Chandelier Ballroom links past, present
Hartford landmark celebrates 80th year


September 9, 2008

Chandelier Ballroom executive director Michele Price poses in the ticket booth of the Chandelier Ballroom.

HARTFORD - There probably is no one who has lived here for long who hasn't spent a cozy evening listening to music, dining or networking at the historic Chandelier Ballroom on Jefferson Avenue.

It's kismet that as the city celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, so to is the ballroom marking its 80th year as Hartford's most visible link between the then and the now.

Executive Director Michele Price has been in charge of handling the day-to-day operations of the ballroom since early 2003.

After more than five years at the helm, she said the ballroom has created memories she'll keep the rest of her life.

"I'll always remember last summer when a man from Austria who was a German Army prisoner here during World War II came back to Hartford and I had the chance to meet him when he visited the ballroom. That sense of history and the ballroom's role in history really brought it all home to me," she said.

Another memory.

"We had a wedding here last year were the bride's mother and grandmother also were married here. It really put the whole sense of history and how it flows from one generation to the next in perspective," Price explained.




For Hartford resident Judith Bernd, the ballroom stands as a constant reminder of the city's history and progress.

"I can remember Murlin (her late husband, Murlin Bernd) taking me to the ballroom for something and telling me about how it housed German prisoners in World War II. He'd tell me about how they bused them to work in the Libby's Canning factory and the city's old cheese factory," Bernd recalled. "There were so many stories and I think all of us who've lived here a long time, even a little bit, keep all those memories with us."

Bernd said the ballroom renovations over the years have improved it's appeal and allowed it to remain a showplace.

"It's a lot warmer in there now and it's intimate with a lot of character," she noted. "There's just a lot of history there and you get a sense of that every time you go there. I hope it's there for another 35 or 40 years."

Hartford resident John Spielmann, a longtime member of Hartford Historic Preservation Inc. (nonprofit owners of the ballroom), said he has many great memories associated with the facility.

"I think I remember most the polka dances I went to when I was a teenager," Spielmann said, noting that the ballroom also houses the Polka Hall of Fame. "Also, as a Rotarian, I've seen how it has evolved over the years to really become a showcase for the community. The restoration has made it like it was years ago. It's also important to note how management has done a great job in keeping it as showcase for the entire community that has the flexibility to be the stage for so many types of community events."

Price noted the ballroom recently completed a renovation project that topped the $500,000 mark. The Jeffries Foundation donated $150,000 of that total and private donors provided the rest.

The work included a complete reconstruction of the front entryway, removing old acoustical insulation from the ceiling and replacing it with modern materials, resurfacing the main ballroom floor and replacing the infrastructure under that floor to maintain structural integrity for years to come.

Price believes she still has much work to do.

"I think we're still sort of a hidden gem in Wisconsin. As a nonprofit, we have to watch how much advertising we do and I've always believed that if we can have 2,000 people a month come through our doors, then word of mouth gets the message out," Price said. "We want more people to get the experience of visiting the ballroom. I have a wonderful staff that always gives 110 percent so that a visit to the ballroom is something a person can remember for a lifetime."

Chandelier Ballroom anniversary celebration

• Friday, Oct. 24 from 6 p.m. to midnight.

• Tunes of the 1930s and 1940s will be performed by a 20-piece band decked out in full military regalia during the opening events and dinner.

• Cigar and beer tasting session in the Steel Craft Fireside Room.

• Sit-down dinner begins at 7 p.m., with hors d'oeuvres available beginning at 6 p.m.

• The dancing begins at 9 p.m., with live music performed by Mr. Lucky Swing Syndicate.

• Door prizes will be awarded throughout the evening.

• Tickets are $100 each and are available in advance at the Chandelier Ballroom and the Hartford office of the First National Bank of Hartford. For information, phone 262-673-4946.

Chandelier Ballroom has been a county fixture for 80 years

The historic Chandelier Ballroom on Jefferson Avenue in the city of Hartford has been a county landmark for 80 years.

The ballroom has a long history dating back to the mid-1920’s with the Eagles Club/Schwartz Park Pavilion (prior structures existed at this location as early as the turn of the century). In 1919, the Schwartz Brewery Company bought the Eagles Park and began leasing it and its recreational facilities to the Kissel Mutual Association in 1920. In 1928, Joseph Schwartz Jr. began construction of the octagon ballroom.

The Schwartz Ballroom, as it was known then, opened for business on Oct. 20, 1928. Norbert S. Remmel, the son of Joseph P. Remmel and Mary (Schwartz) Remmel, was the first manager of the ballroom. It took several years after the original construction began to complete the kitchen area and associated buildings.

The Schwartz Ballroom was advertised as "Wisconsin’s Most Beautiful Ballroom and Suburban Restaurant and Tavern. During the 1930s, the Big Band era, some of the most popular bands played the Ballroom, including Guy Lombardo, Wayne King, Lawrence Welk, Woody Herman, and the Dorsey Brothers.

The ballroom was also used for Presidential Birthday Ball and a prisoner of war camp, holding in excess of 600 German draftees.

In 1949, Marty Zivko, a local musician, purchased the ballroom and brought in local and national music groups. In 1981, Zivko sold the Ballroom to Gary and Marion Wendorff, who continued to bring in music attractions and use it as a reception facility. Shortly thereafter, Glenn and Vivian Hayden, and their son John, took over ownership and used the Ballroom for large parties, wedding receptions, dances, and concerts. The Haydens made some restoration efforts during their tenure.

In 1996, the ballroom was purchased by the Hartford Rotary Foundation, which has worked diligently since then on various fund-raising campaigns to continue the structure's renovation and to ensure it will be in existence for future generations to come.

Source: Hartford Rotary Foundation

This story appeared in The Daily News on September 9, 2008.