Historic Laramar Ballroom in Fort Dodge to reopen in June

FORT DODGE — A Fort Dodge landmark that has hosted some of the biggest names in the music business will soon reopen to the public.

The Laramar Ballroom sat empty for years, but last June it was purchased by a group of Fort Dodge investors. “When my dad first took me in there and he first showed me that they were going to buy it, I was a little skeptical. It just looked horrible inside,” said Brady O’Brien, the production coordinator for the restoration project. “Now being able to see…It’s just turned into something really special that I think the community is going to love.”

The building opened in 1904 and was originally the Fort Dodge Armory. After World War I, the brick building became a venue for live music. According to the Fort Dodge Community Foundation Facebook Page, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash are among the artists who’ve played gigs at the Laramar. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper performed at the Laramar on January 30th, 1959 — three nights before their tragic deaths after a concert in Clear Lake.

O’Brien said a relative of one of those performers will be part of the grand re-opening of the Laramar. “We have Richie Valens; sister, Connie, singing and talking a little bit about her history with the Laramar and her brother Ritchie Valens,” O’Brien said.

Connie was eight when her brother died at the age of 17.

Tickets for the June 22 opening of the Laramar are now on sale. “We have our house band for that night which will be accompanying tons of local artists performing,” O’Brien said.

The State of Iowa provided a $100,000 Community Attractions grant to help pay for the facelift of the 119 year old building. The Laramar was a regular venue for Friday night dances and is part of the Fort Dodge Downtown Historic District.