. Extending beyond this was the Decker's Hamburger Stand, separate in function from the ball room proper, but directly connected structurally. The exterior shell of this portion extended a considerable distance toward the lake and enclosed the complex on that side. The roof over this section served as an open air roof garden, providing space for al fresco dining.

Major revisions to the street side elevation were soon to follow. By the mid 1930s Decker's was phased out and the main entry was shifted from the northwest to the southeast tower. With this change of emphasis, the latter was doubled in height, considerably enlarged and the detailing became quite exuberant. The rather understated Mediterranean revival quality of the Surf became, at least in the entry area, the most overt 1930s streamline design in Clear Lake. Stepped corners, fluted pilasters and cast concrete decorative elements gave the remodeled façade a moderne quality worthy of the exotic work being done in California or Florida.

Finishing touches included a theater marquee and display cases flanking the entry doors. Lastly, a two story, flat roof addition to the left of the revised entry balanced the similar configuration on the side adjacent to Witke's. This evolution of the building, at least of the exterior, remained in place for the life of the building. This was destined to be rather brief, and on 20 April, 1947 this wonderful landmark was gutted by fire. It was damaged to such an extent that restoring what remained was not an option. Never again would this prime lakefront property bear witness to such high quality entertainment or serve as a gathering point for the thousands of visitors and locals who considered it the finest socializing spot in the midwest.

Thanks to Bob Moninger and Lyndon Crist for
these pictures.

Send us your memories of times spent enjoying
the bands and dancing at the Surf.
The best of Big Bands played here during the
30s and 40s.
The 50s held more greats...
can you name some of those who performed here?

The 'Day the Music Died'
started out with a performance of
The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchy Valens
here at the Surf Feb 1959.  
The Second Surf Ballroom
Thanks to Lyndon Crist
for this picture 
The New Surf Ballroom
Music is
'Sing Sing Sing'
(Big Band Style)
Write in and tell us what events at the Surf you most enjoyed.
Remember the Teen Dances?  I believe the Miss Iowa pagents were held here.  Some of the best big bands in the country performed here as well as Rock and Roll artists.  In our folks time, Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and all the greats were here.
Thanks to Ron Gerdes (1956)
for this color picture
of the Surf!
If you have memories or information about the Surf,
please share it with us all by sending it to
to be posted immediatly.
Now Playing At The Surf Ballroom....... Information and Memories Shared By All.
'The original Surf,
ca. 1933/34 shortly after completion.'
Lyndon Crist
On 16 May, 2007 this article was posted in
The Clear Lake Mirror Reporter's "Remember When" Section

"60 Years Ago"
April 1947
   "The Surf Ballroom was completely destroyed by fire which brok out at 2:30 am Sunday.  The building was in flames when firemen arrived on the scene.  Carl Fox ad his family, asleep in an upstairs apartment when the fire broke out, were able to escape.  Mason City firemen were called here to aid in fighting the blaze."
Charlie Zirbel (CLHS1963) sent me this beautiful 3D memento of the Surf and the Teen Dance what was held the night of February 2, 1959. 
After this dance the plane crashed carrying
The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens,  killing all plus the pilot.
I want to share it with you all because that was
'The Night The Music Died'
and history was made in Clear Lake Iowa.
This article was in the Clear Lake Mirror-Reporter on 23 May, 2007 in the 'Remember When' column. 
¬ Plans to rebuild!!
The Surf Ballroom - Clear Lake Iowa ( This venue in North Central Iowa was built in 1933. It still stands today and hosts concerts, weddings, and dances. Most notably, it is the site of the final concert that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper played at in February of 1959. The three were killed in a plane crash soon after the concert north of the city. The venue was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1947. The wood floor and the coat check are the same now as they were back then. If you go to the Surf, come early just to hang out and see all the memorabilia.
When it was called Koolstein's...
Thanks go to Bob Moninger for this picture.

Sharon Henson Hanson (CLHS 1955) wrote a charming story about the Surf.
Sharon says, and I quote "I found the essay that I wrote about the Surf Ballroom and meeting my  husband.  I thought it no longer was in the Iowa Alumni Magazine  archives, but it's still there.  If you want to read it, google Iowa Alumni Magazine and in the search box, just type in The Dancing Boy.   That will take you to the article.  Hope you enjoy it.  Sharon Hanson."
(See link below)
Sharon adds "The "Mr. Christensen" that is in the essay is the father of Pat Christensen Severson, who still lives in Clear Lake.  He worked for Armour Pugh at his store uptown and then worked part-time as a doorman at the Surf."
(Here is the link to her writing.)  Thank you so much for sharing this Sharon!!

Sharon Hanson, 89 BA in English, is an award winner in Iowa Alumni Magazine's 2003 nonfiction writing competition. Her name was Sharon Henson when she met her dancing boy, Ronald Hanson, at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. Today, she and her husband live in Coralville, Iowa.
A view from above!
Thanks to Lyndon Crist and Bob Moninger.
Surf Ballroom To Re-open
Article in the Clear Lake Mirror Reporter
January 16, 2008
    The corporation will work to preserve the physical structure and character of the historic
I hope you can read the above article. 
It's interesting.
Johnny Ketelsen and the "Tom Owens Cowboys" appeared at the Surf Ballroom regularly through the 1940's, 50's and 60's.  The "Tom Owens Cowboys" band was based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  The band was heard daily on WMT radio for twenty years.  The "Cowboys" hold a record that will never be broken:  The played over 6,500 live radio shows on WMT, the CBS affiliate. This is the most live radio shows ever performed by one band in the history of broadcasting.

The "Tom Owens Cowboys" would often play the Midwest ballroom circuit 90 nights in a row - Seven nights per week, while playing the radio show daily.  The "Cowboys" weekly television show on WMT-TV was one of the pioneering TV shows in eastern Iowa.  The amazing number of performances . nearly 750 per year will never be equaled in the music industry.
In 1955 Tom Owens passed away and the band continued under the name "Johnny Ketelsen and the New Tom Owens Cowboys" and eventually evolved into the "Johnny Ketelsen Band."

Johnny played guitar, banjo, upright bass, and was a featured singer in the band.  Johnny and the "Cowboys'" performed with all the Nashville stars of the time including Johnny Cash, Rex Allen, Brenda Lee, Webb Pierce, Gene Autrey, and dozens of others.

Johnny Ketelsen was inducted into the "Nebraska Country Music Hall of Fame" in 2007.
Johnny and the band has held the attendance record in nearly every Midwestern ballroom
at some time during the 40's through the 60's.

(Thanks to Randy Ketelsen for the preceding and the following information!)
Johnny Ketelsen and the "Tom Owens Cowboys" played western swing dance music.

1st Picture- band members include: Jerry Froeneck - Accordian.  Don Wachael - Clarinet & Sax.
Jim Pye - Bass and fiddle.  Mibs Allen - drums.  Johnny Ketelsen - Guitar,
Chuck Youtsey - Trumpet. And Tom Owens.

2nd Picture- members (left to right) Keith Crawford - Trumpet. Von Crawford - Clarinet & Sax.  Johnny Ketelsen - Guitar (spinning the rope) Duane Stepanek - Bass & Steel guitar,
Chuck Wakeland - accordion, and Mibs Allen - Drums.

Carroll D. Anderson, 86, of 1400 2nd Ave. N., Clear Lake, died Monday, Feb. 20, 2006 at the Muse Norris Hospice Inpatient Unit, Mason City. Services were held Friday, Feb. 24, at Zion Lutheran Church, Clear Lake, with Richard L. Scott Lay Assistant of Zion Lutheran Church officiating. Interment was at the Memorial Park Cemetery, Mason City. Military honors were by the Clear Lake V.F.W. Family suggests memorials to Zion Lutheran Church or Hospice of North Iowa.
Carroll D. Anderson was born June 23, 1919, in Hancock County, rural Garner, Iowa, the son of John G. and Esther (Olson) Anderson. Carroll graduated from Ventura High School in 1936. On Nov. 18, 1939 Carroll married Lucille Kennedy on his family farm. He entered the US Navy during WWII and was a Pharmacy Tech 2nd Class. Following service Carroll returned to Clear Lake and was involved in construction and later managed the Surf Ballroom for 17 years, which was during the time of the Buddy Holly accident. He owned and operated Carroll's Cafe in Clear Lake for about seven years and then returned to carpenter work. He was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of fame. He enjoyed hunting, trapping and spending time in Canada at Pine Pointe Resort fishing and working on the cabins.
Carroll was a member of Zion Lutheran Church, Clear Lake, a long time member of the Clear Lake Noon Lions Club and a former Clear Lake City Councilman.
Carroll is survived by his wife, Lucille Anderson of Clear Lake; two children, Thomas R. (Rozanne) Anderson of Jim Falls, Wis., and Shelley K. (Rory) Wadle of Ankeny, Iowa; two brothers, Edward (Betty) Anderson of Clear Lake and Larry (Pat) Anderson of Spencer, Iowa; two sisters, Phyllis (Jerry) Jensen of Clear Lake and Lois (Everett) Hanson of Mason City; sister-in-law, Pat Anderson, of Clear Lake; three grandchildren, Jon (Lynda) Anderson of Muskego, Wis., Kathryn (Mark) Mechelke of Sartell, Minn. and Jessica (Darrell) Johnson of Fargo, N.D.; six great-grandchildren, Tommy Anderson, Sarah Anderson, Megan Mechelke, Callahan Mechelke, Dylan Johnson and Delaney Johnson.
He was preceded in death by his parents; brother, Robert "Bing" Anderson; sister, Maurine Coyier and her husband, Harley.
Ward-Van-Slyke Colonial Chapel, Clear Lake, was in charge of arrangements.

In Memory of Carroll Anderson
My Dad was a "bouncer" at the Surf  from about 1958 until after I graduated. What this means is that my brother Dick('64) and I got in free to every event at the Surf. including "The night the music died". Carol Anderson(Surf Manager) also gave us all the 45 rpm records (after they were no longer in the top 20) they played in the record machine in between bands when they booked more than one. We got to see a lot of GREAT performers. It means more to us now than it did then.
Jim Bennett CLHS 1963
Page Created
27 February, 2008
Last Updated
2 July, 2009