The Crystal Coliseum was one of the Twin Cities’ most important venues because it was one of the first – if not the first – dance halls in the area that booked rock ‘n’ roll bands on a regular basis in the 1950s and early ’60s. It’s also the place where Del Shannon and hundreds of teens barely escaped with their lives.
Its advertising always described its location as “1 Mile West of Beltline on Highway 52.” Translation: the Beltline is Highway 100 and Highway 52 is now Highway 81. Ultimate translation: 5313 N. Lakeland Ave., Crystal. Lakeland Ave. is a dead-end service road of Highway 81.
The building was reportedly built in about 1954 by L.Z. Carlson Builders, although the earliest ads under the name Crystal Coliseum in May 1958 call it “New.” In addition to dances, activities in the building included swap meets and wrestling matches. It did not have a liquor license but it did serve beer on “Adults Only” nights.
Although several sources indicate that the building was owned by Bob Zimmerman of Crystal, another said that Zimmerman was in the process of buying it from William R. Jessup, who lived in Shorewood. Zimmerman was in the process of applying for an on-sale liquor license and building a modern cocktail lounge and convention center.
The facility could hold 500 people, according to the ad below, placed on August 17, 1958. The ad also indicates that there may have been a manager named Cavanaugh.
LOVELY new Crystal Coliseum ballroom rentals. For weddings, banquets, business meetings & parties. Many good dates avail. Accommodations up to 500. Mr. Cavanaugh.
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!!
This venue hosted early acts like Augie Garcia, Mike Waggoner and the Bops, and the bands that David Hersk recorded on his Gaity label, including the Glen Rays, the Flames, the Sonics, the String Kings, and Jim Thaxter and the Travelers, a precursor to the Trashmen.
Sherwin Linton remembers playing the Crystal Coliseum, and has shared these memories:
When I first Came to Minneapolis in January 1958, I was a guest on Harry Zimmerman’s “Hi Five Time” Dance party on KSTP TV. That led me to the Crystal Coliseum in February of ’58. I performed as a guest with The Flames, led by Bobby Hanson, a super guitar player. Most bands at that time in the TC were just instrumental groups so being a singer I got some special recognition. Later I played there with my Rockabilly Band, “Sherwin Linton and The Rocketeers.” By the summer of ’59 I was hearing a lot about “Mike Waggoner and the Bops” and getting a lot of requests to sing “Honey Hush” because Mike did that song so well.
Thanks to the new online searchable database of the Minneapolis papers, I was able to come up with a pretty good list of who performed at the Crystal Coliseum during its brief three years of Rock ‘n’ Roll heaven. So instead of summarizing the data, I’ll try something new and list all of the shows I found. If you are, or know who some of these people are (Big Stoop Chamberlain, where are you?) please let me know!
May 16: Friday Eve. – Big Stoop Chamberlain – Teen Dance – 90 cents. This was the first ad in the Strib, and judging from the ad below from the North Hennepin Post, it may have been the first dance ever:
May 17, 1958: Sat. Eve. – Buzz Peterson – Modern – 90 cents
May 18, 1958: Sunday afternoon – Juke Box – 35 cents
May 18, 1958: Sunday Eve. – Al Noyce – Modern – 90 cents
May 23, 1958: Fri. Eve. – Teen Dance – Juke Box – 50 cents
May 24, 1958: Sat. Eve. – Buzz Peterson – Adult – Modern – 90 cents
May 25, 1958: Sun Aft. – Teen Dance – Juke Box – 35 cents
May 25, 1958: Sun. Eve. – Al Noyce – Adult – Modern, Old Time – 90 cents
May 30, 1958: Friday – Blue Kats – Rock & Roll
May 31, 1958: Sat. – Nick Huble – Adult
July 10, 1958: Boxing
June 14, 1958: Sat – Big Stoop Chamberlain – Adult
June 15, 1958: Sunday Nite – Al Noyce – Adult
June 20, 1958: Fri. – Blue Kats – Teen Dance
June 21, 1958: Sat. Nite – Big Stoop Chamberlain
June 22, 1958: Sunday Night – Al Noyce
June 24, 1958: Tues. – Augie Garcia
July 4, 1958: Friday – Blue Kats
July 5, 1958: Saturday – Country Western – Adult
July 6, 1958: Sun. – Al Noyce – Adult
July 8, 1958: Tues. – Augie Garcia
July 12, 1958: Sunday – Lou DeMars Combo – Modern Jazz – Adult
July 15, 1958: Tuesday – Augie Garcia
July 21, 1958: Monday – Augie Garcia
July 25, 1958: Friday – Forrest Cole & the Embers – Teen Dance
July 26, 1958: Saturday – Al Noyce
July 27, 1958: Sunday – Lou De Mars Combo – Modern Jazz
July 29, 1958: Tuesday – Augie Garcia
August 23, 1958: Saturday – Big Stoop Chamberlain
There were no ads during the winter of 1958-59. Perhaps the place was just too cavernous to heat during the winter. Ads do start up again in July 1959.
July 3, 1959: Friday – The Big M’s – Teenage – Dress Right
July 4, 1959: Saturday – The Delreco’s (sic) – Teenage – Dress Right (The Delricos included a very young Donald K. Martin, who became a broadcaster on KDWB)
July 5, 1959: Sunday – Augie Garcia (every Sunday) – Adults Only
July 12, 1959: Sunday – Augie Garcia (every Sunday) – Adults Only
July 18, 1959: Saturday – Dick Marrone & his Velvetones – Adults Only
July 19, 1959: Sunday – Augie Garcia – (every Sunday) Adults Only
October 11, 1959: Sunday – Augie Garcia – Adults Only
October 16, 1959: Friday – Teen-Age Hop Featuring WLOL’s Karl Peterson. Dress Right! See You After the Game! (Karl Peterson is listed as Carl Peterson, the Swingin’ Swede, in my list of Disk Jockeys)
October 17, 1959: Saturday – Ray Evans – Modern Jazz Group – Adults Only
October 18, 1959: Sunday – Augie Garcia and featuring handsome 6’4″ Frank Townsend, Popular Singing Wrestling Idol. Adults Only
October 23, 1959: Friday – Teen Hop Featuring WLOL’s Karl Peterson
November 13, 1959:
The ads for 1960 were few and far between.
January 31: Sunday – Eddie Lovejoy – His Songs and Guitar, and the Jerry Cole Band – Young Adults
July 13: Dance Wednesday Nite – Rock ‘N’ Roll
August 20: Saturday – Adult Dancing – The Chuck Carson TV Band: Johnny Boyt, Johnny Long, Woody Sorenson, & Others.
September 16: Friday – Teen Hop
September 17: Saturday – Tommy Francis – Young Adults (18 and Over)
September 24: Saturday – Tommy Francis – Rhythm & Blues, Latin & Smooth – Young Adults (18 and Over)
October 1: Saturday – Glen-Rays – Rock, Latin, and Smooth – 18 and Over
December 10: Saturday – Teen Hop
December 11: Sunday – Augie Garcia – 18 and Over
In the spring of 1961, the Crystal Coliseum started to book national acts. Whether it was just these three, it’s hard to tell, but these were advertised in the Minneapolis papers. Mike Waggoner remembers that Jimmy Rodgers (“Honeycomb”) also appeared there on a Saturday night.
May 14: Sunday – Brian Hyland, opened by local group Mike Waggoner and the Bops. Young Adults only (18 and over).
All these years later Mike Waggoner is still playing rock ‘n’ roll, and has graciously shared his memories of the Crystal Coliseum:
The Crystal Coliseum was a very important venue for us early bands and many of the future bands ie Trashmen. The Friday night dances were teen dances, and on Saturday nights they had beer and adult dances. Others that played there on Friday nights were Damon Lee and the Diablos, Jim Thaxter, Del Rico’s, Sherwin Linton, Don Dax and the Dorados and many, many others. Augie was considered the”house” band .. a great showman with a really a good band. The CC was one of the big venues that all of us hoped to play. Bob Zimmerman was the owner/operator of the Crystal Coliseum; a really swell guy who was so very helpful in the early days.
May 19: Friday – Bobby Freeman and Little Johnny Sala, opened by local group Tommy Francis Dance Band. Apparently showing a Hispanic performer on the ad was more acceptable than having a picture of Freeman, who was black, so although Freeman had the big hit (“Do You Wanna Dance” from 1958 – “C’mon and Swim” would come later in 1964), Sala was on the ad. Someone on Facebook also remembers that some thugs tried to break up the dance, but police were called and the show went on.
June 2-4, 1961: Friday through Sunday – Del Shannon, opened by local group the Tommy Francis Dance Band.
THE CRYSTAL COLISEUM MEETS ITS DEMISE
And then, just like that, it was over. The last of the three Del Shannon shows was held on Saturday, June 4, 1961, ending at about 1:15 am on Sunday morning, June 5 . The janitor left at about 1:55 am. At 2:20 am a nearby gas station attendant saw flames and called the Crystal Fire Department. Eventually about 60 firemen from Crystal, Brooklyn Center and Robbinsdale were required to fight the fire. The fire started in a front office, but was otherwise unexplained. Damage was estimated at $50,000 – although the Quonset hut was intact, the inside was gutted beyond repair. Crystal Fire Chief Wes Tonn said that “flames were leaping from the front elevation when he arrived, and that it was impossible to save the structure.”
I have so far been unsuccessful in finding a photo of the building before the fire. The photo below looks like there’s the word “Dancing” on the left side – not sure what “ALS” would have been on the right. And there may have been a semi-circle marquee at the top that said “Crystal Coliseum.”
The North Hennepin Post reported that Zimmerman wanted to rebuilt, quoting him as saying “I want a fireproof building this time. If we put up a new building, it will be fireproof. If we remodel, I plan to incorporates much fireproof material as possible.”
The Post also reported, “Right now, Zimmerman is looking for a temporary location in this area in which to stage his dances which are so popular with the teens – and which are plugged consistently by radio stations KDWB and WDGY.”
Fortunately, everyone was gone before the fire started, but this could have been a real tragedy. Wow.
Zimmerman never rebuilt, at least in the same spot. The building there now is at 5353 Lakeland Ave. No, which was built in 1999 and is occupied by Rise, Inc., a social service agency.