Established in 1933, approximately five miles west of Neillsville, Wisconsin on what is now U.S. Hwy 10, the Silver Dome Ballroom was designated as an historic building and listed in the National Register of Historic Place by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior in 1997, both for its one-of-a-kind architecture and its rich entertainment history. The Silver Dome was built during Prohibition and the Great Depression by the Keller brothers (Albert, Paul, Henry and Walter) with assistance from Cornel Moen (The Colonel) and other area laborers. The Kellers brothers had previously built the neighboring “Fireplace,” a basement speakeasy and ground floor supper club, which is still also in operation and is now appropriately known as The Speakeasy. Construction on the ballroom was begun in 1929 and completed in 1933. Remarkably, the entire construction was accomplished without benefit of electricity. Much of the lumber was pre-cut, but some was cut on site using a four cylinder Ford Model T automobile engine to operate a make-shift table saw. The table saw was mounted on a vehicle axle, including the tires, so that it could be easily moved about the job site. The ballroom’s name, Silver Dome, referred to its original silver-colored, aluminum-painted roof, which has since been shingled.
The structure utilizes a Lamella truss design, referring mainly to the honeycomb pattern of bolted ceiling beams. The Keller brothers paid $1,000 for the right to use the design, which allows for a clear-span interior – not a single post, pillar or beam obstructs the interior view of the ballroom. Although there may be some remaining Lamella truss dome structures, those and all others ever built were squared at each end. No Lamella truss dome structure has ever featured the rounded, band-shell style ends found on the Silver Dome, making it a one-of-a-kind building.
Another most remarkable feature of the Silver Dome’s construction is that the ballroom rests on dozens of concrete piers which hold the entire structure about a foot off the ground. This design not only allows sufficient airflow to prevent the floor beams, flooring and other foundation materials from rotting, it also provides such “give” to the dance floor that dancers report being able to dance for hours without discomfort as compared to other, less-forgiving dance floors. Area dancers describe it as a “floating” dance floor. Except for some minor interior remodeling, the structure remains almost exactly as it was built, including the concrete pier;, the ceiling, floor and wall beams and boards; and the maple dance floor. Many of the original or long-time fixtures and contents also remain, such as the circular bar, walk-in center cooler and cash registers.
The Keller brothers owned and operated the ballroom and supper club until selling them in 1951. Younger brother, Herbert Keller, was brought into the ballroom and supper club operations after graduating from high school during the 1930’s and sold his interest back to his older brothers in 1947, when he took over older brother Albert’s pinball business and joined the popular Howie Sturtz orchestra as a saxophonist. Many of the Kellers relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where they already operated a similar supper club. The Webers operated the ballroom and supper club from 1951 until 1954 when they sold both operations to the Munkholms. The Munkholms kept the supper club but sold the ballroom to the Labors in 1962. The Labors sold the ballroom to the Keith Johnson in 1970, who sold it to Louis and Shirley Kessler in 1972. The Kesslers owned and operated the ballroom until selling it to Doug Myren in 2000.
Throughout its history, the Silver Dome has hosted many of the finest national, regional and local entertainers in a wide variety of styles, and has also hosted many of the most important events in the lives of area families and businesses. First came the Big Bands – the Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller Orchestras, Gene Krupa, Sammy Kaye, Wayne King and other Big Bands of the 30’s, 40’s and beyond. In 1954, the legendary Count Basie appeared at the Silver Dome with an approximately 20 piece orchestra, featuring the almost equally legendary Big Joe Williams on vocals, and no doubt performing their recent smash hit, “Every Day I Have the Blues.” The Silver Dome has also consistently presented many of the biggest Polka and Old Time Music Stars, including Frankie Yankovich, the Six Fat Dutchmen, Whoopee John Wilfahrt and the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.
The surge in popularity of Country music in the 1950’s spawned the mid-1950’s appearance of then little-known George Jones as a substitute for the scheduled headliner, Johnny Cash. A young Johnny Paycheck was a member of Jones’ band that night and later re-appeared as a headliner when “Take This Job and Shove It,” made him a Star. Johnny Cash subsequently redeemed his cancellation by appearing with his band, The Tennessee Two, in 1957 or 1958. 1958 also marked the appearance of Pee Wee King, who had recently enjoyed the Number One song in the country with his rendition of “The Tennessee Waltz.” Other Country Music Stars to appear at the Silver Dome include John Anderson, the Bellamy Brothers, Sonny James, Jerry Reed, Don Williams and Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys.
Since the emergence of Rock & Roll, the Silver Dome has also presented numerous popular Rock acts, including The Buckinghams, Buffalo Springfield (the original lineup featuring Neil Young and Stephen Stills), Cheap Trick, the Cryan’ Shames (Sugar & Spice), Foghat, The Grassroots, Herman’s Hermits, Tommy James, Pete Rivera (Rare Earth lead vocalist / drummer), the Shadows of Knight (G-L-O-R-I-A), Styx, Dwight Twilley and Bobby Vee, among many others.
In recent years, the Silver Dome has also presented some of the most popular Blues and “Alternative” Rock and Country acts in the Country, including Austin’s Wayne Hancock, Grant Hart (Husker Du), Spider John Koerner & Tony Glover, Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials, Southern Culture on the Skids, the Waco Brothers (featuring Jon Langford of The Mekons), and Memphis Soul singer Willie Walker, among others. Sadly, legendary Howlin’ Wolf guitarist and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, our friend, Hubert Sumlin, was hospitalized just a few days before he was scheduled to appear at the Silver Dome and passed away several months later. Rest in peace, dear Hubert.
Today, the Silver Dome continues to present a wide variety of the finest national, regional and local entertainers and host many of the most important events in the lives of area families and businesses. Feel free to contact us at the email address below to book your special event and become a part of the rich history of the historic Silver Dome Ballroom.