Surf Ballroom is National Historic Landmark

The U.S. Department of the Interior has designated the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake as a National Historic Landmark, recognizing its enduring role in the history of American music. 

The ballroom is best known for hosting the last concert of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson before their fatal plane crash in the early hours of Feb. 3, 1959, a date Don McLean immortalized as “the day the music died” in his 1971 hit “American Pie.”

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.

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

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

“The Surf exemplifies a pivotal time in music history, one that should be honored and celebrated,” noted Laurie Lietz, the ballroom’s executive director. “It is our organization’s highest honor to achieve this designation, and we know this will ensure that the music lives on here at the Surf for generations to come.”

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