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Fire guts Route 66 landmark in Benld

Fire guts Route 66 landmark in Benld

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BENLD • The Coliseum Ballroom served the town of Benld for nearly nine decades before being gutted by a weekend fire.

The Route 66 landmark, built in 1923, played host to some of the biggest names in music during its heyday.

Among those who performed at the venue, with its 10,000-square-foot dance floor, were Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Tina Turner. And legend has it — according to the ballroom's website — mobster Al Capone was among its early patrons.

"Back in those days, that was what put Benld on the map," said Tim Turigliatto, a local resident who spent his Saturday evening watching about 150 firefighters from 16 departments battle a blaze that started around 9 p.m. The battle lasted nearly eight hours.

Fire officials have not yet determined what caused the fire, but they say it may have been electrical. There were no serious injuries, though a member of the band performing at the ballroom burned his hand while attempting to stop the fire from spreading, said a spokesman for the Benld Volunteer Fire Department.

The latter years of the Coliseum have been somewhat less exciting than those before them. No longer used for big-name concerts, the venue has been home to a couple of different antique mall operations during the last decade.

Still, community members such as Dan Fraelle, 86, will look upon the wreckage and remember what it was like when performers like Tommy Dorsey came to town.

Fraelle's voice cracked with emotion Sunday as he described the Saturday evenings — during the 1940s — that he would spend dancing with his wife.

"When they played, we were there. We always had a baby-sitter handy," Fraelle said.

Many of the town's younger residents may not appreciate the building, he said.

"But a lot of us old-timers will really miss it."

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Timothy Barker is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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