SCHUYLER — This month, Schuyler residents got a fresh look at a familiar local landmark.
The first priority for renovations at the Oak Ballroom was the removal of the booths and flooring. The booths, which many visitors associate with the building, are not original. Their removal allows for up to 570 people in the building and opens up the area by the fireplace for parties, weddings and quinceañeras.
The flooring was bordering on 50 years old, according to City Administrator Will De Roos, well past the 20-year lifespan attributed to gymnasium or dance hall floors.
Among cosmetic changes made, strings of Edison bulbs were draped along the support ties crisscrossing the ceiling, the stage was painted and the bathrooms were gutted and redone.
The legendary ballroom on the south side of town was designed by Nebraska native Emiel Christensen. Construction began in 1937 using oak trees from the Platte River and stone from the local Wells, Abbott, Neiman Mill.
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At its 1939 opening, attendees were treated to a performance by Lawrence Welk and his orchestra. Welk later praised the building’s regality and its significance in his band’s history in what he described as a “lean time” for them.
In 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its local interpretation of English Tudor Revival architecture. Its exposed oak timbers, white-panel walls and barn-like trusses make it unique in eastern Nebraska.
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The building resulted from the Works Progress Administration, an initiative by President Franklin Roosevelt to both build infrastructure and create jobs in the late ’30s.
Since then, it has hosted many events, and created many memories.
“There’s been dances, Christmas parties … Cargill, I worked for them for 22 years, went to every Christmas party here, all the dances I went to here,” said Greg Hajek, whose father was one of the men employed to help build the ballroom.
The building’s historical significance is amplified by its location, with the entrance near the Mormon Trail, a prominent historical feature in Nebraska. The mural by Jim Ridgeway above the fireplace commemorates that with a gold-leaf impression of a covered wagon crossing the prairie.
Jim Mejstrik, whose father was manager at the ballroom for years, recalled when he had to cover for his father while he dealt with a family matter.
“The band was horrible,” Mejstrik recalled. “I had to unplug their equipment.”
The final pieces of the renovation — custom trim and painting the stage’s acoustic tiles — have yet to be completed but the ballroom is functional.
Manager Daniele Baete-Kozisek said the venue is booked on weekends for the foreseeable future.
Photos: National landmarks of Nebraska
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