ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa — Visitors to the Arnolds Park Amusement Park will notice some improvements to the park this summer.
First, the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The revamped and expanded hall reopened last year in the building that also houses the Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum.
The museums are part of the entertainment complex in Arnolds Park.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame previously was in the former Roof Garden, an open-air complex next to the Arnolds Park amusement park. That version of the Roof Garden was demolished during the multimillion-dollar “Restore the Park” campaign to make way for the new Roof Garden, which has the appearance of the historic ballroom.
Maddi Tesch, the rock museum’s administrator, said officials spent months preparing the new space. Outside consultants were brought in to help design it.
The new, interactive museum features three times more space than the prior version, which opened in 1997. Exhibits feature photos, memorabilia and videos from bands, musicians and radio personalities. An interactive screen also allows visitors to watch artists’ touring dates as they approached playing at the historic Roof Garden.
“The interesting thing about the Roof Garden was, it’s kind of in the middle of all these tours that came through, so while they were on their way to Chicago maybe or another bigger part of the Midwest, they stopped at the Roof Garden,” Tesch said.
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Highlights include recording equipment from Iowa music studios, contracts to perform at the Roof Garden (signed by the likes of Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison) and a bright red suit worn on stage by the late Tommy Bolin, a Sioux City native and guitarist for such bands as Deep Purple and the James Gang.
Tesch said Iowa has a rich history with rock ‘n’ roll — during the heyday of the old Roof Garden, ballrooms were a fixture throughout the state and famous acts frequently stopped to play at them.
“Pretty much every county had a ballroom, sometimes two,” Tesch said. The Roof Garden once attracted major names like Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, The Yardbirds and The Byrds.
Iowa musicians soon got in on the act — John Senn, the museum’s founder and CEO, was a member of the group Dee Jay and the Runaways, which had a hit in 1966 with the song “Peter Rabbit.”
“Everybody knows that song,” Tesch said.
There currently are roughly 400 bands or individual artists in the Hall of Fame. Tesch said the more inductees there are, the more visitors are bound to come to see the museum.
The Roof Garden, where the Hall of Fame used to be, has been completely redone. The new Roof Garden, which has an appearance similar to the old Roof Garden, opened in August.
The new Roof Garden is a replica of the old Roof Garden where those groups played decades ago, and it’s among the crowning achievements of the $19 million “Restore the Park Campaign” that began several years ago.
The old Roof Garden ballroom, which hosted dances and music beginning in 1923, was taken down during a stretch of tough times at Arnolds Park in 1987. It was replaced with a second Roof Garden, an open-air venue that shared a name but had little else in common with the first Roof Garden. It was demolished last May.
The third version of the Roof Garden brings it back home again, with an appearance similar to the old Roof Garden during its mid-20th century heyday, when everyone from the Yardbirds to the Byrds, and from Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs to Roy Orbison, played the ballroom.
Today’s Roof Garden has a lofty ceiling — the exterior has the two-floor appearance of the original, but it’s a single-floor open-air facility. Roof Garden memorabilia is on display where the second floor would have been.
By this summer, Arnolds Park should also have a brand-new boardwalk.
The group Imagine Iowa Great Lakes, in coordination with the Historic Arnolds Park Amusement Park, is building a 15,000-square-foot boardwalk that runs from the west end of the lakefront to the sand beach on the east end of the property, according to an email from Michele Goodenow, executive director of Imagine Iowa Great Lakes.
Work on the boardwalk began last September and is expected to be complete by May. The boardwalk will be made of Kebony, a specially treated, highly durable, no-maintenance wood from a Norwegian company.
Nearby there will be landscape beds, new shade trees, light posts with hanging baskets, 12 benches, six bike racks, six integrated table and chair sets with shade umbrellas, and a fire feature.
Imagine Iowa Great Lakes has also partnered with Arnolds Park and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to renovate the State Pier on the south shore of West Lake Okoboji. Construction on this project began recently and is expected to be finished by July 4.
The pier design includes a 5,500-square-foot pedestrian plaza with a fountain and reflecting pool below three stainless steel sail sculptures. The pier will feature precast concrete benches with amphitheater seating, landscape beds, decorative paving and an LED handrail. The lighting on the sails and fountain will coordinate with the arches of the Promenade.
The Captain Steve Kennedy statue will remain a prominent feature on the State Pier and the original pavers purchased by donors during the “Save the Park” campaign in 1999 will be re-engraved on new granite pavers and built into the design.