Val Air Ballroom, Des Moines, IA
Iowa Ballroom Project
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• web site • 301 Ashworth Road, Des Moines, IA
A record attendance was recorded at 5,000 for Glenn Miller and his band in 1942
from the Val Air web site:
The Val Air Ballroom opened June, 1939 - the builder & operated was Tom Archer who arrived in Des Moines in 1936. Archer (1895-1963) was a pioneer in the ballroom business. Archer was one of the first entrepreneurs to bring the Big Bands from New York to the Midwest. With his ballrooms in Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska & Missouri, Archer became the nation's leading ballroom operator, responsible for helping famous band leaders, such as Lawrence Welk & Jan Garber get their start.from the IRRMA web site (1998)
The Val Air was truly an open-air ballroom, a perfect example of the concept. All on one level, with a roof only over the hardwood dance floor, the stage & service areas such as the checkroom, bars & restrooms. All the rest was covered by big 'drop' sides which were lowered to keep out rain, but were raised for summer evenings of dancing & entertainment. At the west end of the maple dance floor was a polished concrete dance floor which enabled everyone to 'dance under the stars.' Everyone could begin dancing on the 8,000 square foot hardwood dance floor & swing right outside on the concrete dance floor.
June 6, 1939 was opening night for the Val Air Ballroom. Admission prices were 85 cents for gentlemen & 25 cents for ladies. Attendance was estimated at 2,500. The opening act was Ted Lewis & his dance band. The remainder of the season was filled with such big names as Doc Lawson, Hal Leonard, Art Kassell, Ted Weems, Duke Ellington, Tiny Hill, Blue Barron, Eddy Duchin, Sammy Kaye, Wayne King, Shep Fields, Phil Harris & many others.
The Val Air Ballroom was named in a public contest held in May of 1939. With more than 2,000 entries, the winning entry combined Val for Valley Junction & Air for open-air ballroom. A cash prize of $25 was awarded to W.D. Graham & Maurice Ward.
In 1961, there was a tragic fire at the Val Air. The damage was estimated at $100,000. Archer rebuilt the Val Air, better than ever. A new maple dance floor was laid & other improvements were made. The ballroom continued to offer Big Band entertainment on most Saturday nights, booking all the big bands that were still touring the nation.
The 50's brought new music to everyone - Rock 'N Roll. As tastes changed, so did the offerings at the Val Air. The Ballroom began to book the present rising stars of Rock 'N Roll on Thursday nights. The concerts were so popular that the Val Air would sell out on many occasions. Bobby Vee, Tommy Roe, Lou Christie, Jan & Dean & many other stars performed at the Val Air in the 50's.
There have been many changes for the Val Air Ballroom over these many years - from Big Band music to Rock 'N Roll to Country to Hip Hop and in addition, the Val Air also specializes in all types of private parties - wedding receptions, proms, fund raising dances, annual meetings, luncheons, fashion shows, Christmas parties, political rallies & much more. With it's special art deco atmosphere & individualized service, The Val Air Ballroom has become one of the most popular places in Central Iowa to hold parties for groups of 300 - 3,000 people.
In 1939 the Val Air was opened by Mr. Tom Archer on property purchased from the old Wilson Tire Company. it first opened as an open air dance pavilion, thus the name Val Air, and was later changed to the enlosed stucture in 1954, that you see today.
It was a part of a chain Archer owned with ballrooms in such locations as Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Marion, Creston, Sioux City all in Iowa, Dell Rapids & Sioux Falls in South Dakota, Omaha, Nb and St. Joseph, Mo.
The Val Air was the "King" of Des Moines ballrooms in the 30's and 40's, drawing the likes of Glen Miller, Louis armstrong, and the ever popular Lawrence Welk.
With the dawning of the rock era, all the top names played archer's Val Air. From Roy Orbison to The Everly Brothers, from the Ventures to The Trashmen and the Fabulous Flippers. They all called the Val Air their "home base" in Des Moines when traveling the Midwest ballroom circuit.
In recent years, the Val Air was put on the sale block and was under the threat of being demolished, until Des Moines businessmen Mark Kennedy, Phil Kaiser & partners stepped forward and bought this exciting rock and roll palace. They reopened it in 1997 as it remains today.