‘Spanish Castle Magic’ is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Spanish Castle Ballroom, and it’ll be held this coming weekend – Friday, Oct. 5 through Sunday, Oct. 7 in Des Moines.
Fred Andrews – a Woodmont resident and member of the Des Moines Arts Commission – was given a Heritage Grant by 4CULTURE to do research on the Castle, create an exhibition at the Des Moines Historical Museum, make a short film about the Castle, and host an opening party at the IOOF Hall in Des Moines.
There will be 3 free concerts celebrating the music of the Spanish Castle era:
- Friday, Oct. 5, 7:30-9:30 p.m. the ‘Kings of Swing’, a 17 piece band that started in 1944, will play Swing Music at the IOOF Hall in Des Moines.
- Saturday, Oct. 6 at the same time and same place, ‘Big Huge’ (John Born of Des Moines leads the group) will play 1950’s & 60’s rock music.
- Sunday, Oct. 7, ‘Big Huge’ will play again from 2-4 p.m. at the Wesley Terrace in Des Moines.
All shows are FREE and open to the public.
Space is limited, so come early.
Spanish Castle Magic was made possible by 4CULTURE, Des Moines Legacy Foundation, Wesley Homes, Des Moines IOOF Hall, and Des Moines Historical Society.
Here’s more about this project:
The Spanish Castle Ballroom 1931-1968
The Spanish Castle Ballroom was the most fabled dancehall in Seattle’s history. It was located at the intersection of Pacific Highway South and Kent-Des Moines Road where the Walgreens and Shell Station are now. It was constructed in 1931 by its founders, Archie Bacon and Frank Enos. The location, midway between Seattle and Tacoma was chosen because it was outside city limits and wasn’t controlled by restrictive city codes. It was designed like a storybook caricature of an ancient Moorish fortress, a stucco structure with neon accents. Two large Moorish style paintings that hung in the Spanish Castle and a bench from the Castle can be seen in the West Room of the Des Moines Historical Museum.
With Prohibition’s repeal in 1934, they began selling beer at the Spanish Castle. In 1937 the owners sold the Castle to M. W. “Wes” Morrill (founder of Kent, Washington’s First Bank) and C. L. Knutsen (a local car dealer).
The house band, called the Spanish Castle Orchestra was led by Frankie Roth through 1942 when his trombonist, Gordon Greene, took over. During World War II the Castle would have over 2,000 people attend dances from all over the Puget Sound area. Big-band swing music continued at the Castle until 1962, but after 1959 it was only on Saturday nights. Friday nights and also Wednesdays during the Summer were for Rock & Roll teen dances and were hosted by Seattle’s dominate radio DJ and music promoter, Pat O’Day. The Golden Era of Pacific Northwest Rock had begun and bands like the Wailers, the Sonics, the Statics, the Viceroys, Tiny Tony, Merrilee Rush, Little Bill and the Bluenotes, and Dave Lewis were playing at the Spanish Castle. The Wailers made a live record-ing at the Castle with Rockin’ Robin and Gail Harris which became the most famous album of that period, ‘The Fabulous Wailers at the Castle’.
In 1959 the Spanish Castle started to host major touring stars like The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and many others. In 1961 Morrill sold the Castle to Knutsen. During this time a teenage guitarist from Seattle named Jimmy Hendrix started to show up with his guitar and amplifier at the Castle and sat in with some bands. He later changed his name to Jimi and wrote a song called ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ about his earlier experiences at the Spanish Castle in what is now Des Moines, Washington.
In 1966 three kids were attempting to cross Pacific Highway to see a show at the Castle and were hit by a truck, all three were killed. This tragic incident had a terrible effect on the Castle, Pat O’Day quit booking shows and 50 years ago, in 1968, Knutsen’s sons closed the Spanish Castle and had the historic structure destroyed. It was the end of an era.