Without costly upgrades Newmarket’s Rockingham Ballroom may close
Story By Liz Markhlevskaya Newsletter@seacoastonline.com.
NEWMARKET —January 10, 2011
Alan and Diane Roma tango on the dance floor of the Rockingham Ballroom Friday night. The historic ballroom has been a venue for live music and ballroom dancing since 1934 and may close if enough money isn’t raised to install a sprinkler system to meet fire code.
(Ioanna Raptis photo)
Just a week before Christmas dancers were shocked to hear the Rockingham Ballroom may have to close by New Year’s Day.
Many thought Saturday, Dec. 18 was going to be the last dance, and the ballroom might have to close its doors forever.
“Everybody was just stunned,” said Patti Blanchette, a former Newmarket state representative who has been dancing at the ballroom for the past six years.
While the ballroom is a ground-level building and has many exits, the facility does not have a required sprinkler system. Because of the building’s location and a lack of a strong water flow, the project costs are estimated to be $130,000 to $150,000, funds owners Alan and Diane Roma do not have.
Following the announcement on Dec. 18, dancers formed Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom to raise money to help save the business, which has been open since 1934. More than 20 people gathered the following Wednesday to figure out a plan that would show the fire chief the ballroom’s commitment to the project, in hopes of keeping the ballroom open. The first step was hiring an engineer to make a quality plan for the required fire suppression system.
Meeting members raised enough money that night to pay for a retainer for SFC Engineering Partnership, Inc., to get started on the project. “It was really quite moving,” said Blanchette, “There were people of all generations there.”
SFC’s plan is due Feb 10. Until then, the Rockingham Ballroom has an occupancy permit allowing it to remain open. “We are very hopeful that if we can submit a viable plan we could extend that permit,” said Blanchette. “I don’t think anyone wants to see the doors of the ballroom closed.” “This is a major crisis that any business owner would have a difficulty overcoming,” said Blanchette. “They just happen to have their business where it is.”
When the Romas bought the ballroom last August, they knew the center was in a tough situation. Sales were not going as planned, and the money was not there to get started on the sprinkler project, said Alan. However, he just “couldn’t see it close,” and bought the ballroom to keep it open for the community.
“We are the only ballroom I know in New Hampshire that still has live music,” said Alan, who has been dancing there for two years.
But to community members the ballroom is much more than just a 3,600-square-foot dance floor. Many have attended weddings and proms, met their future spouses and participated in various fund-raising events at the center. Some have been coming to the ballroom since the 1940s, said Alan.
“It’s a magnificent place for community members to gather,” said Blanchette. “People are so welcoming there, and make you feel wanted.”
Over the next several months, the ballroom will be hosting a series of fund-raising events, including band and comedy performances, from which proceeds will go exclusively to the sprinkler project.
On Feb. 25, All Together Now, a tribute band to the Beatles, will play a fund-raising show at the ballroom. Blanchette said she expects such fund-raising events to happen about once a month.
Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom meets every Wednesday night from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at the ballroom, located on 22 Ash Swamp Road. Everyone who would like to contribute to the cause is encouraged to attend the meetings.
As the group will also be looking to apply for grants, volunteers with grant-writing experience are also strongly needed, said Blanchette.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
An early newspaper advertisement for Glen Miller at the Rockingham Ballroom.
Newmarket Fire Chief Rick Malasky has given the owners of the Rockingham Ballroom another six months in their quest to raise funds for a sprinkler system and save the historic ballroom. While the ballroom has attracted dance crowds since 1934 without one, fire codes now requires a sprinkler system, costing $150,000.
Over the last 75-plus years the ballroom has earned its place in Seacoast history. Musically it has hosted the likes of Glenn Miller (admission 50 cents), Tommy Dorsey, and of more local note, Tommy Cotter and Jimmy Walsh (50 cents admission on New Year’s Eve 1938).
The mid-20th century saw passenger train service frequent Rockingham Junction, only feet from the ballroom, bringing visitors from miles away on Sundays and Wednesdays to enjoy dancing to big names on the spacious floor. Rail service is said to have also brought President Truman to the junction train station and then to the ballroom. Foster’s has also been told by researchers of ballroom history that the original United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were brought by train around the county for people to see in person and that Rockingham Junction was one of the locations that the train stopped.
So far the groundswell of support has been impressive. The Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom has formed under the guidance of attorney and former Newmarket State Rep. Patti Blanchette and others. Many events have been held and many more planned. Hopefully, the faith owners Alan and Diane Roma are placing in the hands of the dancing public will pay off. Knowing some of those involved in the effort, Foster’s Daily Democrat has faith it will.
For those who want to join the effort, several events are upcoming. On Friday, Feb. 25, the Beatles tribute band All Together Now will perform at the venue. Next will be a comedy show on Friday, March 25, followed by The Spectras on April 8th.
Glenn Bergeron, a native of Newmarket, helped his father George, when the Rockingham Ballroom was in its heyday throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and then took ownership of the business following the death of his father in 1982. Bergeron recalls many fond memories of the icon off Route 108.
(photo by Rich Beauchesne Beauchesne email@example.com)
What: The Glenn Miller Orchestra Where: The Rockingham Ballroom, Ash Swamp Road, Newmarket
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14 Cost: $50 per person, with tickets limited to 400. For tickets, visit FOTRB.org. The price includes a light sandwich buffet,served from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m.
Why: Proceeds benefit the ballroom’s sprinkler fund.
Tickets to the Rockingham Ballroom event will be limited to 400, and may be purchased for $50 each at FOTRB.org. The ticket price includes a light sandwich buffet, served from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. only. The 19-member band is the most sought-after big band, as it was back when Glenn Miller himself headed the group. More than half a million people attend the band’s performances each year, and most events are a sellout. Friends of the Ballroom President, Patti Blanchette, is hoping for the same when the band appears in Newmarket for a 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. performance.
“I still can’t believe that the Glenn Miller Orchestra is willing to come to Newmarket to support us,” says Blanchette. “This will really be a boost for the sprinkler fund. Glenn Miller himself appeared at the ballroom. When his ‘In the Mood’ starts playing, the dancers cheer and the dance floor is full. I can’t imagine what it will be like when the Glenn Miller Orchestra plays that song. This will be an amazing event for both musicians and dancers.”
The group consists of five saxophone players, four trombonists, three rhythm musicians, and both a male and female vocalists. Julia Rich, who arranged for the Orchestra’s performance, performed with the group when it last appeared at the Rockingham Ballroom in 1996.
“When the band heard about the sprinkler problem we wanted to help,” said Rich. “The Ballroom has been a venue for many of the great big-band performers. We can’t let it close.” In addition to playing Glenn Miller’s biggest hits such as “In the Mood,” and many of the sounds of the World War II era, the band’s musical library totals more than 1,700 compositions. The Orchestra has performed for more than 25,000 dancers in Buffalo, New York on a 450-foot-long dance floor to earn the Guinness Book World Record for the “Largest Dance.”
By Lisa Tetrault-Zhe, firstname.lastname@example.org June 28, 2011 2:00 AM
NEWMARKET — For Lucille LeGault-White, who’s in her 80s, the Rockingham Ballroom is a multi-generational facility full of memories.
Lucille LeGault-White reflects on memories of when she danced at the Rockingham Ballroom and tells of fund-raising efforts under way to keep the facility open. She’s spent many decades dancing there, and one of her sons, as well as two of her daughters, held their wedding receptions there. And she still dances there with her second husband, Bill, along with her son Robert and his wife.
“The ballroom has been a part of different phases of my life,” said LeGault-White, a lifelong Newmarket resident. “I started going there when I was 19 or so; they used to call it stag dancing for the singles. The ladies would line up along the wall and the men would sometimes ask us to dance. Later, my husband Bob and I would go with other couples, then we’d come by our house after for refreshments, as we lived so close (on Ash Swamp Road).
“In the next phase, a friend of mine took lessons in Portsmouth, so she wanted someone to go dancing with her. That must have been the ’80s or so. “Then I met my second husband, Bill, there. We’ve been married 11 years now.” She met her husband, Bill, courtesy of a friends group, now defunct, organized by Portsmouth Hospital. He asked her to dance, she said, and the rest is history.
In addition to three wedding receptions for her children, LeGault-White’s brother recently celebrated his 70th birthday at the ballroom, traveling up from his home in Maryland. It was a reunion of sorts for the Hamel family (LeGault-White’s maiden name), who owned a huge farm that later became the Hamel Farm Drive development.
She recalled seeing the Glenn Miller Band perform. According to owner Alan Roma, other big names to perform at the ballroom over the years include Count Basie, Guy Lombardo and Sammy Kaye.
“We’d dress up to go; you had to look appropriate,” LeGault-White said. “We’d wear floor-length dresses, do up our hair and makeup. We all liked to look good. It was a wonderful time.”
Another woman said she and her friends went dancing nearly every week. “We’d go ballroom dancing a couple of times a week,” said Ruth Knowles of Dover. “It was just wonderful. We’d get all dressed up in frilly dresses. There were three of us who always went — a lady from Rochester, another lady from Dover and myself. We just seemed to live to go dancing.”
LeGault-White still goes to many of the fund-raisers that have been organized by the Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom in an effort to keep it open. “The dancing is more modern now, you can dance by yourself,” LeGault-White said. “It’s still a wonderful time. It would be a terrible loss to see it close. That’s why we’re trying so hard to keep it going.”
Anyone who’s interested in joining the Friends of Rockingham Ballroom is welcome to attend a meeting, held Wednesday nights at 5:30 p.m. at the ballroom.
Friends of Newmarket Ballroom Posted on March 12, 2011 by Paul-Carol
Spoke to Laurette Baillargeon of Newmarket NH. Her husband, Victor, started dancing at the Rockingham Ballroom in the late 1930′s before she met him. She and Victor were regulars from the late 1940′s until he died 7 years ago. They dated at the Rockingham before they were married and continued to dance there as they and the rest of their generation raised families and then eventually retired. Her comments:
The ballroom meant a great deal to many people. Saturday night was the big event of the week and that meant dressing up. The clientele enjoyed great music and much socializing with friends and former classmates. Many casual friendships developed with fellow dancers.
During the war years through the 1950′s, you had to have a reservation to get in because the Rockingham was fully packed. There were so many people that there were no tables until George Bergeron introduced them. In addition to Saturday dances, high school proms were held there. The crowds were well behaved and friendly. It was a comfortable place to go. There was no shortage of dancing venues at the time. It was easy for the young people to go dancing four or five times per week with Saturday being the big event at the Rockingham.
Sometimes, as time evolved, a whole family, parents and children, would go to the Rockingham so that there were multiple generations dancing. The Rockingham should be considered historic because the big bands, (swing bands) that played there were national bands. It was popular enough that there was bus service from Dover for Saturday nights. The ladies would dress up, catch a bus to the Rockingham, and hope that they could find a date to drive them home. If that did not work, they reboarded the bus for the return trip to Dover. Often the bus would stop at the Durham diner for a late night snack and then continue to Dover.
In her recollection there was only ballroom dancing until Mike Provost introduced other community activities.
Ex-owner recalls Rockingham Ballroom’s history
Glenn Bergeron, a native of Newmarket, recalls the days when his father, George Bergeron, owned the Rockingham Ballroom, when it wasn’t unusual to see a crowd of 500 pack the place on a Saturday night in the 1950s and ’60s.
(photos by Rich Beauchesneemail@example.com)
Glenn Bergeron, former owner of the Rockingham Ballroom on Route 108 in Newmarket poses with some of his favorite Big Band Era posters and a microphone that all the big acts used from the 1950’s on while performing in the legendary ballroom. Rich Beauchesne photo
Glenn Bergeron, a native of Newmarket, recalls the days when his father, George Bergeron, owned the Rockingham Ballroom, when it wasn’t unusual to see a crowd of 500 pack the place on a Saturday night in the 1950s and ’60s.
By Liz Markhlevskaya firstname.lastname@example.org, March 29, 2011 2:00 AM
NEWMARKET — While the Rockingham Ballroom is in danger of closing, former owner Glenn Bergeron likes to revisit the ballroom’s glory days, when the dance floor was filled to capacity and big bands ruled the stage. After the Rockingham Ballroom left Bergeron’s family in 1987, the old Unicom microphone was one of the few memorabilia Bergeron kept, after his father George owned the ballroom for more than three decades.
August 1934 — Rockingham Ballroom opens. Admission was 40 cents
Dec. 12, 1938 — Glenn Miller performs
1939 — Owner Erban Fellows dies of a heart attack; family sells business to Robert Shaw
1950 — Shaw sells ballroom to George and Jeanette Bergeron
1950 — “Stag line” formed. Men lined up behind a fence bolted to the floor, observing women on the other side before making their selection.
1953 — “Cabaret” style gained popularity with laid back crowds and linen tables
1956 to 1966 — Owner George Bergeron expands the ballroom adding a 50-by-30 foot addition. Bergeron also bought adjacent land to expand parking
June 6, 1969 — Guy Lombardo performs
1982 — Owner George Bergeron dies. Wife Jeanette Bergeron takes over
1987 — Jeanette Bergeron sells the ballroom to Michael Provost
1995 — Bob Yergeau becomes the new owner
2009 — Al and Diane Roma, longtime Rockingham Ballroom dancers, buy the business
Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman were just a few band leaders to have played at the ballroom and had their respective bands captured through the microphone. “You could tell they were playing their hearts out to the people,” Bergeron recalled.
In the 1960s during its heyday, amber beacons used to light up the ballroom at night, and could be seen from Route 108.
“If my folks were here they would have been ecstatic that the place is still going,” said Bergeron.
The story of the Rockingham Ballroom, located next to the Rockingham Country Club on Ash Swamp Road, began with Erban Fellows, a young lawyer who bought the golf course in 1933.
At the time, the Casino Ballroom in Hampton was the place where young crowds would meet during the summer for the big band sound, and many traveled on Route 108.
By spring 1934, Fellows started construction of the Rockingham Ballroom, just 20 yards from Old Route 108, and in August 1934, doors officially opened, said Bergeron.
In 1939, Fellows died of a heart attack at the age of 36, and his family sold the ballroom to Robert Shaw, a young lawyer who lived next to the ballroom, said Bergeron.
In the summer of 1950, Shaw sold the Rockingham Ballroom to Bergeron’s parents George and Jeanette.
At the time, George had no experience running a ballroom, said Bergeron, but he would operate the business until his death in 1982.
In the early 1950s, the Rockingham Ballroom was generally a place for singles’ dancing. In the set up known as the “stag line,” men lined up behind an iron pipe fence bolted to the floor, and observed women on the other side, before approaching them to dance.
By 1953, as the “cabaret” style of entertainment was gaining popularity and drawing more laid-back crowds. Tables with tablecloths were added to a section of the ballroom, separate from the stag line. Bergeron said to George’s surprise, men from the stag line, if not satisfied with women on the singles side, began asking other men’s dates to dance.
This caused problems, said Bergeron, and it did not take long for George to get rid of the stag line.
During its cabaret days, a strict dress code was in place at the Rockingham Ballroom, and was enforced by police officers. Guests not wearing their suit coats on the dance floor would be escorted to their tables, said Bergeron.
According to Bergeron, “continuous weekly monstrous crowds” arrived to the Rockingham Ballroom between 1956 and 1966. During that period, George had added a 50-foot by 20-foot extension to the rear of the ballroom to make room for more guests.
By the mid-1960s George had purchased all the adjacent land around the ballroom, down to the railroad depot, which helped solve parking overflow problems. “He was filling the place every night,” said Bergeron.
While by the 1970s the public began favoring smaller, contemporary bands, George would not hire bands that had fewer than five pieces, said Bergeron.
After George’s death in 1982, Bergeron and his mother ran the Rockingham Ballroom for five more years, before selling the business to Michael Provost. The ballroom went through some financial hardship and in 1995 the business was sold to Bob Yergeau. He later sold the ballroom to current owners Alan and Diane Roma in 2009.
The Rockingham Ballroom is now raising money to install a required sprinkler system, which is mandated for its doors to stay open. Currently, the ballroom is operating on a six-month occupancy permit set to expire in August.
While the cost of the system has been expected to be as much as $150,000, a recent variance granted by fire officials will most likely bring the price tag lower, said Alan Roma.
The ballroom’s most recent fund-raiser on March 25, the comedy show “Spousal Deafness,” drew a crowd of approximately 400 people.
The event was organized by Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom, a nonprofit organization helping to raise funds for the sprinkler system. About $8,000 has been raised so far for the sprinkler project, said Roma.
The next event scheduled by Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom is April 8, when a legendary dance band The Spectras, will perform at 8 p.m. Rockingham Ballroom is located at 22 Ash Swamp Road.
By Ryan Alan, Foster’s Showcase Writer Thursday, March 24, 2011
Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom President Patti Blanchette and dance partner Jim Collins.
Ash Swamp Road may not have the most lyrical of monikers. But that doesn’t matter to the generations of Seacoast area residents who have experienced some of their happiest times in Rockingham Ballroom, Newmarket. For them, Ash Swamp, location of this venerable destination, is “Memory Lane.”
And what memories those walls hold! The “freeze frame” moments of the mind offer a colorful review of the greats who shared their legendary talents there as patrons danced into the night. There was Benny Goodman, no less than the “King of Swing,” tilting his clarinet toward the Ballroom’s ceiling and sweetly wailing away, his passion encouraging his orchestra to match his enthusiasm.
Jazz royalty arrived in the presence of “Duke Ellington,” one of the most influential figures of his genre in the 20th Century, bringing some class to the “Swamp” with a repertoire that perhaps included some of his best known numbers like “Mood Indigo,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing,” and “Satin Doll.” And, can you imagine how excited the crowd must have been if he invited them to “Take the ‘A’ Train”?
There was more royalty in Count Basie, surely smiling broadly behind his keyboards as he and his band likely brought the room to life with “One O’Clock Jump” and provided the catalyst for reflection in “April in Paris.”
Some might argue that band leader Glenn Miller himself was the most famous of all the stellar artists to have performed there, and Miller fans might wonder if his play list that night included his signature material —”In the Mood,” “A String of Pearls, “Little Brown Jug” and “Moonlight Serenade.”
Rockingham went positively celestial when Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians crossed the border to bring the “Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.”
It’s such moments, and such enduring history that fuel the ongoing campaign to save the Rockingham Ballroom, which faces closure if $150,000 cannot be raised to install a sprinkler system. A series of fund-raisers are being held toward that end, and one of the participants, Dick Ray, leader of the Spectras’ rock’n’roll and rhythm and blues horn band that will perform in the ballroom at 8 p.m. April 8, feels it all is a no-brainer.
It’s not possible to put a price on memories and what something has meant to a region, suggests the North Hampton resident. It is a comment echoed by Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom, the volunteer group organized to keep the venue alive, and others.
”To me, the Rockingham Ballroom is an important part of the entertainment history of Seacoast New Hampshire,” said Ray. If it were to close, he added, “People would lose a place that has historical significance for music in this area and for a connection to their own pasts.”
To Rebecca Myers of Portsmouth, treasurer of Friends of the Ballroom, there is no question about it. “The ballroom has to stay open. For those who do not dance (and dancing is at the heart of this venue), it is hard to grasp this concept: when you dance with your partner you fall in love with them all over again.” The ballroom, she believes, “is a magical place.” There is a live band, people are happy and dancing, and “no matter what may be going wrong in your life, for that period of time that you are at the ballroom there are no troubles.”
Isn’t that, those who are passionate about the ballroom imply, worth far more than $150,000?
“When you’re dancing, all you can think about is each other, and your dance steps. Each dance class or event is a date night,” added attorney Patti Blanchette of Newmarket, former longtime New Hampshire state representative who is president of Friends of the Ballroom. “My focus is the immediate need to fund the sprinkler system to keep the ballroom open as a place of dancing and entertainment and community activities for everyone to enjoy,” she explained.
Once that is accomplished, and she is certain it will be (“Our high school mascot is a mule and we’re a stubborn lot,” she quips), she would like to see the ballroom begin an oral history project in which couples talk about what the facility has meant to them through the years.
“I love the Rockingham Ballroom, which has brought joy to generations. The ambience there makes dancing more special. I grew up in Newmarket and my parents danced at the ballroom,” Blanchette.
Many people have met their future spouses at the Rockingham dances, said Michael Provost of Newmarket. He and his wife Shirley owned the venue from 1987 until 1995, celebrating the 55th anniversary with a black-tie affair. They were the fourth owners.
(Michael Provost and Fire Chief Tideo Beaulieu, 1987 control burn of old garages creates a the new parking area)
It really is a special place, he adds. “Rockingham is the last of the original ballrooms built across New Hampshire and still functioning as a ballroom. It has a way of entrancing those that frequent it, and the people are family,” he said.
Provost, who is now executive director of Rochester Main Street and owner of Lamprey Heritage Tours in Newmarket, believes the ballroom is eligible for nomination to the National Historic Register, primarily for the era it represents and the lifestyle “that did not include TV.”
Rockingham Junction at one time was the intersection of five railroads and also included a band gazebo, hotel, restaurant and golf course. People took trains to the dances in the 1940s and 1950s, he said, and buses ran from Central Square in Dover and Market Square in Portsmouth to bring people to the ballroom. The dance floor and shell stage are “architectural gems” that are irreplaceable, he said.
“I would argue that the ballroom is as historic as the Music Hall in Portsmouth, with the roster of bands that appeared there,” he said. That roster also includes both Dorsey brothers bands, Harry James, Artie Shaw Orchestra and “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye,” as well as such entertainers as the Shaw Brothers, Kitty Wells, Four Lads, Four Aces, the Chordettes and Dion and the Belmonts, among many others.
The Provosts also staged dinner theater, polka festivals, auctions and trade shows, among other activities there. “Shirley and I treasure the time we spent there, the work we accomplished there and the memories of friends we made. We endorse the Friends of the Ballroom and their activities and hope that the ballroom continues for many years,” he said. Swing has always been a big draw for the Rockingham Ballroom.
In the summer of 1950, Glenn Bergeron’s father and mother, George and Jeanette Bergeron, became the third owners of the ballroom. “Over the next 37 years they were the longest owners of the establishment to date,” said Glenn, a former Portsmouth and Newmarket resident who now lives in Greenland. After the death of his father in 1982, Glenn ran the Rockingham with his mother for an additional fives years, selling it in 1987 to Provost.
Bergeron plans to publish a pamphlet/booklet on the ballroom’s history, including drawings. “We will consider how we can use this to help raise funds for the Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom,” said his wife Trudie Bergeron.
Glenn Bergeron said in its earliest years the venue filled a need for singles for a place to dance year-round.
“As was the tradition during the 1930s, dance halls were the places for young men and women to meet, and the Hampton Beach Casino (which closed in the winter) was the venue where the young adults gathered to hear the big band sound,” he said. “Students from the University of New Hampshire, as well as other adults, would travel along Route 108 to the beach during the spring and summer in great numbers for their entertainment.”
In 1933, Bergeron added, Erban Fellows, a young attorney and entrepreneur, “cleverly realized” that if he built a large dance hall just off the well-traveled Route 108, he could divert the dance crowd to his place. By August of 1934, the Rockingham Ballroom opened for business. “Fellows realized that he couldn’t survive on just a summer business, but maybe he could if he opened year-round,” Bergeron said. A heating system was installed in 1938 and the ballroom became a place for all seasons.
The Provosts completely remodeled the ballroom’s interior. “It now looks like a 1930s’ nightclub, a very nice effect,” said Bergeron.
A LINK IN A CHAIN
Current owners Alan and Diane Roma of Eliot, Maine, are proud to be a link in the chain of the long ballroom tradition. “It has been providing live entertainment for over 76 years to the Seacoast area,” said Alan Roma. “If it closes, an era will be gone.” Not to be overlooked, he added, is the fact that it is a home for many events for worthwhile causes. “The American Cancer Society, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, local schools, along with countless others, have all used the ballroom for fund-raisers,” Roma said. The outpouring of support to save the venue touched him and his wife.
“We are not ones who generally ask for help or accept it,” he said. “When dozens of people came up to us and offered their time and expertise, we were overwhelmed. We were shocked. Looking back, I should not have been. There are a lot of good people that frequent the ballroom,” he explained. Without the group, the ballroom would be closed now, he adds. “They are true friends of the ballroom and I like to consider them friends of ours,” Roma said. “We are very optimistic that we will raise enough money to keep the doors open and the people dancing. There are a lot of people making sure of it.”
By Lisa Tetrault-Zhe, email@example.com, June 28, 2011 2:00 AM
NEWMARKET — The Rockingham Ballroom may be one step closer to keeping its doors open, thanks to the generosity of its donors and the work of The Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom.
They expect to receive final paperwork from their engineer, SFC Engineering Partnership of Auburn, as to what the work will entail. Then they’ll be able to invite contractors to bid on the work, which will involve installing a sprinkler system to the 77-year-old structure. Owners Alan and Diane Roma were originally informed the ballroom would have to close in December 2010 because the building wasn’t up to current fire codes.
“We received a variance from installing water tanks across the street,” Patti Blanchette, chairwoman of the Friends of Rockingham Ballroom, said. “We don’t know how much the repairs will cost, but now we at least know they won’t be $150,000 as we’d originally thought, thanks to the variance. We hope to have bid specifications and a timeline within the next week, as to when the project can be put out to bid. Then we’ll have to go to the fire chief (Rick Malasky) and beg for one more extension.”
The water tanks were required because of a lack of water pressure in that part of town, Ash Swamp Road, according to Alan. “We bought the ballroom in August 2010,” Alan explained. “We knew about the sprinkler issue, but not about the water pressure issue. I understand the water pressure and volume would not be enough to sustain the sprinklers. But we received a variance on the hose draw, so we would no longer have to install water tanks. Instead, the Fire Department would have to send a tanker.”
To date, Blanchette and the other 17 loyal “Friends” have helped bring in nearly $35,000 according to Blanchette. That’s from fund-raising events as well as private donations. In addition, a few businesses in town, such as Riverworks Tavern, have stepped forward to help. The restaurant hosted a benefit night on April 19 where 10 percent of their profits for the evening were donated to the cause. Musicians have also performed for free to help the facility, according to Alan.
“I grew up in Newmarket, my parents danced at the ballroom,” Blanchette said about her involvement in the Friends. “It’s a great place for a date night. It’s a part of the community. It’s wonderful, you have your own table, you can’t beat the music. It’s just a great place to perform for the musicians, to hear music and to dance. We realize we can’t let it close.”
Malasky said his hands were tied about having to force the issue of the sprinkler system at the ballroom, which according to Alan is the largest venue of its kind in the area. “The occupancy requires them to be sprinklered, which they’ve never been,” Malasky said. “This issue has been ignored since 2006. I’ve had to yell at people; enough time has passed, they can’t ignore it any longer. But now it’s a work in progress, they’ve been great about giving us monthly updates.”
Alan said he’s been thrilled with the response of the community. “A lot of people have donated, both their time and financially,” Alan said. “We appreciate all of their help. All the money goes right into the sprinkler fund. I didn’t realize that many people cared about the ballroom the way that I did. It’s been amazing,” he said.
The Friends continue to host fund-raisers for the sprinkler system. Last Friday night, Revolver was slated to perform following a barbecue. They also are open for events throughout the week, including open mic night on Thursdays, ballroom dancing on Saturdays, and country music dancing on Wednesdays.
Community helps bring Newmarket ballroom closer to new sprinkler system
By LAURENNE RAMSDELL, Fosters Daily Democrat, Wednesday, August 17, 2011
NEWMARKET — As fundraising efforts have brought the Rockingham Ballroom nearly two-thirds of the way to meeting a $60,000 goal for a new sprinkler system, the entertainment venue’s owners have been given yet another extension.
According to owner Alan Roma, he and his wife, Diane, the Newmarket Fire Department gave them an additional extension to fund a mandated indoor and outdoor sprinkler system after the original six-month extension granted to them came to an end last week. “The fire department is happy we’re moving forward,” said Roma. “We’re really trying to push.” Roma could not recall the duration of the newest extension, and Fire Chief Rick Malasky did not return calls to Foster’s on Monday.
In 2010, the Romas were informed they would be required to install a sprinkler system in order to meet fire regulations. Since the ballroom’s opening in 1934, there has never been a sprinkler system in the facility. The couple was mandated to comply with such regulations, or face closing the ballroom’s doors.
When concerned citizens and patrons discovered the venue could become off limits to the public, they rallied together to help the Romas raise the appropriate funds for a sprinkler system. Since 2010, concerts, comedy nights and other music-related events were held to bring in donations to go toward the cause.
In February, Malasky granted the ballroom’s owners a six-month extension on their occupancy permit after seeing true progression in the efforts to raise funds for the sprinklers. Roma said those efforts have brought him and his wife two-thirds of the way to meeting the $60,000 goal. “It’s been going pretty good, but things are starting to slow down,” Roma told Fosters. “Just like everything else, momentum is good in the beginning, but people can only give so much.”
The Friends of the Rockingham Ballroom — the coalition of concerned residents who have joined forces to spearhead fundraising efforts — have not been deterred, however. Roma said that last week a large raffle was held where five different prizes, including Adirondack chairs, rounds of golf at Pease and a full body message, were raffled off.
With the most recent extension, Roma said ballroom supporters will have additional time to hold events in coming months where proceeds will continue to go toward the sprinkler system. “This keeps us going and gives us a chance to keep our doors open,” said Roma.
End of 2011 Calendar
Tickets can be purchased at the Ballroom in person or by phone 603-659-4410 with a $2 service fee.
ROCKINGHAM BALLROOM’S HALLOWEEN PARTY FEATURING
MOTOR BOOTY AFFAIR, October 28, 2011, This is a costume party so show us your best. Doors to open at 7:30, Show will start at 9:00 —(Music wil be provided before show for dancing —21+ and over only) Cost $15 in advance - $20 at the door Light snacks will be provided, Proceeds to benefit Great Bay Kids’ Company, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing quality early childhood education and school age enrichment programs.
SPECIAL PRESENTATION NOVEMBER 20, 2011 at the Rockingham Ballroom Sunday November 20, Afternoon Show 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Doors Open at Noon$25 per person, Call for tickets603-659-4410Full Cash Bar, Snacks Available For PurchaseProper Dress Required, No Jeans Or Sneakers. Thanks to our exclusive sponsor Bellamy Fields and Watson Fields, “Geriatrics with a sense of humor” Visit them at www.bellamyfields.com. GENERAL SEATING ONLY
FRIDAY – DECEMBER 2nd, 2011 – 7:30 PM to 10:30 Big Band Tribute to Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, Featuring the 14 Piece Everett Longstreth Big Band Orchestra and Amanda Carr
(Doors Open at 6:30 – Cash Bar) $50.00 to $65.00 per person. ALL NET PROCEEDS to benefit the fire-suppression construction fund.
NEW YEAR’S EVE CELEBRATION AT THE ROCKINGHAM, Come and join us for the second annual New Year’s Eve party.
With DJ Ted Razz. This will be an all request night. So whatever you want to hear he will play. It can be Big Band music, Country, Oldies we will play it all. Dress will be casual to formal, you choose. (Just no t-shirts or sneakers). We are having a pot luck buffet, so bring in your best or favorite dish to share. If you also bring in the recipe then we will give you $2 off the admission(per couple)
(We will be making a simple cookbook with all the recipes and will put them out for sale with the proceeds going to our sprinkler fund) There will be an all night Champagne fountain for all to enjoy along with our full cash bar. Cost will be $20 per person
There will be more information to follow put wanted to get some information out to everyone so you can start to make your plans. We hope to see you there.