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Surf Ballroom becomes National Historic Landmark

Clear Lake venue hosted last concert of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, 'Big Bopper

The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake is now a National Historic Landmark. (The Gazette)
The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake is now a National Historic Landmark. (The Gazette)

CLEAR LAKE — A north-central Iowa venue best known for hosting the last concert of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson before the trio died in a 1959 plane crash is now a National Historic Landmark.

The U.S. Department of the Interior issued the designation to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, according to a news release Friday from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

National Historic Landmarks are buildings, sites, districts, structures and objects that have been determined to be nationally significant in American history and culture.

The ballroom’s nomination was officially approved on Jan. 13.

It is Iowa’s 27th National Historic Landmark, joining a list that includes the American Gothic House in Eldon, the gold-domed State Capitol and the Sergeant Floyd Monument in Sioux City.

“The Surf Ballroom is a national treasure. You can almost feel the energy and hear the echoes of all the concerts over the years,” Chris Kramer, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, said. “The soundtrack of the 20th century played live, right here in Clear Lake, Iowa.”

Officials noted the Surf is the most well-preserved venue remaining on the 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour and represents the nationwide dance-party tour phenomenon, a trend that helped establish touring as a legitimate business within the music industry.

Holly, Valens and Richardson performed at the Surf Ballroom and then opted to fly to their next show rather than take their tour bus. They died early on the morning of Feb. 3, 1959, when their small chartered airplane crashed near Clear Lake shortly after takeoff.

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