Coliseum Ballroom in Benld destroyed by fire July 31, 2011Posted by Ron Warnick in Attractions, Movies, Music.
The historic Coliseum Ballroom, located on an older alignment of Route 66 in Benld, Ill., was destroyed by fire Saturday night, according to several media outlets in the St. Louis area.
The fire started about 9:15 a.m. According to KSDK-TV in St. Louis, 16 fire departments responded to battling the blaze. The station reports that three people were hospitalized with burns or smoke inhalation.
Here’s a video from the scene:
The Coliseum was used as an antique mall in recent years. The Coliseum was built about 1923 or 1924, making it actually predate Route 66. According to one website:
In its heyday, the Coliseum had the biggest dance floor (10,000 square feet) between Chicago and St. Louis and featured the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Kay Kyser, Count Basie and most of the other big-name big bands – the megastars of popular music from the 1920s into the 1940s. Situated along old Route 66 (now Illinois Route 4), the Coliseum is said to have attracted crowds that sometimes topped 2,000, from all over central Illinois and metropolitan St. Louis. The popularity of the big bands faded, but the Coliseum continued to draw crowds for nationally known acts such as the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Johnny Rivers and Ray Charles. In its later years, the ballroom mostly featured local rock bands before closing about a decade ago.
Here’s a promotional video about a documentary that’s being made about the Coliseum:
According to the Coliseum’s Facebook page, the filmmakers were still doing interviews and gathering material for the movie in May. Alas, they’ll need to add a new chapter to the film.
UPDATE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch filed this story this afternoon. Fire officials suspect the fire’s cause was electrical.
Here’s a Post-Dispatch story from 2006 when the building was put up for sale.
KSDK-TV reports that the documentary about the Coliseum should be ready by October.
UPDATE 8/1/2011: Bobby Krug shot this video of the Coliseum’s remains, once you could see them better in the daylight:
The Alton Telegraph found an interesting angle — namely, the fire started during a rock band’s performance Saturday night:
“We were open last night and had a band in there; we don’t know what happened,” Swanson said. “It was up in the ceiling as far as we know. It happened so fast.”
Swanson said between 60 and 80 people were inside when a band member announced there was a fire and asked everyone to get out. Swanson said they hit the flames with a fire extinguisher but the fire still spread rapidly.
“We saw flames up there, they hollered for everyone to get out of there,” he recalled. “Basically everyone got out and then the windows blew out.”
There’s been discussion in the Route 66 community to salvage the Coliseum Ballroom’s neon sign and give it to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, but nothing firm.