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The Coliseum Ballroom in Benld, Illinois

The Coliseum, Benld, Illinois

It seems that this blog has been devoted to the passing of landmarks along Route 66. And the Coliseum at Benld, Illinois was a big one. And it seems I am way late on this one: Fire gutted the Coliseum on July 31, 2011.

There was a time when Route 66 departed Springfield in Illinois 4,  passed along the outskirts of Benld, and delivered people from all over southern Illinois to the Coliseum Ballroom for the music and the dancing.

From Along Route 66:

Russell and Ola Soulsby, Soulsby Shell Station, Mt. Olive, Illinois

Russell Soulsby (who had the Shell Station in Mt. Olive) liked to dance.

Why not, the best bands of his youth played at the Coliseum in neighboring Benld. Even as he grew old, he continued to dance.

Four coal mines provided the economic base for Benld, but during Prohibition it was a Little Las Vegas. Dominic and Ben Tarro, brothers who were butchers and grocers in Benld, kept gaming tables–craps and black jack–and slot machines at the Coliseum; but then so did every tavern in Benld.

Al Capone kept a distillery on the outskirts of town and shipped hooch north, up U.S. 66 to Chicago.

It was live and let live until 1930 when the Illinois State’s Attorney called Dominic to Springfield to testify about the $50,000 worth of sugar he sold to the still. Persons unknown intercepted Dominic on his way it to Springfield. He disappeared only to be found in the Sangamon River four months later.

Russell and Ola Soulsby

But the music, the music and the dances are what people remember in Benld. Guy Lombardo, Sammy Keye, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton: they all played the Coliseum. Chuck Berry got his start in Benld; so did Tina Turner. Russell danced to them all.

Dominic and Ben, who financed the Coliseum with the proceeds from their butcher shops,  hired an architect from Edwardsville to design the roller rink/dance hall in 1924.

The architect spanned the 10,000 square foot space with a curved truss, and enclosed the building in brick. The facade followed the arc of the truss. The brothers seated 400 people on the main floor and 400 in the balcony.

 

 

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One Response

  1. Ben was my grandfather.

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