The Col

Dec 9, 2020

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

She has grown old gracefully into her eighty-one years. For her, no face lifts, no tummy tucks. No owner has ever tried to cover up the great arched ceiling, or the 10,000 square foot hard maple floor that gave her the name Coliseum or that identified her birthday as early twentieth century.

The Coliseum on 4th street at the west edge of downtown Davenport, Iowa, is the oldest continuously operating ballroom in the United States. Built as an investment by three Davenport plumbers in 1914, the Col, as it quickly came to be known, has outlasted most of its similar sister coliseums around the country. Music and dancing feet still echo here.

Buildings and people both might take a lesson from the Col. She has never tried to hide her age, as other buildings do, remodeling themselves over and over until all architectural integrity is lost, and they are torn down to make parking lots and malls. Nor has the Col sat in judgment against new tastes. "The Col survives because it refuses to settle into one generation and stay there," says long-time owner, Don Wachel.

And so, the Col has become a living encyclopedia of Rock Island culture. Original posters still hanging on the walls tell how John Philip Sousa brought his marching band music here in 1914, followed by the jazz of Louis Armstrong and the songs of Rudee Valle. Tomy Dorsey came, as did Frank Sinatra, Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller's Orchestra, Count Basie, Less Brown, Doris Day. The Col has welcomed them all. Ten couples lasted all forty-eight days during a dance marathon in 1928. Go-go dancers in miniskirts performed in cages hanging from the ceiling in 1967. They were followed the next year by rock star Jimmie Hendrix.

Nor is the Col through. It was recently sold to the Quad-Cities Mexican American Association, so that now the QuinceaƱera, the annual debutante ball for young women of Hispanic descent, has added a new kind of music to the big bands, the blues and jazz, the rock performances, and the wedding banquets which are a continuing part of its rich history, as the Col teaches us all to grow old gracefully.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.