The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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November 28, 2012

Community reflects on loss of Odeon Club to fire

CLINTON — In 1896 men and women partied at a leap year dance at the Odeon Club. In 1901 they mourned the assassination of President William Mckinley.

Sixty years later, “Fidel Castro" would help celebrate the club’s centennial. Half a century more passed and the club still bursted with energy as Divas strutted across stage.  

Nearly 150 years of socializing, comradery and history were scattered in ashes Sunday after the Odeon club was destroyed in an early morning blaze.

The club served as a banquet hall, bar, bowling alley and community landmark in the time it was first used in the 1870s until its untimely end.

“There will never be another Odeon, that’s for sure,” owner Gordy Carroll said.

The original building at 80 25th Ave. North, had been used as a gathering place since 1861 when a group of German men formed the German Association of Lyons. It wasn’t until later that the club took on its modern monicker or appearance.  

“It’s sad. It’s another historic building lost to fire or demolition,” local historian Gary Herrity said.

The German Association held an annual masquerade dance and ball, which according to a Clinton Herald article from 1961, was the highlight of the Lyons social calender. The German Association also sponsored its own theater there known as the German Dramatic Society.    

In 1866, the German Association acquired a strip of land for $500 and in 1870, the eastern part of the building was constructed. Through the club’s 19th century history, it hosted numerous dances, plays, benefits and concerts. It expanded again, this time to the west, in 1883.  

It wasn’t until World War I that the club changed its name to the Odeon Association of Lyons.  With the name change came a new mission to include the best interests of all the people of the community.  

Then the Odeon was a members-only club, with dues to be paid and sick benefits paid out. Club rules dictated that a person who became obnoxious during a meeting receive a $2 fine. On second offense, a $5 fine would be issued and on third offense the man would be dismissed from the club.  

In 1943, the rest of the block was acquired and the third major addition was completed, giving the club an eight-lane bowling alley.

By 1961, the club had 1,600 members who described their club as, “the city’s best.  It has eight modern bowling alleys, the best dance floor in the city, the finest of kitchens and it’s stronger than ever.”

A picture published in the Herald in 1961 shows club members decked in vintage attire from the Civil War era, the Reconstruction Period, the Gay Nineties, the Roaring Twenties and on celebrating the centennial of their beloved club. Among them was a Fidel Castro look-alike who won the prize for best beard.  

 The club remained private until 1989 when it was purchased by Cliff and Donna May.  After the Mays the building was leased by Jack “Spunk” Schoenfeld, then owned by Bill and Vicki Huling and managed by Al and Diane Huling.  

Gordy Carroll and Gary Sawyer purchased the club in October 2001.

In the nearly 12 years of owning the club, Sawyer and Carroll had transformed a coat room into a pool room, held popular trivia nights and kept the gusto present in the club’s history palpable.

“It was the centerpiece of Lyons’ social life,” Herrity said. “It was still very useful.”

Under Carroll and Sawyer’s ownership, the club has hosted unique events such as the New Years Eve and Diva parties. Weddings and memorials added to the tremendous memories the club embodied. The pair also lived in an apartment in the building.

While Carroll said he and Sawyer may consider opening another similar business, the emotional strain of Sunday’s events has hindered them from thinking about what’s next.

For now, they are coping with the loss with the help of friends and community members who have provided an outpouring of support.

“There are a lot of good people and good memories,” Carroll said. “To think beyond today, it’s hard.”

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